Messrs. Gaso, Carb, Spark & Co.
How the Conquest of Blackthory's Hill Won an Election—and a Wife—as told to the Spirit of the Road.
BRITTON B. COOKE
WITH a lift and a sigh she swept eagerly up over the last rise in the great hill, and with quick,
sure tread picked up the sudden downgrade into the valley before her. Her long black hood rode with a sort of shining arrogance, snug over the shoulders of the big front wheels. Her projectors, catching the admiring eye of the sun as she turned, flashed a quick smile into the wall of shadows on the opposite side of this new valley. Her springs cradled the gleaming body like thistle-down on wind. Her velvet-shod drivers beat the white road steadily back from behind. She moved like an arrow of light! Like a great bird coasting down the side of a gale; swiftly, straight and silently, power ai.d pride in every line.
In the instant that she paused on the crest of the hill before beginning the descent, something had leaped out into the road from a gnarled haw-bush which commanded a view of both valleys. It might have been a bee, or a puff of dust, and a thin, piping, voice, that seemed both old and young, cried in the wake of the
Ca“Hold up! Hold on! Wait!”
“Tut!” the Exhaust replied as the car gathered speed again, “Tut! Who’re you talking to? Here, catch on if you want to say something. Hop up on the gear cover! Now, what you want?”
And with that the dust cloud dissolved over the rear axle, revealing a quaint figure perched there, with long dustcolored draperies wrapped about bony knees', with two wisps of timothy sprouting from his shiny forehead like horns, a sort of Elizabethan ruff made of dandelion-down and long whiskers, obviously purloined from the nearby barley
fields. It was something betwixt child and old man. It wore under its chin and showing occasionally through the thin whiskers, the red pod of a wild rose that had gone to seed. From its shoulders stood stiffly two battered and dusty butterfly wings that did not match.
“Look’t he began, “Look’t here! I’m the Spirit of the Road. I’m the inventor of automobiles—at least, if it hadn’t been for my foolishness I’d never ’ve b’en in the fix I’m in, and there’d never have b’en any motors. It was my beckonin’ and coaxin’ and suggestin’ and lurin’ people t’ follow me that caused folks to invent automobiles instead of buggies or coachin’ rigs. I used t’ sit on any old hill I liked and dast folks on the far h’rizon t’ come and just pee-eek over. Yet these motor cars got so’s they could take any one of ’em—except Blackthory’s. And now you’ve climbed Blackthory’s hill that’s never b’en climbed before! I want t’ know what right you got! Who give you leave? What makes you think a motor car’s got the right to climb every hill it takes a fancy t’ climb? What’s t’ become of me? What’m I to-”
The Exhaust sighed indulgently.
“Why Bub,” he returned, “You shouldn’t worry. You should know us. Don’t you remember—the other night? Night before the election?”
“W-was that you? A-all I saw was lights and a rush of air an’ some dust. Then—then you’ve b’en up twicet! Ugh!"
“Don’t be sore,” chided the Exhaust, “Never mind. Stick where you are awhile and enjoy the ride. Guess this is the first real motor you ever saw?”
“Oh no,” returned the Figure, “There’s b’en lots tried Blackthory’s Hill but they
all went back, ’round by the Dewsbury Road—except you.”
“Just as I said,” chortled the Exhaust, “You wont mind us, once you get used to us. Hang on now,—get a grip of something—we’re getting more gas. If y’ arn’t comfortable there, crawl up the transmission under the hood. You’ll enjoy the ride—and none of the fellows up there will say anything to you. Hop up!”
The big car began to leap ahead, free of the brakes, on the level road in the valley-bottom. The cool air from endless sweet-smelling fields, floated against it. Here a brook, here an orchard heavy with fruit, here a farm home nestling modestly among its trees—it was truly a beautiful country, and a rare day. The country-side seemed to move swiftly toward the advancing motor, offering glimpses of a thousand beauties, endless groupings of trees and cottages, endless combinations of shadow and sun-light, and through gaps in the hills, vistas unnumbered and unpaintable.
