You Never Can Teach Your Wife
Being the First of the Adventures of Peter and Pokey
NORMA PHILLIPS MUIR
IWATCHED Peter clamber out of the car with his arms full of parcels, and
opened the front door for him.
"Why didn’t you hire a truck?” I asked flippantly, but Peter merely reproved me with a look, and put down his burden of two big boxes, one smaller one, and a parcel.
"'Tisri’t anybody’s birthday, is it?" t asked, and again Peter reproved ray levity with a stern
"Oh, cut out the heavy husband act and show me the boodle,” I said, at which Peter uttered a shocked "hush!” and opening the first box he withdrew from it a crepe sleeve band. I didn’t say a word, for I thought there' must be a joker in the deck somewhere, but when the small box revealed a pair of black kid gloves, and the one large box a silk hat. 1 began to get worried.
"Peter.” I gasped, "what has
"Hush!" he repeated with emotion,
"hush'” and cutting the string on the other large box he turned back the wrappings tenderly, and exposed to my horrified gaze a huge wreath of laurels and mauve orchids.
"G-g-g-ood Gosh. Pete r,” I shrieked, "who’s dead? Not your
"Somebody’s mother,” he said gravely, "tr. brief, Mrs. Marston’s, she passed away early this morning."
"You mean the chief’s mother-inlaw ?" I cried in relief.
‘ The same.” acknowledged my husband: "gone to her reward.”
"Well." I said, "according to Mr.
Marston’s prognostications she won’t suffer with the cold. He told me she was all to him that he had ever dreamed a mother-in-law could be.”
"May I ask you to show' a little more respect and feeling?” inquired Peter. "Whatever Mr. Marston may have previously said, he is cut to the quick by his loss. The office is to be closed all afternoon to-morrow for the funeral.” "Well, the cutter, the quicker’s all I can say,” I retorted. He isn't losing any time in burying the poor old soul, but why all the festive attire for you?” "I am to be a pall-bearér,” stated Peter with dignity. "Hope you don't trip.” I giggled. “Is that our wreath or the firm's?”
"Ours." he said with pride. “Could we eat now and talk anon?”
"I thought you would hardly feel like food,” I suggested gravely, but Peter had been repressed for as . — g a.s it was possible, and he picked me up and carried me ir.t-the dining room, suggesting that I not be lippy.
“Weil drive around with the WTeath after dinner,” he said, so while he read the paper, I put the twins to bed and when he went upstairs to wash, I cribbed an orchid from the bountiful supply in the wreath and put it in water in the cellar. When Peter came down I was all ready to go. I had been thinking hard too, and had made up my mind on a couple of matters.
"T'VARLING." I said, when we were nicely started, "where did you get the hat and gloves and the
"Ormsby's." he said. “Why?”
"That’s all right,” I said. “They’ll take ’em back.” Take ’em back nothing,” said Peter. “They won’t exchange things that’ve been w'orn.”
"But they aren't going to be w-orn,” I said firmly. "A very dear aunt of ours—one w'ho lives outside the city limits—is going to take a fit or convulsions or something about noon to-morrow, and we must go to her We shall drive, of course, and if such a thing happened that you taught me the rudiments of driving while we were on our way so much the better.”
"Ncthing doing,” contradicted Peter. “I haven’t got an aunt near the city, and if I had she wouldn’t take fits, ar.d if she did I wouldn’t go tb her to-morrow. It's all off. Ruth. I’ve got to go to this funeral.”
All right, darling,” .I sighed; “you know best. I just thought that perhaps you might enjoy spending an afternoon in the big, clean, out-of-doors—just you and Nature and I.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me or Nature,” chuckled Peter, “but you’d gum up the party for sure. Wish I could take the afternoon and teach you to drive, dear, but I’m afraid Marston’d be sore if I cut his party.”
“It’s all right. I understand,” I said sweetly, and Peter.missed a Hydro pole by a couple of inches in his sudden desire to get a good look at me, and, though he kept his eyes on the road after that, he seemed worried.
