BEN AMES WILLIAMS
“The Road Runner”
IN A LIGHT VEIN
THERE were four of the young men; and they lived together, comfortably enough, in a pleasant house in the Newtons, where they were served by an old colored man who cooked and cleaned and made beds as adequately as a whole staff of maids could have done. Bill Holt was a re-write man on the Chronicle; Joe Thorne had gone into his father’s law office; Bob Riddell sold bonds when bonds could be sold; and Chad Warren—who is recommended to your attention—did nothing at all. Chad and Bob Riddell had been classmates and room-mates; and the four of them had foregathered in more than one dugout in France.
The fact that Chad followed no gainful occupation is not to be used against him. There was no need of his working unless he cared to do so; his father had made shoes in such quantity and of such quality that Chad was relieved of the necessity. Nevertheless, he would have preferred to be at work, and idleness irked him. He was forced to endure it because he had encountered in the Argonne, at about the same time, a machine gun bullet and an influenza germ; and this alliance had been near exterminating him. Another month '
of sleep, and rest, and open air, and mild exercise, and his doctor promised that he would be fit again. But a month is a considerable time: and Chad was already so nearly well that he was w ondering what to do with his days.
He was one of those fellows whom other men instinctively like, with a humorous eye, a stubborn chin, and an audacious resourcefulness, which had brought him through some tight places in France, and which had a way of coming to his rescue when he needed it. He played fair golf; played tennis a little better; and played bridge almost as well as Bob Iliddell, who was too fat to do anything else.
Something quixotic in him occasionally betrayed the young man into helping people who did not wish to be helped. The result had been, at times, embarrassing to Chad and
humorous to his friends. At breakfast this morning, Bob Riddell, his mouth full of bacon and eggs, was recounting such an incident. At the theatre the night before, they had sat next two spinster ladies of uncertain age and stony demeanor. During the last act, Chad noticed that one of them was leaning forward and groping in the darkness between the seats. He asked whether he could assist her; his smile was engaging and his manner friendly.
“She thought Chad was trying to pick her up,” Bob hilariously declared. “You know the kind. If you look at them, they’re insulted. And she gave him just one look ‘I am adjusting my stocking, young man,’ she said. There was ice on every word. Outraged modesty stuff.. .”
THE others laughed aloud; and Chad grinned at his own discomfiture, and asked the old man who served them for fresh coffee. It was a morning in late June, and they were breakfasting on the screened porch at one side of the house. The day before had been warm; to-day
promised to be warmer. Joe Thorne, a lean young man with a lawyer’s jaw, remarked on this, and asked:
“Chad, you going to stay in town this summer? Believe me, if I were foot loose as you are, I’d get out of here.”
Chad hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “Haven’t decided.”
“Aren’t you going up to Blue Hill?” Bill Holt inquired. “Thought you always went there.”
“Maybe I will.” Chad lighted a cigarette and tilted back in his chair. “It’s not very exciting there, you know. Just a little colony of half a dozen cottages. Always the same people. Read or swim or talk in the morning, tennis or cards in the afternoon, sing and go to bed in the evening. You know, Bob. You were up there once. You can see how it would come to be a bore.”
The fat man shook his head. “If Mary Dale is still there, I wouldn’t have to be asked twice to go again.” Chad shook his head. “No. She married Jack Dunster. They live in Minneapolis, I think.”
“I’ve been through from Bangor to Bar Harbor,” Thorne said. “Blue Hill’s south of there, isn’t it? Looked like great country. Isn’t the fishing first rate?”
“Oh, yes,” Chad assented. “But I’ve fished every brook and every pond in fifty miles around. I know that country too well, maybe. I can’t see its—beauty, as I used to.” He hesitated, then added energetically: “But I don’t propose to go off anywhere and vegetate, this summer. If nothing turns up, I’ll probably stick around here.”
Bill Holt laughed. “Well, you bet when my little old two weeks comes along, I’ll not stick here.”
Chad smiled. “Oh, I suppose if you all bolt away and leave me alone, I’ll have to get out, too. But as long as you’re here... Well, I’m thin enough so that I don’t mind the heat.” Fat Bob Riddell mopped his forehead. He had absorbed half a grapefruit; two eggs, a liberal measure of bacon, three slices of toast with marmalade, and three cups of coffee. The effort was telling on him. “I wish I didn’t mind the heat,” he groaned.
“...‘lards the lean earth as he walks along,’ ” Chad quoted smilingly. “But you’ll be cool enough tonight, Bob.”
“Maybe,” Bob assented doubtfully. “The last time I went up to Don’s it was a hundred and two in the shade.”
Chad laughed, and Holt asked: “Going up to York, are you?”
“Yes. Just over the week end. Back Monday morning.”
Chad shook his head. “Over the road,” he said. “It’s ■only about eighty miles.”
“ThoughLyour car was in the shop?”
“It is. We’re going in Bob’s.”
Holt stared, then laughed. “If you’re going to drive eighty miles in that scow of Bob’s before midnight, tonight, you want to start day before yesterday,” he declared.
BOB glared at him. “You poor thing,” he said scornfully. “What do you know about automobiles, anyway? Just because there’s a bit of paint missing here and there. . . There’s many an honest carburetor under a rusty hood. She’ll do it in three hours and never even warm up her radiator.”
“You want to take along a fur coat, Chad,” Thorne suggested. “You may get there, but you won’t get back before Christmas.”
Bob retorted, with great dignity: “There’s a good little engine in that car,” and Chad came to his rescue, with that instinctive loyalty which was native to him.
“I guess we’ll make it all right,” he said.
Holt and Thorne presently left together for town; and Chad and Bob began preparations for their departure. They had decided to make an early start. “We’ll get there just about in time for lunch,” Bob remarked. “My mouth’s all made up for a shore dinner.”
Chad nodded. “Get there before it gets too hot,” he assented. He drew the straps on his bag and buckled them. “I’m all set,” he reported. “Want me to run her out of the garage?”
Bob Shook his head. “Don’t you touch her, Chad,”.he warned. “Of course, she’s all right; but she has to be handled just so. Her master’s voice, and all that. I wouldn’t be responsible, if you started monkeying with her.”
“Right,” Chad assented. “I’ll go stow my bag, anyway. Shall I give her a touch of oil? Water? Gas?”
“You leave her alone,” Bob insisted. “Just leave all that to me.” '
Chad left him sweating over his suit case and went out to the garage behind the house and swung open the doors. Bob’s car, of noble lineage, had fallen into evil days before Bob acquired her. It was reported that he had paid thirteen hundred dollars for the machine, and that was three years before. Nevertheless, as he said, the engine was a good little engine, and would still, upon occasion, go. Chad had no-particular misgivings. When his bag was safely bestowed, he lighted a fresh cigarette and sat down on the turf beside the driveway to wait for Bob.
Bob was always in a great hurry, and always late. It was nine o’clock before he appeared; and Chad said: “If you’re planning on that shore dinner, we’d better be rolling, old man.” ,
Bob nodded. “That’s all right,” he declared. “We’ll travel, when we once get started.”
“When and if we get started,” Chad grinned; and Bob held up a pudgy hand.
“Now don’t you start that stuff,” he commanded. “She ain’t pretty, but she’s got an honest heart. Love me, love my car. Am I right, or am I wrong?”
“Yes,” Chad told him. ¡
“Well, no, then, if you like that better.”