“Waal!” drawled the Spirit of the Road as he stood in the half-light under the hood of the car. “Waal!”—and he stroked his chin, “So this is it! So this is what carries the rig along, and lifts it over hills. Urn! What’s all this? What’s all these different parts? W-what’re y’ all s’ quiet about?”
“We are attending to our own business,” retorted a cool cultivated sort of voice, “and we are very busy at present. I must ask you to be as quiet as possible and keep out of our way until we are through. Now gentlemen!” This to various vague shapes in the darkness, “Ready? I’m getting more gas. There!” And as the Carburetor spoke the speed of the car increased.
Overhead seemed nothing but a blank roof. In front a certain amount of light filtered in through a shutter, along with a steady draft of cool air. Leaning cautiously over the edge of the crank casting the intruder could see the road slipping beneath like a long blurred golden ribbon. He shuddered as he contemplated the speed. “I’ve had rides on grain wagons,” he muttered, “but this is very different. I—I must be a long way from the Haw Bush, yet there’s no use sayin’ anything. Can’t possibly get off. Phew!”
Presently he distinguished six great steel towers standing in a row in the gloom to one side of where he stood. To
the eye they were unintelligible but to the ear, as he stood close beside them, there came a low murmur, the song of great forces, laboring together. The very atmosphere under the hood was vibrant with terrific energy.
“There!” exclaimed the Carburetor as the car slowed down again, “The Exhaust tells me you are a stranger to the under side of the hood. Perhaps I can tell you something about our work here —Messrs. Gaso, Carb, Spark and Company, as we are known.”
“Would y’ now?” replied the Spirit of the Road, almost eagerly, “ That’d be
real kind of you. Now f’r instance-”
and he asked many questions.
“You see,” said the Carburetor finally, “we are a company—Limited. We are an assortment of people all working together under a sort of limited liability arrangement.
That is to say, we are rated to develop fortytwo horsepower. We are liable to that extent.
Of course, no good automobile limits itself to just the amount of its horsepower rating.
We are rated, for instance at 40 horsepower but in a factory test which we went through we developed over 60 horse-power !
“You see those six towers?
Those are the cylinder family. There are six with us, but some cars have only four and there was once a time when cars only had one cylinder. Each of those cylinders is a sort of stomach into which I feed gasoline vapor, a mixture of gasoline and air. The space inside the cylinder is reduced or expanded by a piston head which moves up and down inside by a piston rod, connected with the crank shaft of the car. As the piston head is drawn down by the turning of the crank shaft, the space inside the cylinder reaches its maximum and is filled with gasoline vapor. Then as the crank-shaft continues to revolve the piston rod shoves the piston head up and compresses the gas. When it is tight compressed, one of the Spark Brothers—there is one to each cylinder—explodes the gas with a flash, and the explosion drives out the piston-head, which shoves the piston rod down, which turns over the crank shaft, which turns the fly-wheel and so sets the car moving. The next up-stroke of the
piston forces the burned gas out through the exhaust. The next down-stroke sucks in new gas. Then comes the compression stroke and the power stroke again.” “And all six of those fellows are going through that one after the other?” “That’s it.”
“And what do you do with the power when you’ve got it?” demanded the Spirit of the Road.
“The crank-shaft passes it out along the transmission through the gears to the rear axle. They hand it to the drivers and they—”
“Yes, I know,” interrupted the intruder, “They beat the road in the face with it. I know—I’m the Road, or the Spirit of the Road.”
“You! Then you saw us make the Hill the other night? Blackthory’s?” “Yaas. I noticed. That was the first
time ever any car got up that hill.” “Of course,” agreed the Carburetor. “Um! Well, why?” demanded the Spirit of the Road, “What was the hurry? That’s what I want t’ be told.” “Sh!” whispered the Carburetor, “Didn’t you know? Why if we hadn’t gotten up the hill that night—if you’d been able to stop us—we’d all have been beaten! Defeated! The Chief and all! That was the night before the election ! Don’t you understand?”