“Now remember, Pokey, no shenanigans,” he said, as we ascended the Marston’s steps. “You’d better let me do the talking.”
“Yes, Peter,” I said meekly, and he gave me a threats ening look and would have said more had the door not opened at that moment.
“Mr. Marston?” asked Peter in a whisper, handing his wreath to the maid.
Mr. Marston came, and we went into the living room.
“So good of you to come,” whispered Mr. Marston, wringing my hand, but I didn’t say anything, just smiled a sweet, sad smile at him, and patted his arm gently.
“She wanted to come and offer her sympathy too,” said Peter anxiously, and I rolled my eyes soulfully at Mr. Marston—shut them as if overcome by my emotion, and then nodded, dumb with grief. Peter’s eyes began to look rather wild, but I avoided his effort to catch my attention.
“T’LL see if Mrs. Marston won’t come down and see you,” said Mr. Marston, and I smiled sadlyat him again as he left the room.
Peter sneaked across to me.
“Cut it out,” he hissed.
I merely raised my eyebrows at him inquiringly.
“Why don’t you answer him when he speaks to you?” asked my irate husband, and I managed to look bewildered, and then began to talk to him on my fingers, and Peter shook me.
“Cut it,” he repeated.
“But you told me to let you do the talking,” I whispered plaintively. “I was just trying to please you.”
“Oh Lord!—pretend you’re a lady,” he groaned. “You know I just meant to be careful what you said—not to put your foot into anything.”
“All right, dear, I’ll do my best,” I said brightly, but even then the harassed look didn’t leave my husband’s face.
“So nice of you to come, I hardly expected you,” said Mrs. Marston composedly as she came in.
“I felt I had to come and offer you my sympathy,” I said, and at that Peter who was standing-to in case of emergency seemed satisfied.
“Such a shock,” said Mrs. Marston. “Why only this morning--”
“I’m afraid we have something of the same sad order awaiting us,” I confessed. “An aunt, a very dear aunt of Mr. Ronald’s, is likely to die any day, and we are ready to go day or night when the—summons comes. Such a strain——•”
Peter pricked up his ears, and then as some other people came in we took our departure.
“What’d I tell you?” began Peter.
“I just had to make conversation, Peter,” I said patiently. “I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true. You have an aunt who may die any day, and to whose home you would hasten if the dread messenger came.”
“Can the rhetoric,” requested Peter. “All I can say is that it is strange you could think of nothing else to say but just that. However--”
“Isn’t it a gorgeous night, darling?” I asked, nestling as close to him as the steering-wheel would permit. “It’ll be a peachy day tomorrow.”
“I hope so,” he said. “I’d hate to get my new tile spoiled.”
THE subject of the funeral was not broached again that night, but next morning when we discovered that the promise of the night before had been wonderfully fulfilled, Peter looked rather glum.
“You’ll come home for lunch and go from here, won’t you?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Why?”
“Would you mind going into the delicatessen and getting me a nice plump chicken and a pint of green pepper salad?” I asked, giving him some money from the house-keeping purse.
“What’re they for?” he inquired.
“It’s such a lovely day I think Pansy and I’ll take the children to the lake shore and let them play in the sun,” I said. “We’ll have a picnic tea there, and in case we aren’t back when you arrive, I’ll leave you a leg and some salad on the table or in the ice-box—just root around and you’ll find something.”
Peter didn’t say anything, but he strode out of the house, and I knew he was comparing the pleasure of the funeral with what I was planning. At noon when he came in he tossed the chicken on the table, put the salad beside it, and with a deep bow presented me with a pot of cream cheese, a bottle of olives and a cantaloupe.
“Aunty’s had a relapse,” he said sheepishly. “We’ll have to go to her and we’d better take something to eat on the way.”
“You old skidimidink!” I yelled, throwing myself at him. “Pansy can take the twins for a ride and you’ll teach me to drive and then we’ll have a scrumptious supper and come back in time to put Teddy and Toddy to bed.”