DOB said: “Oh, rats!” And he swung his suit case into the tonneau. To do so, it was necessary for him to step upon the running board; and when he did this a chorus of tiny voices made themselves heard, as springs and bolts and pins and shackles adjusted themselves to his weight. He cocked his ear knowingly : “Seems to me I heard a squeak,” he exclaimed.
“I thought so, myself,” Chad agreed.
Bob waved a large hand, mopped his brow. “Oh, well, so long as she goes. . .” He swung into the seat, wedged his bulk beneath the wheel. “Climb in, old man,” he commanded.
It happened that as Chad was about to obey, a car passed along the street before the house. For no apparent reason, the driver gave a loud blast with his horn. Chad looked back, his eyes clouded by a shadow of distaste. “Listen to that idiot, Bob,” he said. “You know, I’d like to take one of these fellows that drive with their horn wide open, and strap a horn to each of his ears, and turn them on. They make me tired. . .”
“Oh, climb aboard, Chad,” Bob told him. “Your nerves are too touchy. Quit grouching, and climb aboard.”
“Just the same, I’d like to,” Chad insisted, as he squeezed into what was left of the seat, beside his friend.
WHEN Chad was settled, Bob sat for a moment perfectly still, scanning the various gauges and dials upon the instrument board. He stayed thus for so long that Chad asked him what was the matter. Bob said: “Nothing at all. I’m just looking her over. Some men start on a trip without knowing whether the bus is in shape or not. Not me. I make my preparations and take my precautions first.”
Chad smiled. “Looks all right to me,” he said. “As much of her as I can see from the seat. Speedometer’s all right, anyway. Says we’re standing still, and we are. Step on her, old man, and let’s be rolling.”
Bob nodded. “Right,” he assented. “Now. . .” He pulled up the priming lever; and Chad asked:
“Have to prime her, a day as hot as this?”
“Never does any harm,” Bob told him, and pressed the starting button. It seemed to Chad the hum of the starter was not so powerful as it might have been; nevertheless, the engine was certainly turning over, and after a moment it caught, and Bob took his foot off the button. Almost immediately, however, the explosions became jerky, choked, and died.
There was a moment’s silence; then Chad^asked: “^\Jhat happened?”
“Held the choke up too long,” said Bob, as one who knows. “Now she’ll go...” He pressed again. But this time the engine did not take hold. He kept the motor turning over for ten seconds, then shook his head and withdrew his foot.
“It’s all right,” he said hurriedly, anticipating Chad’s question. “I know what the trouble is. She gets this way.
Little grease, or dirt, or something on the valve in the carburetor. Wait till I wipe her off...”
He squeezed painfully out of the car and lifted the hood on the left hand side, reaching gingerly into the tangle of wires and pipes.
Chad, watching him could see the beads of perspiration distill on his forehead and drip upon the engine. “You’ll get her wires wet,” he suggested, warningly.
Bob panted, and stood clear. “Now turn her over,” he directed. “I think she’ll catch.”
Chad obediently adjusted levers and pressed the starter.
Its voice filled the garage; but nothing happened. Bob held up a majestic hand, and Chad withdrew his toe. “Not clean yet,” said the fat man, and bent to his labors again. “There .. . Try her again.”
Chad gave the button a jab, and when the engine failed to catch, released it. Bob waved his hands.
“Go on, go on,” he commanded. “Carburetor’s flooded. Hold her down for thirty seconds. Give it time to clean out. Then she’ll go. Got your gas shut off. . .”
The starter roared again; and Chad glanced at his wrist wa' ch and timed it. At the end of thirty seconds, he released the button. But the starter did not stop. Bob was staring into the engine as though he would read its secret there. Chad shouted to him; and Bob held up his hand. Chad shouted again; and Bob yelled:
“All right, stop her.”
“She is stopped,” Chad told him.
“Take your foot off that button,” Bob bellowed. “Want to run her batteries down?”
“My foot is off!” Chad retorted.
Bob made a gesture of indignation, and climbed on the running board and reached down into the darkness of the floor, fumbling for the starter button. Found it clear. “My God,” he cried, “she’s running herself.”
Chad reached across and cut off the ignition; but the starter still hummed. More feebly, he thought. “Disconnect one of the wires,” he advised, at the top of his voice.
BOB nodded, and his lips moved. Chad thought he said something about a short circuit. He was fumbling under the hood; then climbed into the seat and reached in to find one of the fuse connections beneath the instrument board. He ripped out one, but nothing happened. That is to say, the starter continued to buzz.
“Got to disconnect—batteries,” Bob panted. “Where’s that screw driver?”
Chad, by this time, was helpless; and Bob, without checking the frenzy of his own efforts, cursed him steadily.
The starter buzzed and buzzed, like an alarm clock running down. Bob found the screw driver and laid the batteries bare; he fumbled with one of the connections. . . The starter slowed and died.
“Oh,” said Chad, chokingly. “You got her loose.” “Got her loose!” Bob snorted, “She’s run herself ragged. She’s run down. And you sit there like a snake and laugh.”
“I wasn’t laughing at you,” Chad protested. “Just— taking my morning exercise. Doc says laughing’s darned good exercise. . .”
Bob ignored him for a space, while he readjusted wires
and fuse. Stood back and wiped his hands. “-Now get out o’ there and let’s push her out to the street,” he commanded. “Down hill, there. Maybe she’ll roll far enough to catch on the mag.”
Chad nodded weakly. “All right, old man. I’ll push her all the way to York, if you say the word.”
“Don’t be a darned fool,” Bob grunted, and braced himself against the radiator. The car rolled grudgingly to the street; and Chad cramped the wheels in time to swing her so that she faced down the slight slope that extended half a block toward town. She immediately began to depart in that direction; and the two men scrambled on the running boards, Bob tinkering with spark and gas. For a moment she picked up speed, then as the slope flattened out began to stop again; and presently was still. Bob wiped his broad brow.
“Well,” he said, “we’ll have to get somebody to give her a tow.”
“You know,” Chad suggested, “I think I could get my car, by noon.”
“That’ll be all,” Bob told him indignantly. “We’ll go in this good old bus, or we won’t go. Get me? You’re so darned lazy it don’t take much to discourage you. Me, I’ve beenscrapping with this car for three years, and I’ve always licked her, and I’m going to lick her now.”
Chad held up his hand, and spoke whisperingly. “Don’t talk like that, Bob. It hurts the old boat’s feelings. When you talked about scrapping her, she shivered like an insulted maiden lady. She’s got an honest...” He dodged Bob’s buffet, and laughed. “Right you are,” he said. “We’ll hail somebody.”
They descended into the street with that intent. Ordinarily, many cars passed this way. The street was a part of the Blue Book route into Boston from the west. But for a few minutes, no one came along.
Then an enormous limousine swung over the brow of the slope and bore down upon them. Chad, who had an observing eye, marked the strange number plate, and saw that it had been issued in the state of California. Bob was signalling desperately; but the chauffeur— whom Chad, quite without reason, disliked on sight— grinned and held his speed, so that at the last minute, Bob had to dodge out of the way. “Did you see that?” the fat man hotly demanded.
Chad nodded, abstraction in his manner. But what he
had seen was not what Bob had seen. What he had seen was the face of a girl inside the limousine. One of those faces which impress themselves in a flash of the eye, and are not forgotten. The face, he thought, of an extraordinary nice girl. Not pretty, but nice. He had an impulse to pursue, to try for another glimpse. . . But Bob brought him back to the realities, by shouting at another car which was rolling down upon them.
This driver slowed down and yelled: “Trouble?”
Bob bellowed: “Give us a tow.”
The man shook his head. “Can’t stop,” he apologized. “You better phone a garage.”