“Oh!” returned the other, “So it was politics!”
“So it was politics?” the Spirit of the Road hinted as the big car stood at rest in the driving shed of the English Church at Roden’s Corners. The man who had driven the car up the hill and who had
left her in the shed, was over in Old Man Roden’s house, across the way, discussing business with the secretary of the local party organization.
“Politics—” admitted the Carburetor, “and something else.”
“What was that?” suggested the Road Spirit.
“Shall I tell him?” asked the Carburetor, looking around at the assembly.
“Whatever you like,” said the first cylinder.
“Sure, tell him,” agreed the Exhaust, who was not without the pride of the flash in his make-up.
“Roads are fearful gossips.” murmured the radiator, “They run alongside and swap yarns with a person and then they carry the yarns on to the next car they meet.”
"Oh well, I know,” returned the Carbure tor, “I know what you mean — but then it isn’t necessary to chatter. I was just going to tell about the Chief and the night before the election.” “Hh! Well, I’ve reason to believe lone roads make trouble with femin i n e garrulity. If you have a puncture out on some quiet country road and your driver takes longer to fix it than he should, or bungles it, or doesn’t handle his implements a s well as he should, the news will get ’round the country quick as a blowout. One road passes the word to the next, ahead of you. First thing you know you’ll be goin’ along as smooth and fine-looking as anything, right in the fashionable part of your own city—and you’ll hear some measly lane telling a cross-street that you’re the car that was held up so many minutes by a puncture on the Oakville road.”
With his knees drawn up under his chin, and his whiskers on his shoe-tops, the Spirit of the Road sat in the centre of the gathering and waited for judgment.
“Suit yourselves,” he chuckled, “If it’s somethin’ honorable y’ needn’t be afraid to tell it and of course if it ain’t-”
“Honorable!” exclaimed the Carburetor, “Why my dear Sir—why—.”
Continued on Page 85.
Messrs. Gaso, Carb, Spark & Co.
Continued, from Page 16.
“Tell him!” commanded the cylinder brothers, in chorus.
“Well,” began the Carburetor, “There are a great many things you must understand to begin with. You know our chief, young Harsant? He is one of the youngest men in Canadian politics and one of the most gifted of the younger set at Ottawa. Perhaps you noticed him in the car: a big fellow with a pair of clear eyes and a clean-cut face. He won his first election in this very constituency just by the sheer merit of his speaking and the force of his personality. He has always been popular. Life has seldom shown him her rough side. When he went from the Legislature to the House of Commons people knew at once that there was a great career ahead of him. He was moved from the backbenches to the middle benches in one session and people have been wondering for a long time when he would be moved to the front benches and given a portfolio.
“There was a reason but few people knew it. The fact that it does not exist any more is because we climbed the hill the other night—in time. The Old Man —that’s the Prime Minister,—the Old Man’s niece, and the little runabout which the Chief sold when he bought us, are the only ones that knew the reason. Our Chief lacked just one important quality. He was not reliable in team play. He wanted to be playing lone hands all the time. He wanted to be given big jobs and hard jobs, but he was never able to see the worth of doing plain, irksome, obscure pieces of work. He could be trusted with big things any day. He had judgment, discernment, discretion and brilliant flashes of aggressiveness, but he loathed the drudgery of the game. He couldn’t be relied on to do little pieces of plain work conscientiously. That was his worst fault but it was a serious one, serious in a public man as it is serious in a motor car. Harsant would have been a junior minister long ago, when old Garbund died, but the portfolio went to Harbret, because though Harbret is comparatively dull, he is steady, always on hand when wanted, even in the grain, a good plodder.