“That’s the stuff,” agreed Peter. “I just told Mr. Marston that the aunt you told Mrs. Marston about had had a sinking spell and I thought I had better be on my way to her, and he said Providence knew what was best for us all.”
“Old hypocrite,” I giggled. “Oh. Peter! I’m so full of pep!”
HAD had a suspicion that Peter might weaken, so I hadn’t said anything to Pansy about the picnic, and when I offered her all day Sunday off she was overjoyed and promised to keep an eye on each of the twins every minute I was away.
I put the lunch in the car, and then, dressed in my black canton crepe, with a severe black sailor on (in case we might see any of the Marstons) I eased myself into the driving seat and hollered for Peter. He got into the car and sat down, and just as he was about to begin my second driving lesson, his eye lighted on my orchid and for a moment his mouth operated like that of a fish on a dock.
“Pokey, did you—where—what—”
“Very lucid,” I said. “I certainly did. A rose—to say nothing of an orchid—to the living is worth a whole hot house to the dead—drive on MacDuff.” “That,” said my husband, “is the everlasting limit— to take a bloom from the bier of the dead.”
“Speaking of beer,” I began brightly.
“I’m not through,” interrupted Peter. “I feel that I—that you—”
“We comes next,” I reminded him. “Say, Peter, have a record made, will you? It won’t cost much compared with the wear and tear on your nerves of trying to express your opinion of me, and it’ll have just as much effect—my master’s voice—■”
Peter regarded me sternly for a moment" and then he threw back his head and howled with mirth.
“Most unseemly for a grief-stricken nephew,” I remarked, and at that he sobered and the lesson began.
“Now!” he said. “What is the first thing I told you to do?”
“Put my foot on the starter and push till she thunders. Is that right?” I asked.
He nodded. “Next?”
“Then I take the emergency brake off, holding the clutch in neutral, ease her into low, and when we’ve gone a few yards let her slip swiftly and smoothly back into high,” I recited.
Peter giggled appreciatively at my mimicry of him. “Right there, Kid,” he approved. “Then what do you do?”
“Keep on going,” I said, “and if you don’t see a cop, give her the gas and hit the high spots.”
“That’s about what you’ll do—or would if I wasn’t along to watch you,” stated Peter. “All right, let’s go.” “But I don’t know how to stop or back up,” I complained.
“That’ll come later; we’ll just go ahead for a while,” he said.
t^VERYTHING went according to schedule until I ' tried to put her into high, and then my foot slipped and she plunked into high and stopped with a jolt.
“For Gosh sake, don’t do that,” snapped Peter. “You said put her into high quickly,” I reminded him.
“Yes and smoothly,” he retorted “I didn’t say to take your feet off everything.”
“Well, now what do I do?” I said. “Begin all over?”
“Certainly. Your emergency brake is off, so the first thing you do is to hold her in neutral and start her.
I was so enthusiastic that I plumped her into low with such speed that she stalled again, and Peter rolled his eyes heaven-ward in a mute appeal for patience.
“What happened that time?” I asked. “I didn’t even get her into high before she’d stalled.”
“Well, if you’d tell me more than one thing at a time, and give me credit for having more than a single-track brain, we might get along better,” I said tartly, but the next effort showed improvement and we went several blocks in comfort.
“Now,” said Peter, “suppose you have to stop for anything, a street car, say—”
“Why stop for it? Why not pass it?” I asked.
“In case it should stop a little way ahead of you,” said Peter patiently,
“shove her into neutral and put on your foot brake. Now, pretend that the second post ahead of us is a street car—gosh all hemlocks—neutral, not low, neutrali said. Can’t you hear?”
“I hate being on the fence,” I said, trying to speak brightly; “I’m either in low spirits or high. I hate being neutral, I—”
“Is this a driving lesson or a monologue?” inquired Peter with dangerous politeness.
“Let’s pretend we don’t have to stop to-day,” I pleaded—“at least for a little while. Just let’s drive about,” and I started her again.
“We’d better be heading for the country pretty soon,” said Peter. “I don’t know this street, Ruth, do you?”