Chad was thinking: “Yes, sir, looked like a mighty nice girl.” He had a vague impression that there had been other people with her in the car. A man and a WCK man. . .
“Only take a minute,” Bob pleaded with the autoist who was in a hurry; but it did no good. The man departed, his exhaust smoking derisively; and Bob shook his fist at the disappearing machine. Chad said thoughtfully: “You know, a fellow that won’t help out is a pretty poor skunk. I’d like to strike one of those guys in trouble on the road, somewhere...” He was still considering the satisfaction to be derived from this situation when Bob’s exultant shout swung him around. He had hailed a man who professed his willingness to help. As Chad turned, the man was saying:
“Got a rope? I’ll get her rolling for you.”
Bob said helplessly: “Rope?” His eyes wandered,
then brightened. “You wait just a minute,” he bade.
TpWO bouses away, painters were leisurely preparing to A start their day’s work. Bob loped heavily across, negotiated for a moment, and returned with a stout rope, to one end of which a large iron hook was attached. One of those ropes used to sling a stage against a house’s flank ... . The painter followed him, idly curious. “Don’t bust her,” he advised. “Ropes cost money.”
Bob waved a fat hand in reassurance. “Keep your shirt on, old man; she’s safe with me,” he promised, and attached the hook to his front spring, then made fast the free end to the rear axle of the other’s car. He got into the seat, called Chad. “You get out" on her mud-guard, there, old man,” he commanded. “If she starts, we don’t want to stop. I’ll pull up and give her a little slack and you unhook that hook and throw it out of the way.” He called to the driver of the other car: “Bring the rope back to this man, will you, old chap?” And to the painter: “I’ll fix it up with you Monday.”
By this time, small boys and boys of larger growth were gathering to watch what should happen. Bob, like a major general, made sure that his orders were understood. He signalled, and the other car started.
Two circumstances combined to produce disaster. Bob had locked his brakes and forgot to loose them; the driver of the other car took up the slack in the rope too suddenly. There was an instant’s strain; then the rope snapped, two feet in front of Bob’s car. The other machine leaped ahead...
The painter burst into lamentations. Bob majestically descended, holding up his hands. “That’s all right,” he said. “I’ll buy your blooming rope. How much?” And when the man named a price: “What’s that? Why the darned thing’s not made of gold.”
“Guess you never bought much rope,” said the painter. “They cost money.”
Chad sat down on the turf beside the road and enjoyed himself. The other car had backed into place again. Bob surrendered to the painter; he had to. Surrendered, and gave up the hook, and attached the free end of that portion of the rope which remained to his axle. “Now start her easy, this time,” he besought the other driver.
“Let your brakes off,” Chad suggested. “That’ll help some.”
“That’s enough out of you,” Bob told him. “Get out there where you can cut the rope when she starts. Got a knife?”
Chad, grinning weakly, said he had; and he stretched himself along the mudguard. This time both cars got safely under way. Moved slowly forward. Nothing happened; and Bob yelled to the other driver:
“More pep, there! Get her up to about twenty-five.” The other man nodded, and obeyed. And presently, they got results. Bob’s engine caught, hesitated, took hold'more firmly, began to roar. Bob yelled to Chad:
“Cut that rope!”
Chad sawed at it till it broke in two. Then climbed back to get into the seat. Bob waved a triumphant hand. Everybody in sight applauded. . .
And then the car was seized by something like a terrific fit of hiccoughs. It slewed drunkenly, bumped and pounded. Bob—swore. “Flat tire,” he groaned. “Now ain’t that awful?”
CHAD clung drunkenly to the running board, weeping with mirth. They slowed down; the engine died; and they stopped. The right hand rear tire was flat; and Bob, hands on his fat sides, looked down at it, and kicked it, and groaned aloud.
The driver of the other car came back, the rope trailing behind him. He untied it and handed it to Bob. “Sorry,” he said. “I’ve got to be moving on.”
Bob seemed a little dazed. The other departed. Chad said hopefully: “You know, we can get my car‘
But Bob was already rummaging under the seat for his tools. “Nothing but a flat tire,” he said scornfully. “Have it changed in three minutes.” He produced wrench, pliers, a jack. At sight of the jack, Chad asked:
“You’re not going to use that?”
“What’s the matter with it?”
“It won’t lift this car. That’s what’s the matter. Too darned small.”
“Fat lot you know,” said Bob. “Just a matter of strength. You watch me.”
“Watching suits me,” Chad agreed. “Don’t ask me to pump that jack, though.”
Bob was down on hands and knees, trying to edge the jack under the rear axle. Eventually, he was forced to descend to his elbows to get it into place; then sweated himself into position where he could manipulate it, and by sheer strength and awkwardness managed to pump the heavy car off the road. Crawled out, brushing his hands triumphantly. “See that?” he demanded.
Chad said weakly: “Try not to make me laugh any more, old man. I’m sick. I’m afraid I’ll bust, or something.”
“Oh, rats!” said Bob. “I’m too busy to monkey with you.”
HE APPLIED the wrench to the lugs, loosened them one by one, turned them clear. The heavy rim seemed reluctant to leave the wheel. He got one side free, tugged and jerked and kicked. Abruptly the little jack let go. Something yielded under the strain. There was a snap and clink of fracturing metal; and the rear end of the car settled with a ponderous jar. The rim and shoe came off so abruptly that Bob was knocked into a sitting posture; the heavy tire nestled in his lap. He pushed it furiously from him, it rebounded from the running board, happened to remain upright, rolled away a dozen feet or so, and fell, twirling on its own circumference for a moment before it was still.
The shattered jack had fallen into four pieces. The car rested heavily upon its bare wheel. Chad started to
laugh, saw Bob’s countenance, and sobered. Presently he got up and slipped quietly away.
When he got back, Bob had apparently not moved at all. Chad sat down. Bob asked :
“Where you been?”
“Telephoned the shop,” said Chad. “We can have my car at noon.”
“Gimme a cigarette,” Bob demanded.
They sat by the stranded car, smoking in silence, for a few minutes. Other cars passed; and from each one, faces turned their way. Upon each face, a grin was sure to appear. Chad, observing, said resentfully: “Look at the darned fools grin. No milk of human kindness. . .”
Bob did not answer at all. After a moment, Chad tried again: “See the girl in that limousine?” he asked. Bob only grunted. Chad laughed at him, and said: “Come. Don’t be a sorehead.”
“I was counting on that shore dinner,” said Bob heavily.
“We can have it for supper,” Chad assured him. . •
AT A quarter to one that afternoon, they slid across Harvard Bridge in Chad’s roadster and swung to the right, through the ill-kept streets where little traffic ran, toward the Beach Boulevard. Bob was recovering his spirits; and Chad was thinking aloud. “You know, it takes an experience like that this morning, to start you thinking,” he suggested. “I mean about the way people kid a fellow who’s in trouble. There’s a lot of bad manners on the road, Bob. Causes most qf the accidents, I’ll bet. A little ordinary courtesy, now and then.. . Someone ought to start a crusade, or something.”
“There goes that guy’s hat,” said Bob.
They were swinging into a square where five streets met and traffic came five ways at once. Their car was one of a line; and from the third car in front of them, a man’s hat appeared, sailing on a sudden gust of wind. Chad held out his hand in warning to those behind, and swung in to the curb. Bob demanded to know what he was about. *
“Going to catch that hat,” said Chad. “It’s blowing right toward a mud puddle.” He was out, in pursuit, as he finished. .