“Well, there was the Old Man’s niece— a woman! Our Chief’s chances of promotion and of winning the woman all depended upon the Chief’s learning to play the game as it ought to be played. The day before the election was the day we came from the factory and were delivered to the Chief. In spite of the election, when he heard we were ready he went down to the railway yards to meet us. He wanted to get right in and drive and as a matter of fact he did, as soon as he could. Election? Oh, he was sure of being elected. People knew his platform. His organization had been working well and surely he could take a
few minutes off to try out the new car. Personal canvassing? Oh no. That was not necessary. He would make a speech in the auditorium that night. That was the way he reasoned, all in a good-natured boyish sort of way.
“Meantime he was driving. He tried us on low, on high, on good road and bad road. He racked us round the country till every one of us ached. Really, it was bad. He drove badly, fed the gas jerkily and couldn’t leave the accelerator alone. When he finally brought us into his garage about supper time every single one of us felt like complaining. We had a talk though with the old motor which hadn’t been taken away yet, and we learned a few things that sort of distracted our attention and perhaps made us more sympathetic toward the chief. We learned then about the woman Harsant wanted to marry and who had promised her answer the day after the election. We learned that the whole riding except for Blackthory’s division was largely fixed in its political beliefs and that the Chief relied upon Blackthory’s, the remotest division from his home town, to give him the favorable balance. We learned too that Blackthory’s was the most independent-minded electoral subdivision that ever existed, one that refuses to be won and stay won : the most suspicious-minded community in Ontario. And the Chief had neglected Blackthory’s !
“That night after supper, but before it was time for him to go to his meeting, he came out to the garage, started us up, flung open the doors, whirled down the drive on twice too many notches of gasoline and with the spark advanced like a racer, had to brake hard to cross his own side-walk,—and finally arrived in front of the house where the Old Man’s niece was staying. Believe me, there wasn’t a single good-natured member in this car when he stopped with a jerk and jumped out. Each part was conscious of itself. The idea of team-play which had been pounded into us, carved into us, and melted into us when we were in the factory, was under pretty severe strain that evening. What was the use of team-play if we were to be treated like a horse and buggy! The cylinder crowd were working together because they had been made for the purpose and were controlled largely by force of habit, but they acted like snobs toward all the rest of us. The crank casing was mumbling that he couldn’t see what sense there was in his having been made so light and strong and true to measure, if it was only to support a bunch of dead weights like the rest of us. The Exhaust couldn’t see why he had to deal only with dirty gas, and why the Muffler throttled him just when he wanted to shout, and personally I, as the Carburetor, was beginning to contemplate the general uselessness of existence. The Ego in each of us was roused. We were beginning to feel like individualists! Anarchists!
“When they came out and got into the car, the Chief in the left hand seat and the Old Man’s niece beside him, we began to listen to what they were saying. That
is the privilege of every good automobile. The wind-shield, who claims to be a judge of women, sent down word to those of us who couldn’t see her, that she was—as he put it ‘Some Queen!’ which we have since learned, is the superlative of praise from a wind-shield. But he said she wasn’t smiling and we could hear for ourselves that the conversation was not at all as the old motor had intimated it might be. They were talking business!
“ ‘Oh, I know Marian,’ the Chief was saying indulgently as he threw in the clutch, ‘But you don’t understand, I’m afraid. Blackthory’s is safe and solid. Why, I couldn’t get there now even if it were necessary. There have been floods and the Dewsbury bridge and the Dewsbury railway trestle have both gone out. It’s a mighty poor district anyway except, of course, that it controls the balance. But so far as that is concerned we have it cinched. My last report was only two days ago and it said everything was sure to go my way.’
“ ‘Listen Peter,’ she said, ‘Everything is not sure to go your way. Drive me once around the block and I’ll read you this. It’s a wire that came to Uncle and which he asked me to open and relay on to him at Ottawa. Listen: “Harsant has fallen down in Blackthory’s. Opposition has men working in that division all day to-day, spreading the Wharf Scandal. Story is new to Blackthory’s and sensational. Voters are eating it up and w6* lose whole constituency unless we can counteract.” That wire, Peter, is from Harbret. He is jealous, of course, but he’s right about Blackthory’s division.’