“No,” I said. “I’ll turn down every corner until we find out where we are and then we can head for the highway.” But we didn’t. We made three turns, laughing at our ignorance, and then, at the fourth turn what I saw soured the blood in my veins.
“Sufferin’ cats!” yelled Peter. “Stop Ruth—no don’t —don’t do anything—”
LIE STARTLED me so that my teeth chattered and
-*■ my hands shook, and I got tense all over and straightened up—my foot inadvertently shoving the clutch into low—and we stalled—stalled right in front of the hearse before Marston’s house, just as the casket was being carried out.
Just as our bus stopped, Mr. Marston who had followed the casket down the walk, looked up, and his sad visage brightened as he caught sight of Peter.
“Wait!” hissed Peter as he climbed out backwards with his furious face toward me. “Just wait here until I come back, and when we get home I’ve a few things to say to you.”
“The fewer the better,” I groaned. “If you’d said what you meant the first time—” but Peter was gone, and while I watched he joined Mr. Marston and they climbed into the first car.
“Chief mourner and everything,” I sniffled. “For two cents I’d go with you, brother.”
I watched curiously while the numerous cars were filled with men, and I thought cynically that there would be fewer going if they had to hire the cars themselves, or if it were a rainy day.
“I’ll bet some of them are wishing they could take a chance on a little smoke,” I snickered, and then as I saw a huge car being filled with gates ajar, wreathes, sprays, and anchors, I wished I had snitched two orchids instead of the one which the heat of Peter’s last remarks had shrivelled.
“What Peter isn’t planning to say to me won’t be worth listening to,” I fretted; “and it wasn’t really my fault. I couldn’t be expected to drive for the first time and keep track of streets and everything. I’d leave the bus and walk home, only I don’t know how to lock it, and Peter’d only be madder if I left it and it was stolen.”
T SAT and kept on sitting, and the sun got hotter
and hotter and I began to get hungry and thirsty. I’d have taken a snack out of the lunch basket, but I was afraid Mrs. Marston might see me.
“I must look cute sitting here and waiting,” I soliloquized. “Well, there aren’t any ‘no parking here’ signs,
and that's something to be glad about. I’d be out of luck if there were. Maybe Peter'll be so filled with the spirit of peace, a hang-over from the grave-side, that he won’t be angry at me,” I thought. “When he comes back I’ll say, ‘Back so soon, dear? Now, shall we go on together down the sunlit trail to nature’s haunts?’ Maybe that sounds a bit artificial. Suppose I say something bright like—
“ ‘Ashes to ashes and dust to dust:
‘If we don’t eat soon wTe’ll surely bust.’
“Peter might think that was flippant. I guess I’ll just say, ‘I’m so sorry, dear. Won’t you drive now, and when you can forgive me just touch my hand.’ That’s better and a tear or two wouldn’t hurt.”
I felt sort of relieved to have that settled, but the minutes dragged and I grew tired of sitting there, and after a while I began to get mad. It wasn’t my fault and Peter’d skipped off and left me to perch there in the broiling sun and get a foretaste of my future life.
“I’ll just drive home, and when he doesn’t find me here he’ll be so scared something’s happened me he’ll forget to be mad, and then when he finds me safe at home he’ll be too thankful,” I reckoned, so I thought a minute about what I should do and when I should do it, and then I did it, and the car started off as smooth as custard.
I turned up the first side street, but when I saw a street car pass it I got scared and turned down the next. A car passed that too, so I turned up the next street, and down again, and to my surprise, passed the Marston’s house. I began to worry about what I’d do, but there wasn’t any use fretting, there wasn’t anything I could do but keep on going around the square. I went quite slowly of course, and that was my one comfort. I was scared all right! My heart was beating up in my throat, and my knees were knocking together so that I took my feet off of everything for fear of their touching something they shouldn’t. After the fourth round I noticed that people were out on some of the verandahs watching me, and on the fifth round other people were leaning out of windows. Something seeped into my mind about honking at corners, but as it seemed to me that I was on corners all the time, I just kept my thumb on the button in the middle wheel which controlled the siren.