His stop had been abrupt; the street was narrow. The brakes of the car behind him screamed in protest. When he got to the hat, he found it was no great shakes of a hat after all, and it was already somewhat befouled. He looked around for the owner; but that gentleman had charged his headgear to profit and loss, and was already well on his way. Chad turned back to his car. A policeman had come running from the intersecting streets ahead.
“Hey, you,” he shouted. “What’re you trying to do?”
“I stopped to get this hat. It blew off. Somebody ahead,” Chad explained.
“Yes, and stopped traffic for a block, and came near causing a smash up. Aint you got any sense?”
Chad’s eyes kindled. “See here,” he exclaimed. “Keep a civil tongue in your head. If you’ve got anything to say to me, say it decently.”
The officer’s face purpled; he demanded curtly: “Lemme see your license. ”
Chad fished it out. “You know, you’re in wrong,” he said positively. “No regulation against stopping here. I signalled. And I’ve got a witness. What’s your objection, anyway ?”
The policeman scrutinized the license as though he doubted its validity. At last returned it, with a grudging hand. “Get along,” he said. “You’re blocking traffic.”
“I’m allowed to park here twenty minutes,” Chad insisted.
The officer threw up his hands. “All right,” he cried. “Park and be damned. You can tell the judge why you didn’t obey an officer. I’ve said all I’m going to say...”
He went back to his post, his back a picture of outraged dignity. Chad, climbing into his seat, appealed to Bob. “There’s a sample,” he protested. “No thanks from the fellow to whom I tried to do a favor; and a bawling out from that cop. Cops are as bad as the drivers. I tell you, somebody ought to take people like that and tan them, good.”
“Oh, drive on,” Bob urged. “It’s hot as the devil, sitting here.”
Chad threw in his gears and released the clutch. The car began to move. “Well,” he said reluctantly.
They swung through the square, under the sardonic eye of the policeman, and climbed the steep hill beyond, dropping swiftly to the entrance of the Boulevard. Smooth asphalt under his wheels restored Chad’s good humor; but his indignation at the stupidity and bad manners of the rest of the world still persisted. He dilated on the subject till Bob begged for mercy. They rolled smoothly along. . .
' I 'HREE or four times, between Somerville and Revere, street car tracks cross the Boulevard. At one of these crossings, they were held up. A car ahead had missed or ignored the signal of the crossing officer; the policeman had stopped this car on the crossing to harangue the driver. Traffic in both directions was blocked for a long two minutes, and horns were honking, up and down the line. Chad appealed to Bob. “Now look at that,” he exclaimed. “I’m going to call that guy.”
And, in spite of Bob’s protests, he did. When the way was clear, he crossed; drew up at one side of the roadway, beyond, alighted, and went back. The crossing officer looked at him in some surprise.
“That was a stupid piece of work, officer,” said Chad sternly. “You held up traffic in both directions. Thing for you to do was tell that fellow to stop, out of the way, and then go after him when you were free, or the traffic slowed down.”
“Say,” the policeman demanded indignantly, “what are you trying to do. Tell me something?”
“I’m calling you down,” Chad told him. “Your job is to expedite traffic, not block it. You’ve no license to lecture a man; all you can do is take him into court.” “Where do you come in, anyway?”
“I came to take your number,” Chad explained. “You need a lesson, and I intend to see that you get one. I’m going to report you for stupidity.”
“We can’t all be as smart as some,” the man said truculently.
“Those that can’t have no business in this job,” Chad assured him, and eyed his uniform cap, noting the number on an old envelope. “You’ll hear from me.”
“Sa-ay," the policeman announced. “For half a cent, I’d give you a poke.’
“I’ll report that, too,” Chad promised. “Good afternoon.”
He was feeling decidedly relieved, when he returned to his car. “I don’t know who needs a lesson most, the cops, or the drivers,” he told Bob. “I’ve a notion to start a night school for cops, as a beginning.”
Bob remembered his sufferings of the morning. “Half the time, it’s the cars that do it,” he said. “Take that old craft of mine. I’ve always treated her gentle, and kind, and look at the way she acted. If she’d had teeth, she’d have bit me.”
“Car’s all right as long as it’s treated all right,” Chad insisted. “It’s the human element in the equation.”
Bob snorted. “Suppose you never had any trouble?” he suggested.
“Sure I’ve had trouble.”
“Didn’t it always come when you were in a particular rush?”
“Well, maybe. Happened so.”
“Happened? I tell you there’s something human about an automobile. Or inhuman. They always go bust at the wrong time. It takes intelligence to do that.”
Chad laughed. “Don’t grouch, Bob. It takes a quitter to blame bad luck for his own mistakes.”
HT HEY were bowling smoothly along, threading their 1 way forward through the string of cars moving in the same direction, revelling in the easy smoothness of the boulevard. Bob swung one arm across the back of the seat, half turning, to continue the discussion. And whispered quickly:
“Slow down, Chad. Motor cycle cop trailing you.” Chad did not turn his head. “Don’t look back,” he warned. “Is he right behind?”, ,
“Two-three cars back. He’s got his eye on you.”
Chad slowed to legal speed. “Tell me if he pulls up behind me,” he said. “Don’t let him see you watching.” “What are you going to do?” Bob asked. And a'moment later: “He’s right behind you, now.”
Chad waited till a car approaching from the opposite direction slid close by his left side, so that the officer would be forced to fall in directly behind. Then, without warning, threw out his clutch and applied the brakes, checking his speed almost instantly by a good ten miles an hour. The officer had no warning; his motor cycle bumped against Chad’s rear mudguard. And Chad looked back indignantly, held out a warning hand, pulled to the road side and stopped.
The policeman stopped, too; and his eyes were furious. But Chad got the first word. “Say,” he demanded, “what are you trying to do? Bulling into the rear end of my car that way. Can’t you handle that motor cycle? What right have you got to be on the road, anyway?”
The officer said angrily: “That’ll be -”
“Shut, up,” Chad told him. “I’m talking. You great, big clumsy tramp. Can’t you handle that machine without smashing up a decent car? Look at that mudguard;” There was an infinitesimal dent in it. “It’s a
shame a man can’t drive on the public streets without a pirate like you running into him.”
“You made me.. Slowing up so quick. .
“What of it? I had to let that other car get by. That’s no excuse for you. Don’t you know enough to keep your interval. You’re no kid, hitching your sled on behind, that way. What’s the matter? Have you run out of gas? I’m not towing policemen around, this season. That’s going to set you back the price of a new mud guard. You...”
“I didn’t go to.. . ”
“Go to? If I thought you did it on purpose, I’d see you got a jail term for it. Of course you didn’t go to. Gothis number, Bob? I’m not going to warn you again, either. You pole into me that way again,and I’ll back right over you.” He manipulated gears and clutch and rolled away, leaving the policeman standing open-mouthed. “Go to school, till you learn to ride,” he yelled back at the man. “You’ve got no right to be loose in the streets.”
Bob gave way to mirth. He clapped Chad on the shoulder; and Chad grinned, and Bob guffawed. “Oh, man!” said Bob. “Oh, man! Oh, Boy. Did you see his face? And he didn’t even get a chance to ask for your license. You’ve got some nerve, Chad, my son.” “License?” said Chad. “He had nothing on me.”
“You were rolling pretty fast.”
“He wasn’t near enough to get evidence before I slowed down. You can always bluff these cops, anyway. They know they’re in wrong. .
“He’ll have a fit, sure. He’s still standing, back there, looking after you.”