“ ‘But why hasn’t your uncle communicated with me them?’ demanded the Chief, flushing.
“ ‘Because Peter, he has not received the wire, and is not going to receive It. It is up to you to save Blackthory’s yourself, without asking for help from the party organization. It’s under big enough strain already. They haven’t speakers enough for the constituencies where they really need them worst—and if you had watched Blackthory’s you wouldn’t have been in this position now. Listen to me, Peter Harsant! If you lose Blackthory’s—there will be no tomorrow with me.’
“ ‘But I tell you, Marian—’
“ ‘No. Let me out here. You’ll be late for your meeting.’
“He stopped in front of the house again, and she descended. She called good-night and was gone.”
“Late that night, the night before election day, two hours after we had returned from the meeting where the Chief had made his usual triumphant speech, he came stealing into the garage, fully dressed, and with a road-book in his left hand. Sitting on the running board he opened the book and studied various maps.
“ ‘The Dewsbury Road is closed,’ he ruminated, aloud. ‘There won’t be a train for days, owing to the rains, and there’s only the Blackthory route. Book says: “Don’t take Blackthory short-cut.
It is good only for east-bound traffic. Nothing ever attempts to go up except on foot. If stuck on the hill you are five miles across peat bog and blueberry patches, to the nearest farm, and twelve miles from Roden’s Corners.” Hm! a real hospitable hill! Nice prospect!’ the Chief concluded.
“Then he turned to us.
“ ‘Look here, Brothers,’ he said, ‘I’m up against a tight place. I’m in a hole and the only power that can get me out of the hole is you, you people under the hood—and the rest of you. When I bought you I bought you for something that would carry me round the streets or out on pleasure trips, with a maximum of ease and a minimum of trouble and expense. I figured you were the make that would fill that bill; speed, comfort and economy. But I want something more than that now: I want endurance, reliability and enough power to get up the worst hill in the province whether it takes more or less than your rated horse-power. Legally, I can’t kick if you only deliver the power you’re rated to deliver, whether it’s enough or not enough. But to-night I want you to live up to the spirit of the contract, not the letter. I’ve got to get up Blackthory’s Hill. It’s up to you!’ And somehow, we all began to understand the Chief. We began to see just what was wrong and one of the Spark Plugs whispered it to his cylinder who passed it on to me, that the Chief was sno worse than he used to be himself when he always wanted to flash in the exhaust instead of in the stomach of the cylinder where no one could see him do it.
“But the Chief had begun to see what was wanted of him that very night. ‘By Jove!’ he said as he stepped in and threw on the starter, ‘Now I know what playing the game is. It’s like being a motor —like this motor. Some motors can make a big show on the road and show sudden spurts of speed in the level but ! the motor that counts—and the man that counts—is the kind that can be relied upon to do great things under hard circumstances, in complete obscurity and for no other reward than the satisfaction of having played straight and well.’
“Having said which, he gave me a little ' more material to work on and as I mixed it up and passed the vapor on to the emp'_y bellies of the cylinder crowd, we moved out into the night.”
“It was a different man at the wheel that night. His hands that had once been jerky and erratic, were now curiously steady and heavy on the wheel. A motor, like a woman likes a good firm hand directing things. He moved his controls quickly yet wisely, with decision yet with good sense. Instead of letting out into high speed and then checking down suddenly as he had done in the evening, he chose a speed better adapted to the traffic he still had to reckon with and the corners he had to turn. Once on the straight road leading out into the country, he fed us up to the maximum, a little at a time. We moved without a swerve or a tremor straight out into the black night.
The night air whistled past the mudguards, the only sound save for the low purr of the tires on the road.