“Better be safe than sorry,” I muttered, and then I did my best to assume an expression of indifference to the accumulating crowds.
“CAY, lady, what’s the idea?” yelled a little kid, and I essayed to wave airily at him, but the car swerved suddenly, and I decided I’d better keep both hands on the wheel.
“That’s, the tenth round,” I groaned, “and I’ve forgotten everything but the honker and the gas lever. I don’t know how to do anything but just keep going, and if the gas tank’s full I may be here till morning. I don’t know how to stop to light the lights either,” I worried, but just then something else took my mind off such trivialities. When I turned the corner of the Marston’s street I was aware of two things which had occurred in my short absence. One was the arrival of a policeman with several big boys in his wake, and the other was that a watering cart had passed on and sprinkled the road.
As I neared the cop he yelled at me, and I smiled and tried to wave again, but the street was slippery, and Dear Brutus skidded, turned half round, missed the cop by a couple of inches, and then righted itself and went on again, leaving a threatening, quivering figure in brass and blue behind.
“Good thing for him he wasn’t two inches more rotund,” I giggled. “Gee, I hope he doesn’t try it again on that street—it’s too slippery for me and my gas-buggy.”
I remembered that Peter had once said you were more likely to skid when you were going slow, so screwing up my courage on the other three streets, I shoved the lever up another notch or two, and we careened crazily around the corner, slewed about a bit, and then sailed down the middle of the road.
The cop was waiting for me—on the road this time—but when he saw me coming, sort of zig-zagging —like a camouflaged ship, he hopped for the curb, but yelled another greeting as I whizzed by.
“I don’t remember whether the limit’s fifteen or twenty,” I said. “I’ll ask him on the next round.” But he didn’t hear me, and when I circled again I saw that there were cops on two of the other corners.
“Sort of closing in on their quarry,” I giggled, but even though I was amused, I was worried too. There were people on all the verandahs now, and heads out every window, and at the various corners an odd car or so was parked, and a couple of wagons, as though they were afraid to take a chance of crossing the road.
“I’m sure the limit is twenty miles an hour,” I said desperately; “and I’m going to take a chance and split
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the difference anyway—if this goes on much longer I’ll bust,” so I shoved her up another notch, and then a bit more until the speedometer registered seventeen miles, and 1 held her there. People began to cheer and yell when they saw me coming, and 1 got so excited I wanted to wave at them, but I couldn’t, and by this time I’d lost count of the number of times I’d been round. I knew the corners so well that I felt I could shut my eyes and know when to turn, but on account of there being so many people around I thought it better not to try any stunts. The people weren’t near the road though, and when one little boy ran down on to the side-walk his mother snaked him back and cuffed him. Everybody was keeping pretty well back from the road, and after skidding as I had, I felt rather thankful for that too. For some little time I had tried to stop the siren when I came in front of the Marston’s—out of respect, you know—but the last few laps I had gone around so quickly I lost track of their house. I remember thinking that I’d have netted a nice little sum if I’d known about this and could have charged for the best vantage points, but of course I couldn’t stop long enough to even pass a hat. Mine was on the back of my head, where it had slipped when we skidded so dreadfully, and by the feel cf it I knew that my hair was coming down too.
“Thank Heaven it can’t come off,” I gasped, and then as I sighted the four officers of the law in earnest conclave I began to worry for fear there was some law against driving continuously on one street—or on four streets rather. “I don’t think they can do anything to me unless I’m holding up traffic, and I’m not exactly doing that,” I solaced myself.
Next time round I saw that two of the cops had gone off running and • leaning out I yelled jokingly at the remaining two, “Gone for reinforcements?”
They. yelled something at me but I missed it.
“Tell me on the next lap, Bobby,” I hollered and I slowed her up when we came to that place again. But he was out on the road, and when he saw that I was slowing down he got ready to jump on, so I gave her another shove up, and shot past him as he hopped for safety again.