“He’ll know better, next time,” said Chad. “I’d like to teach a few lessons to them all. . . ”
“Let me be standing right near by,” Bob begged.
“I might, at that,” Chad assured him.
"VTO MAN who ever drove an automobile along a travelled road has failed to find occasion for complaint against his fellow men. In this as in all other pursuits, it is always the othér fellow who is to blame. He cuts corners; he clips your bows as he passes you; he throws dust in your eyes; he hogs the middle of the road; he turns without signalling; he signals without turning; he drives too fast or he drives too slow. It seemed to Chad this day that the rest of the world combined to harass him. He thought he had never marked such stark stupidity, or such blind selfishness, on the part of those among whom he took his way.
They had left Lynn behind them and passed Phillips Beach when a car drew alongside, shot ahead, and vomited blue smoke in an obnoxious cloud. It set Chad coughing till the tears came into his eyes; it left him sick and mad. When he could speak, he said to Bob:
“There’s a law that ought to be enforced. He’s a nuisance to everyone else on the road; and it’s bad for his engine, too. I’d like to get hold of a man like that and tie him up and blow cigarette smoke in his face for an hour or two. Teach him manners...” v “Quit cussing and step on her,” Bob protested. “I never saw you in such a grouch.”
Chad grinned, pleased with his own idea. “It would sèrve him right,” he said: and pressed the accelerator. The smile stayed on his face, and after a moment he began to hum, under his breath. Bob caught a phrase:
“To make the punishment fit the crime,
“The punishment fit the crime. . .”
Half way from Rowley to Newburyport, they were hailed by a man in distress. They had just slipped around a sharp curve, hugging the inside, and were near running him down. His car was stopped at the side of the road, but not off the asphalt. Another car, coming from the opposite direction, cut in so close that Chad had no room to swing out, and his tires slid as the brakes took hold. He swung past the stalled car and stopped; and the man who had signalled came running after them.
“I say,” he cried, ’ “can you lend me a pump? Mine’s busted, and I’ve got a flat tire.”
Chad said sternly: “Haven’t you got sense enough to pull away from that curve before stopping? You’re apt to cause a collision, where you are.”
“Why, I stopped when I felt her begin to bump,” the man replied. “You can’t run on a flat tire.”
“The worst of people like you is that you get the other folks into trouble, instead of yourself,” Chad told him austerely. “If my brakes hadn’t held, I’d have had to swmg out and force that other car off the road.”
The man said sulkily: “I d'dn’t notice, particularly.” Bob gripped Chad’s elbow: “Come on, Chad; let him sweat. It’s coming to him.”
But Chad was saying to the man: “All right. I haven’t got a hand pump, but you run your car down here, slowly. It wont hurt the tire. And I’ll hitch up the engine pump.” The man looked relieved; and he said: “All right,” and went back to his car. Bob groaned, and Chad said:
‘ Cheer up. We’ve got lots of time.” He was digging in the tool compartment for the air hose. By the time the other car arrived, he bad it ready, The other driver, it
appeared, had no pressure gauge. Chad filled the tire, testing the pressure when it was done, and rose, wiping his hands.
“There you are,” he reported.
'TPHE man nodded. “Damned thing’s made me lose Jhalf an hour,” he grumbled, and climbed into the seat. Chad, stowing away the hose, watched him. The man started his engine; and Chad held up a warning hand.
“Wait a minute,” he called. “Looks to me as though that tire’s flattening. May be a leaky valve.” He bent beside the rear wheel, while the man leaned out to watch him. Chad took off the valve cover, and the valve cap, and reversed it, and began to unscrew the valve inside. There was a faint hissing; and the valve inside popped out in his hand. The tire flattened instantly. Chad dropped the valve parts on the road, and climbed into his own machine, whi e the other man stared in astonishment.
“The next time some one helps you out,” said Chad sweetly, “I’d advise you to thank him. Good afternoon.”
Before the other could stir, he had driven on. Bob, looking back, roared with delight. Chad said soberly: “There’s a satisfaction in that, isn’t there?”
“If he catches you, he’ll break you in two,” Bob warned. “Travel, my son. Step on the button, and go.”
“I hope it’ll do him some good,” Chad murmured, and pressed the accelerator down.
It was still very hot; but when they had»threaded their way through Newburyport, .and came out upon the long bridge, a cool sea breeze struck them. Bob took off his cap and exulted in it. A perfect road, almost without grades, and with pleasant New England farmhouses on either hand, stretched ahead of them for mile on mile. At each town line, signboards warned them that the speed limit was fifteen miles an hour. Chad pointed to one of these warnings. “They’re bad,” he said. “Nobody pays any attention to them, and nobody tries to enforce them, and it would be silly to enforce that limit anyway. But the effect is that every one who drives a car knows he’s breaking the law; and that makes him a little scornful of the law; and he bulls ahead. A high speed limit that’s enforced is a lot better than a low limit that’s a dead letter.” He was rolling at an even thirty, and the road stretched smooth and open ahead. He slowed to fifteen, by way of demonstration. “You see how ridiculous it is?” he asked.
Bob groaned. “Love of Mike, go on,” he begged. “I’m getting hungrier all the time.”
Chad grinned, and picked up to normal speed again. Bob suggested the shore route along the New Hampshire beaches, but Chad vetoed the suggestion. “Narrow, rough road,” he said. “It’s cool enough here, as long as we keep moving.”
“They’re rebuilding Lafayette Road. Detour there,” Bob insisted; but Chad shook his head.
“All done,” he replied. “We can go right through. Saw it in the Transcript last night.”
Bob threw up his hands. “All right. But get me somewhere where it’s cool, and get me there quick.”
“We’re a-getting,” Chad assured him.
They struck the new road beyond Hampton. Wide and well-surfaced, it was a joy to the eye, and a delight to the car. The macadam surface was broad enough for three cars to pass abreast; and outside the macadam lay smooth, fresh, sandy gravel which was, by all appearances, as firm and secure as the road. Chad lifted his speed to forty, for the sheer pleasure of feeling the wind in his face; and it was while they were travelling thus swiftly that an enormous limousine with long, low, rounded hood slid past them and drove on. Chad caught a glimpse of a face in the window; the face of an extremely nice girl. . .
He jumped to forty-five. Bob shouted in his ear: “What’s your hurry?”
“Nothing,” Chad told him. This was deception. He had seen that countenance twice; he was conscious of a wish to see it yet again. Chad was not overly susceptible; but a man need not be susceptible to find charm in such a girl as that. Fifty. . .
The other car was still pulling away. Chad shook his head. “That chauffeur is a darned fool,” he yelled to Bob. “But I can stand it if he can.” He was stubbornly determined to keep the limousine in sight; and presently was favored. A series of curves slowed the other car; he pulled up within a hundred yards. Their speed was down, now, to a decent thirty-five; it dropped to thirty.
“That cooled me off some,” Bob reported. “Just the same, this is more comfortable. My old boat won’t do much over thirty, and it’s fast enough for me....”
/^HAD was watching the road. Half a mile ahead, a ^ motor truck was lumbering along, heading toward Portsmouth as they were and approaching a curve. The road beyond the curve could be seen, as they drew nearer, for a full mile; and there were no cars coming. Just short of the curve, the limousine slipped past the truck and darted ahead. Chad saw that the truck’s load projected on either side. “Lucky the road’s broad,” he thought.