“At first it was easy-going, like sailing in a fine breeze, I heard the Chief mutter to himself. There was no more discontent among us, no more whisperings. The gasoline flower clear and even from the tank under the pressure of the air-pumps. I mixed it with air as cunningly as 1 knew how. The Cylinder crowd took the vapor in regular doses, the cylinder head compressed it, the spark ripped it into a thousand atmospheres, drove the piston head out, and the ‘kick’ was passed to the fly-wheel who saved 1,400 hundred kicks per minute and fed out this terrific accumulation of energy to the transmission and the drivers.
“After a time the road changed. We were no longer on pavement and only the vigilance of the spring brothers kept us from pitching ourselves to pieces. As it was, they eased us serenely over everything so that our work was not interfered with in the slightest. We swayed occasionally and once the Chief stopped to put on the chains for the clay road was very wet in spite of the fact that the roads in the city and even one stretch of gravel road, had dried since the recent rains. For an hour and a half we made the best time we dared to make over the clay, and then, sometime about four in the morning, we approached the ridge of which Blackthory’s is a part, and we saw presently the grim shape of Blackthory Hill standing against the
“Perhaps you don’t know the different kinds of hills: the short ones that can be over-ridden in one spurt; the long easy hills; hills that have bumps half-way up and sudden depressions just below the most unexpected bumps in the road, which force a man to brake just when he needs all the energy he has to take the next bump in the hill. You know the kind where you have to be ready at a pinch to stop and start again all the while gravity is dragging at your drivers. Well—this Blackthory’s was like the worst you could imagine, and the road was bad at that. A mile to the top, you say? It must be. But we did not take time to estimate. This was no hill to be taken on high just to show off. The Chief dropped us quietly to low speed gear and pointed us up!
“You know what happened. It is not for us to talk about. It was work for all of us, not merely for the cylinders, but for the very tires themselves. You should have heard the cylinder crowd ask, once in a while between breaths, whether the drivers were sure they were getting all that the six were sending them? Once or twice the clay got nasty under-tread and the drivers moaned with despair as thfey tried and tried to get a grip of honest ground to lift us by! How we worked then! All of us together! And how, when we’d wonder if we hadn’t whirled our drivers into a clay groove, the tires would get a grip of things and we’d climb again. Suddenly the projectors sent back a shout: “We’re up!
We’re up! We’ve climbed Blackthory’s Hill!” But not one of us relaxed one tittle. We leaped ahead, the remaining twelve miles toward Roden’s Corners. We drew up at this very driving shed just as the dawn was breaking.
“That was our job. The rest was up to the Chief. He got his workers together and gave them the reply to the Wharf Scandal. He held three small meetings and canvassed the most dangerous side-lines. He didn’t stop to look for results that day, he merely worked; and when the returns were coming in at his town-headquarters that night and folks were clamoring for a speech, he and we were rolling through the country again toward home.”
The big car feathered over the road like an easy-going racing skiff on twinkling water, like a sleek wind taking a morning constitutional over a lake—and the Spirit of the Road sat in the curve of the Spare Tire, riding home to his haw-bush on Blackthory’s Hill.
“Jimminy!” he yawned, “I’m dog tired! Doggone tired! I b’lieve this joy-ridin’ must be bad for a man’s liver and I dunno’s I ever was s’ far away from home before. But it’s grand ! It’s real grand!”
“What you think about us climbing your hill, hereafter?” suggested the Exhaust.
“Hill! That hill! Shucks! What’s the use of me eggin’ people on to climb? They just take me on and call my bluff. Pers’nully, I’m thinkin’ of movin’ t’ the other haw-bush at the foot of Blackthory’s so’s I can hop on behind the next time you’re goin’ up.”
“That’s to be to-morrow then,” commented the Exhaust, “and the woman’ll be along. He’s promised to show her the hill.”
“I’ll have a good squint at her,” said the Spirit of the Road, “she must be some account by what I hear. But I must be gettin’ off now. Thanks fellers, for the ride. So long!”