“I wish Peter’d come,” I sobbed, for the crowd was getting bigger and bigger, and there were cops on every corner, and although I kept my hand on the siren all the time now, I had a feeling that maybe that wasn’t all the law required of me. I’d held my feet off everything so long that they’d both gone to sleep, and I had to drop ’em or rub ’em, and so I dropped ’em.
“Things can’t be worse than they are,” I moaned. “I’ll take one chance.” So I put my foot down hard and pulled a lever at the same time, praying for the car to stop. For a fraction of a second it seemed to stop and then it squeaked and jerked, and then it began to go backward up the street for all it was worth, with me clinging to the main mast and trying to remember what came next. I had just strength enough left to shove the lever back where it used to be and take my foot off the pedal, and then we began the forward march again.
I WISH you could have seen the A people scatter when I began to go backwards. Even the cops looked ready to take to the telegraph poles, and as one little lad shinnied up a tree I remember thinking—just in a flash—that Darwin must have been right.
“That was a bad guess, Pokey,” I panted. “When we were settled on our regular route march again. The three end fingers of my right hand had cramped and were doubled under, and, although I didn’t realize it until afterward, it must have been the queer, pistol shape it presented which made one cop act as he did. He was just getting ready to jump on the running board, when I held up my hand to warn him off, and he dropped to the pavement as though I’d hit him, yelling that I was armed.
“Oh! Lord, let something happen quick,” I prayed, and just as I was opposite the Marston’s it did, for the car wheezed, coughed twice, and came' to a sudden stop.
“That was a mighty powerful prayer,” I thought, and that was all I had time for then, for in about fifteen seconds from the time the car stopped, the multitude were upon me.
“I wish I were a Mark Antony,” I muttered, and then when I thought of how the crowd would look if I stood up and cried “Friends, Romans and Countrymen, lend me your ears,” and chuckled.
“Surrender in the name of the law,” said a stentorian voice.
“What do I surrender?” I asked, hoping that a little kindly mirth might pave a way to better feeling.
“No funny work now,” he adjured me. “What is the meaning of this?” “Ask me something easy first?” I smiled.
“No lip now,” said the officer. “What do you mean by such a performance?” “So that’s it?” I cried aghast. “I didn’t pay my amusement license.” “That’s enough,” he said. “What’s the idea?”
“It wasn’t an idea,” I said gravely; “it was an accident.”
“Are you coming across?” he snarled. I looked toward the Marston house and shuddered. “Not there,” I pleaded; “I’m not sure what it was, but it may have been something contagious.”
“/",RAZY as a cootie,” interrupted ^ another of the Bright Brigade. “You’d better walk her off, Sergeant.” “I can’t walk,” I said. “That’s what really started the trouble.”
“Why can’t you walk?” asked the sergeant.
“My feet are both asleep from holding them off those things,” and I pointed to the pedals. “That was v/hy I couldn’t stop.”
“Say—kin you drive?” he asked. “Now quit your kidding,” I said coquettishly. “I leave it to you whether I can drive or not.”
“You kin keep going, that’s all I know,” he said surlily. “Move on now, you folks, move—keep going. Now then, Miss, why didn’t you stop when I yelled at you?”
“Is that what you were saying?” I asked politely. “I didn’t hear.”
“Well you knew what I wanted when I was out in the road. Why didn’t you stop then?”
I put my head down close to his and whispered, “Honest to pop, I’d forgotten how.”
“Come on now,” he admonished. “That’s the truth, so help me jimmyjohnson-bite-the-biscuit,” I repeated solemnly, and then I told him just what had happened, only I didn’t say that we came to the funeral unexpectedly. I made him think I had changed my mind about going to the cemetery and then got tired of waiting. The policemen were all so anxious to hear that they neglected to keep the crowds moving, and consequently when Peter arrived he had to fight his way to the front row.
“Get out of my way, I tell you—I don’t care who you are,” I heard his voice saying, and I prepared myself for the worst, as Pqter, hatless and with his coat off at the shoulders, tore his way through the crowd and came to a stop beside Dear Brutus.
“What is the meaning of this?” he asked haughtily. “Can’t a man leave his wife in his car for a while in front of a private house without a crowd like this collecting?”