Continued on page 67
The Road Runner
Continued from page 18
/ Because he knew the way ahead was clear, he drew up alongside the truck on the curve itself, and signalled with his horn, The truck driver looked out and back, and while his eyes were thus engaged, the truck veered out into Chad’s path. He was forced to swing wide, on the sandy gravel outside the macadam. It was smooth, seemed thoroughly secure.^ Nevertheless he was slowing to a safer speed and waiting for the truck to pull in and give him room when his front wheels began to sink. The gravel, deceptively smooth, had not been properly rolled; it was soft as loose earth can be. They went in, hub deep; and they came to an abrupt halt, the front wheels jammed against a buried pipe that served as culvert. Bob was thrown to his knees; Chad braced against the wheel. The truck went rumbling on.. .
When they got out, it was possible to perceive the extent of the disaster. Chad considered the situation; and Boh swore. Chad touched his arm. “While you’re about it,” he suggested, “do a little plain and fancy swearing for me. Cuss the driver, and the men that made this road, and any one else you can think of. Why is it. . His voice was almost plaintive. “Why is it that when you toot a mari and he hears your horn, he always has to look back and see if you’re really there?”
They stalked around the car. “You may be able to back her out,” Bob suggested.
Chad shook his head. “Front end’s busted,” he said. “I heard something go.” He began to dig with his bare hands about the forward wheels, and Bob helped him. They found that one was at an unnatural angle; and Chad stepped back, brushing his hands. “You see!” he exclaimed.
Bob straightened his back and groaned. ' “It’s a good four miles to town,” he lamented.
“We’ll get a lift,” Chad told him. “Drag out those suitcases. We can hire somebody to take us on from town; or telephone Don; Send a service car back here.” He was a man who loved his car; his eyes as he looked at it began to burn. “I’d like to take a crack at that truck driver,*’ he said, half to himself.
Bob’s patience had oozed away under the hot sun. “Oh, shut up!” he exploded. “You’ve been belly-aching all day about what you’d like to do to these guys; but that’s as far as you get. Stop four-flushing, Chad. It ain’t pretty. If you’re going to do anything, do it; if you’re not, quit talking about it. That fellow on the truck would tie you in knots, anyway.”
Chad chuckled. “Sorry, old man,” he apologized. “I suppose I did get on your nerves. Sit down and we’ll wait for someone to give us a ride.”
“Always beefing,” Bob grumbled. “If you think there are so many road-hogs at large, why don’t you do something about it?”
“I—might,” Chad said. The fat man snorted himself into silence and began to fan his hot face with a limp and ineffectual cap. Chad’s eyes were thoughtful; they achieved a slow twinkle. In them presently was born an impish, an audacious, fire. At the end of a certain length of time, he laughed aloud, and lighted a cigarette. Bob looked at him with suspicion.
“What’s eating you?” the fat man asked. , «
Chad dropped his hand on Bob’s knee. “Bob, I’m going to,” he said, as though answering a question.
' “Going to what?” /
“I’m going—crusading,” Chad told him. “I’m going out and chasten a few of these louts.”
“Chasten?” Bob threw Up his hands. “Say, did you get a crack pn the head?”
CHAD began to take fire. “Teach them manners,” he expounded. “Teach them to lend a hand. Teach them to be neighborly, and polite, and decent. A. little consideration for other folks. I’m going to. . .”
A black speck appeared upon the road behind them, far away at the distant curve. Bob stood up. “Thank the Lord,” he exulted. “There comes a car.”
Chad also got to his feet, but he ignored Bob’s interruption. “Behold the Black Avenger,” he announced oratorical-
ly. “That’s me!” He touched his breast with one finger. “The Ravager of Road Hogs; the Scourge of Speed Maniacs; the Terror of Truck Drivers: the Bane of Blinding Headlights; the Discourager of Discourtesy. You see before you, Bob, old Thing, the Apostle of the Automobile Golden Rule. Help Others as You Would be Helped.” His voice sank to a whisper. “Generations from now,” he assured the fat man, “mothers will affright their children with tales of my exploits. Nursery rhymes will be written about me.'. .” - “Yeah.. . .Simple Simon!” said Bob scornfully. ■
“You don’t appreciate me, Boh,” Chad told him. “But, wait, fat man, and see. Stàtisticians will estimate that the manners of the automobile public have improved one hundred per cent., before I’m through. Sweet are the uses of adversity, Bob; and I’m going to use a little of it. In homeopathic doses. On these public nuisances that. infest our motor roads. You watch me. I’ll harass them. I’ll teach them some pros and cons. I’ll pull their little noses, and twist their curly tails. I’ll...”
Bob stared at him. “Do all those words mean anything at all?” he asked.
! . “You wait and see.”
Chad waved his hands with a careless gesture. “Of course,” he admitted, “the details will need a little working out. . .” But Bob was hailing the approaching car. “He’s stopping,” he announced. “Here’s our ride to town...”
There was a smile in Chad’s eyes, all the way to Portsmouth. His project pleased him. It offered possibilities, he decided, for some amusement, and for an adventure or two. Besides, there was a very good chance that he might again encounter that extremely nice looking girl.
But he did not think it necessary to explain this to Bob.
CHAD and Bob rode into Portsmouth in silence, Chad thinking pleasantly of the enterprise to which he already felt himself committed, Bob wondering whether it would be possible to reach Don Bendicutt’s in time for dinner. Chad asked the man who had picked them up to recommend a garage; and before the door of this institution, they were presently deposited.
“. . .In the ditch, on the right hand side of the road as you go from here,” Chad explained, to the mechanic in greasy overalls. “I could see one of the front wheels was clear out of line. Something busted or jammed. You haul her out and put her in shape, will you? I’ll phone you Monday morning.”
“We don’t usually do much, this late on Saturdays,” the man complained, but a crisp bill persuaded him, and Chad joined Bob outside.
“Now,” he asked the fat man. “What shall we do? Get somebody to take us over to York? Or take the trolley? Or telephone Don?”
“Telephone Don,” Bob voted instantly. "He’s probably been looking for us since noon. It’s about time we let him know.” “O. K.,” Chad agreed. “Let’s go.”
They found a telephone in the rear of a drugstore, off the Square, and Chad got Don Bendicutt on the wire. “Don and Betty are coming after us,” he told Bob when he emerged from the booth. “Be here in twenty minutes to a half hoqr. And they’re waiting dinner. I hope you’re satisfied.”
“They’ll probably hit the ditch, Othe way over,” Bob morosely suggested.
“There’s nothing so gloomy as an, optimist gone wrong,” Chad grinned. “Cheer up, Bob. You couldn’t find decent chow in this town, anyway.”
“Is that so?” Bob looked scornful. “Why say, there’s a little place down the alley here, where they broil lobsters. . .” He groaned at the delicious memory. “Oh, let me forget! Let me forget!”
“Eat some ice cream, man,” Chad advised him. “That will keep you going.”
“Ice cream?” * The idea appealed to Bob. There was a counter in the drug store and Chad had a phosphate, while Bob drank one glass and then another of ice cream soda. The stuff was served in oiled-paper cones, thrust into plated silver holders. The paper had a rasping quality that set Chad’s nerves on edge, but Bob seemed to relish it.
Afterward, they lighted cigarettes, and waited outside the door. Chad suggested that they walk down to the toll bridge and cross it to meet their host; but Bob vetoed the suggestion. “Lug these suit cases half a mile, to save a minute or two? Not me, Chad. Not me.”
Chad said: “Pshaw! It’s past sunset. Cooling off.”
Bob groaned. “Cooling off?” He thrust out a large hand. “If you think I’m cool, just feel me. That’s all I ask. Feel me.” When Chad declined, the fat man sat down heavily upon his suit case and panted with misery.
Here presently Don Bendicutt found them. Don and pretty Betty Bendicutt, whom he had married half a dozen years before. Don’s was a roadstef, designed to givecomfortable seats to three people. The four of them made a snug fit; and Betty perched upon Chad’s knee, so that Bob might have room for his considerable bulk. The fat man had at once begun a catalogue of the misfortunes which since that morning had descended upon them. Don, at the wheel, his eyes on the road, chuckled aloud; and Betty was between amusement and sympathy at Bob’s distress.
THEY threaded their way through the narrow, cobbled streets and across the small draw, and stopped to pay toll, then picked up speed, rolling across the long bridge and up the hill and so to the open road. The macadam had been heaved and riven by frost; they took it at twenty five miles an hour, bouncing and jolting so that Betty had to hang on to Chad’s neck, and did so till he protested that she was strangling him. Then the road smoothed out before them; and Bob began to tell derisively of Chad’s adventurous plan.
“Aims to poke his nose into the business of every man that drives a car,” the fat man said scornfully. “You know how he is when he gets one of his virtuous spells. Been giving me a lecture all the way up on crimes of the road hog. I, hope some freight heaver takes the young man over his knee. And that’s just what will happen. Or he’ll land in jail.”
Darkness had fallen as they left Portsmouth, and the headlights of the cars they met were dazzling. By one that was particularly offensive, Don was temporarily blinded, but held his course with stiff hands while the other car roared by. Chad said:
“See? That sort of thing, Don. A man like that needs a lesson. You might as easily as not have piled over a culvert, in that second or two when you couldn’t see.”
Don nodded. “That’s so, of course,” he agreed. “The only thing to do is'to be sure you’re on the road, and stay there, and let the other fellow get out of your way.”
“Suppose he doesn’t.”
Bendicutt made an abrupt gesture. “Keno,” he replied.
But Bob scornfully interjected: “You’d think, to hear Chad talk, he never used headlights. You’d think that young man was sprouting wings.”
Chad smiled. “Matter of fact,” he retorted. “My lights never blinded any one. I can focus them from the dash. Way ahead, if I need to see; down on the road if there’s a car coming.”
Don was considering Chad’s plan. “You ought to have some fun out of it,” he said. “If you don’t get pinched.”
“I’ll npt,” Chad promised.
“What are you going to do? Join the police force? Help enforce the laws?” “Enforce the law, and also enforce politeness,” Chad replied his resolution taking shape. “But I’ll do it unofficially. By suasion, of a sort.”
Betty said, laughingly: “You’d a good deal better be using your suasion on some pretty girl.”
Chad smiled at his own thoughts. “I might do both,” he replied, incautiously. And Betty pounced on him.
“Chad Warren? Is there a girl?” she demanded. He tried to deny; she cried: “I believe there is! I believe there is! I can see it in your eyes...”
“You can’t even see my eyes, Betty,” he protested. “It’s dark; and besides, they’re shut.”
“There is a girl. I know there is. Who is she, Chad?”
Chad laughed. “Betty,” he told her.
'Tm going to range all over New England. If there was a girl, don’t you think I’d stay within reach of her?”
“Maybe she’s ranging all over New England too...”
“Bob!” Chad called for help. “You’re my chaperon. Tell the lady truly. Have I been carrying on?”
“Well,” said Bob. “You remember that girl at the show the other night? Y ou tried to pull up her stocking!”
Don howled, and Betty had to be told all about the austere spinster whom Chad had wished to aid; and by the time the story was done, they were pulling into the drive at Don’s place. So Chad got a respite. Betty showed them their rooms, adjoining, and facing the sea, and told them dinner was ready. They matched coins for first chance at the shower.. .
After dinner, there was bridge; then a -late cigarette upon the rocks below the veranda, when Betty had gone upstairs. The wind was from the east, and cool. Bob revelled in it gustily. The matter of Chad’s project was mentioned only by the way. When he was abed, however, Chad found his thoughts dwelt upon it, played with the details,'guessed at the possibilities it offered.
The nice girl in the big limousine It was quite possible that he would encounter that car again. He wondered whether this possibility had its share in. determining his plans. Asked himself: “Am I just doing this in the hope of seeing her?” And presently smiled and said: “I shouldn’t be surprised.”
The surf pounded on the rocks below his windows; the easterly wind made his thick blanket very desirable. So presently he slept.
;* '■ VI.
TIDE served, next morning, and they swam, dressing in locker rooms in Don’s basement, issuing forth from there to a diving rock at the foot of the lawn. It was quick water, and when there was a heavy swell, only a stout swimmer could venture that dive. But this day the sea was still, broken only by a low, slow heaving which came from far to the eastward and foamed in white rollers on the beach half a mile away. Bob, like most fat men, was an excellent swimmer, and so was Don. Chad found his strength not yet sufficient for any long battle-with the currents; and he and Betty took the easier way, diving, fighting their way out to quiet water, and then moving along the shore to a little cove where there was sandy beach upon which they might sun themselves like seals. Betty, after the fashion of young wives, chose to quiz Chad about the romance she had attributed to him. Chad told her that he hadn’t met a girl in years who interested him in the least. She was not altogether deceived...
She was interested in that which he planned to do. Said she wished she might have a part in it. “Is Bob going along?” she asked. iHe’d be lots of fun.”
“I hadn’t thought,” Chad told her. “Maybe. I’ll try to talk him into it.” “Of course, he’s a working man. Not a gentleman of leisure like some lazy folk.’’ Chad laughed. “Guess he can knock off if he chooses. His office won’t have to yell for help, even if he does lay off.”
Their talk drifted into other channels ... By and by, Don shouted down to them from the rocks above their head; and they dipped once more, before starting with him for the house.
When they were dressed, Don said he would drive, to the village for Sunday papers. Bob preferred to stay on the veranda, where the east wind still blew; but Chad and Betty went along with him. In the Harbor, they met a limousine which at first glimpse was familiar. Chad was conscious of four or five faces, saw that Betty waved, and that someone answered her. Don said casually:
“California number plate. . Who was that, Betty?”
Chad had seen only one face clearly: the face of a girk A girl who looked particularly nice. He scarce heard Betty’s answer. - •
“The Millers. Didn’t you see?”
“Just noticed the number,” Don • replied. “That’s not their car.”
“No. It’s probably the Falk’s. They were expecting them to-day. Some California people they met last winter, out there. I promised we’d go over for tea this afternoon.”
CHAD heard this, and his heart leaped. But he had a poker face, and ' when Betty turned to him there was no betraying light in his eyes. “You’ll like the Millers,” she explained. “They’re our neighbors. The second cottage. Harriet’s awfully nice.”
Chad arched one eyebrow quizzically, and Betty laughed in some confusion. Chad wagged a finger at her. “Now don’t"
. you. Don’t you, Betty,” he warned.
At dinner, and afterward over their cigars, they reverted to Chad’s project. “Yqu’ll have to wait till your ear’s in shape-,” Don suggested. “You’ll take it, won’t you?”
“I don’t know,” Chad said. “I’m apt to give it rough use. And a big car needs "care. Its conspicuous, too. I don’t want to be conspicuous, you know.”
“You ought to have a flivver,” Bob suggested jocosely. “They’re about as conspicuous as mosquitoes.”
“They haven’t the speed,” Chad objected. “I’ll need speed. Saw a car doing about sixty, on the way up. I’ll want to be able to overhaul anything on the road.” “I’ll tell you,” Don suggested. “You ' want to have a talk with Brad Sömers.” “Who’s he?”