“Now hold on, Mister, don’t get het up,” advised the sergeant. “This car and this lady are yours?”
“Certainly,” said Peter, “and I want an explanation of what you mean by allowing her to be worried in this way?” “Allowing her to be—now cool off, buddy,” he said soothingly. “Your car and your wife haven’t been here more’n about three minutes. I don’t know how long you’ve been gone, but for the last half hour this car with this lady at the wheel have been skyrooting around this particular square at speeds varying from eight to eighteen miles an hour, endangering human life and disobeying the injunction of the law. What’ve you got to say to that?”
Peter opened the door and looked at me.
“S-s-s-hall we go tog-g-g-ether, dearest, and s-s-s-eek the s-s-un lit t-t-trail amid the haunts of s-s-weet nature?” I stuttered.
Peter gave me one nasty look and then turned to the officers.
“There’s some mistake,” he said. “My wife can’t drive. I was just teaching her.” “See, I told you!” I said in triumph to the sergeant.
“That’s all right,” he said. “Maybe she can’t stop, like she says she can’t, but she can drive, and what’s more she can take any one of these corners on two wheels—”
Peter grew very white.
“Was anyone hurt?” he asked.
“No,” admitted the law reluctantly. “Are you laying any charge against my wife?” asked Peter quietly.
“Endangering human life—” began the sergeant.
“But I wasn’t,” I cried. “I wasn’t going over seventeen and a half miles at any time, and I kept the siren honking all the time and I’d have stopped if I could but I couldn’t.”
THE other two policemen had dispersed the crowd, and Peter, sitting at the wheel of the car, looked sternly at me.
“Tell me just what happened, Ruth,” he said. “I want the plain unvarnished truth.”
I told all of them the truth, beginning at Peter’s deciding to cut the funeral across the road and teach me to drive, and when I came to the part about stalling the car at the crucial moment I thought the fat old sergeant would have apoplexy. They were all laughing when I stopped—except Peter.
“Any charge?” he asked gravely.
“No sir, only don’t let her out with that bus until you’ve taught her how to stop it,” advised the officer, and Peter, after handing out dole in the shape of cigars, put his foot on the starter. It thundered, but when he shoved her into low nothing happened.
“I think maybe we’re out of gas,” I suggested timidly.
Peter muttered several words I have heard in church, although not in the sequence he used them in, and then I sat in the car and waited while he went for a gallon of gas. The silence was unbroken while we drove to the garage, returned the tin and had the gas tank filled. The silence was still ominous when we hit the highway, and Peter let her out to twenty-three miles.
“Are you angry, darling?” I asked diffidently.
“Some folks would call it that,” he snapped.
“But, Peter, you pleased Mr. Marston, and the car’s not hurt and—you still have me,” I said.
“So I see,” he remarked.
“Sweetheart, somehow silence is not the perfect communion I could wish, to-day,” I sighed. “Let us talk together while we seek the sunlit trail—”
“I don’t want to talk,” said Peter shortly.
“Would you like to sing, beloved?” I asked tenderly.
“God forbid,” he snorted.
“Oh, very well,” I said, thinking I had done my part; “if you don’t wish my company, I’ll relieve you of it and seek a more congenial atmosphere.”
I went to the rear seat, and opened the lunch basket. Peter never moved. I took the chicken from its wrapping of wax paper, and ripped off a leg of it, which I proceeded to demolish with much rude smacking of lips. I also pulled the cork of the bottle containing the olives and had a couple. Peter slowed the car a bit, and I wafted my chickeny breath toward him. The car stopped with a jerk.
“Gimme a leg,” demanded Peter. “Limb, dear,” I said gently as I handed it to him.
“That’s what you are,” he said sternly, “a limb of Satan. Gimme an olive.” “All right, dear. What’s a leg between friends?” I said, and Peter giggled as he gathered up the lunch basket and climbed out, so I knew he was feeling better. However, I didn’t say anything about driving home.
There is such a thing as knowing when to push a point, and when to leave well enough alone.