“Runs a garage in the village. But he knows automobiles. Maybe he can suggest something.” He hesitated. “You know, I’d like to be in this, Chad. You’ve got to let me help in getting ready, anyand way. The idea tickles me. Let’s go down see Somers this afternoon.”
Chad shook his head. “I don’t want to advertise.” r~
“He can keep his mouth shut.”
“Well, don’t hurry me, Don. I’m comfortable here. He’ll be there tomorrow, wont he?”
“What’s the rush, then?” -Don laughed. “Getting cold feet? You have a lot of ideas, Chad; but they don’t seem to land you anywhere.”
Chad got up, throwing out his hands, in surrender. “All right. Lead me to him,” he commanded.
Bob refused to go. “I know when I’m "well off,” he told them. And Betty made them promise to be home by four o’clock, in time to go to the Miller’s for tea. Chad undertook to'see that Don was home by that time. He meant it_, too. A chance to meet the nice-looking girl. . . They rolled away toward the village.
Brad Somers monopolized the automobile trade in his part of York. His garage had been a barn; he had put in a concrete floor, cut off one corner for an office, converted the mow into a store room. During the summer, months, he kept four mechanics busy; throughout the winter he paid expenses by serving the natives. He had the selling agency for three of the less expensive cars, and did well with them. This agency was the back bone of his business. Jn addition, as every garage man must be, he was a spasmodic dealer in second hand cars. Lean, in grease-shiny clothes, and with a badly chewed tooth pick between his teeth, he had nevertheless a competent air about him which was always reassuring. Chad found it so.
Don put the case to him, and Somers listened, chuckling with appreciation now and then. ‘Good thing, too,” he said at the end. “Some of these folks need taking down.” His eyes wandered around the floor of the garage. “Course, you’ll think I’m just trying to unload on you,” he apologized. “But I got the thing for you, right here.”
“A car?” Chad asked.
Somers nodded. “That, over there,” he' - said, and pointed.
Chad and Don walked over to the car he indicated. A light chassis, high off the ground; a body that seemed home made, of sheet tin, battered and dented and - punctured here and there. It was not prepossessing. “I got it in trade,” he explained. “Cheap. Use it when I’m in a ' hurry.”
“In a hurry?” Don echoed. “Why if you went over twenty five in that, it would fly off the road.”
Somers grinned. “I’ve had her up to sixty,” he replied. —
Chad stared at him. “Sixty? What on, ether?”
“No. Just plain gas.” Somers lifted one side of the hood. “You see, the engine’s pretty well made over. New cylinder head. Overhead valves. Aluminum pistons. Transmission different, too. Sixty, yes. And rides easy, too.”
“Easy? Why, man, that must jar the very eye-teeth out of you.”
SOMERS laughed, and closed the hood, and slid into the seat. “Climb in,” he invited. “We’ll take a little ride.”
There was room for only one of them. Chad climbed in. Fifteen minutes later they returned, and rolled into the garage. Don asked:
“I lost my cap,” said Chad. “But we touched sixty-five.”
Don exclaimed. “Sixty-five! Good Lord! Well, that’s what you want. Speed!”
“Trouble is,” Chad objected, “the darned thing’s so conspicuous. No mudguards. Tin body. Nobody’d ever forget her. Spot her a mile away.”
“We-ell,” Somers interjected, “we can fix that?”
Chad looked at him, with a new respect in his eyes. “How?” he asked.
Somers crossed to the wide rear door, and they followed him. In the yard behind were three or four skeletons of cars, no better than junk. He pointed to one of these; a touring car that was neither too old nor yet too new. Its once-black paint was gray; its top flapped; its hood was dented. “Stick that body on her,” he suggested.
Chad and Don stared for a long minute; then Chad asked: “Could you?”
Somers nodded. “Be some work, fitting the mud-guards. Do it, all right. And there’d be a million cars just like you on the road.”
When they started home, half an hour later, the matter was arranged. Somers’ price had been rock-bottom ; he promised to have the instrument of justice ready by the second day thereafter. “Yoü look out for the license?” he asked; and Chad nodded.
“Put the plates on with butterfly nuts,” he suggested. “Easy to change them. I’ll probably carry an extra set or two.” Somers grinned. “Sure. Easy,” he agreed.
On the way home, Don asked, a little uneasily: “You’re planning to fake
number plates? They might get you for that.”
Chad shook his head. “Not exactly. I’ll just get a set of plates from Massachusetts, and another here, and others in Vermont, and Connecticut, and Rhode Island. No law against licensing a car in as many states as you want to. So you don’t misrepresent the facts. If you have Maine plates, you’re not so apt to get a summons from a Massachusetts cop. And the states don’t check up, you know. Besides, I think there’ll be mud on my plates, a good deal of the time. That’s only a five dollar fine, at the worst. And I’ll keep changing. Safety first, that’s all.”
“You’ll end in State prison,” Don told him; but Chad only grinned. He was feeling very well pleased with himself when they reached the cottage. But almost immediately, his spirits were dampened.
Betty was at the telephone when they arrived; she finished talking and came out on the verandah. “Well, we won’t be able to go to the Millers’ after all,” she said. “Ned and Jennie are coming over from Ogunquit. They just phoned.”
Black gloom settled upon Chad; he pulled himself together, avoiding Betty’s interested eye.
BOB was persuaded to join in Chad’s adventure. Don .and Betty did the persuading. Bob swore the whole project was mad; and that they would languish in some country jail for days on end. He vowed he was too fat for such meanderings; he declared that Chad had gone insane. But they told him he ought to go along to take care of Chad; they assured him he would find opportunities for marketing bonds along the road; they threatened and cajoled. In the end, he agreed to go.
“I’ll run down to Boston to-morrow,” he said at last. This was Sunday evening, when the afternoon guests had returned to Ogunquit. “I’ll run down and fix things there. . . Get back here Thursday or Friday. Lord, I hope we strike cool weather, anyway.”
“Thursday or Friday?” Chad echoed. “Well, don’t be surprised if you find me gone.”
“Why, there’s no hurry, is there, Chad?” This was Betty, that lively curiosity dancing in her eyes.
“We-ell, yes and no,” Chad told her. “I may not feel like starting for a week
or so; and then again, I may want to get away at the drop of a hat. It depends on what comes up, you see.”
Bob indignantly told him that he could do as he darn pleased. In the end, Chad agreed to wait till the fat man returned from Boston. And next morning he decided that he also had an errand or two, in that city. Don was returning to business. Betty drove them all to the very early train.
Chad returned to the Bendicutt cottage on Tuesday. He had made certain necessary purchases. A high powered-air rifle; a target pistol, with a silencer upon its muzzle. And he had mailed his applications for license plates, in each of half a dozen states. “I thought I’d come up and get used to my chariot,” he explained to Betty. “It’s not inconvenient for you to put me up?”
It was not inconvenient. It was never inconvenient for Betty to be hospitable to Bob’s friends. Ellen Lovejoy was spending the week with Betty; and it pleased Betty to see Ellen and Chad together. Furthermore, an unattached man is always at a premium, between week-ends, at any shore resort. So Betty made Chad welcome, and planned his days for him.
But Chad had business of his own. He stopped at Brad Somer’s garage, and found his car was "well-nigh ready. At first sight of it, Chad laughed. There was something about it that suggested a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The light, underslung chassis, designed for speed, but with a respectable, middle-aged touring car body atop, was like a slim young person of the demi-monde, with a slender ankle and a wicked twinkle in her eye—dressed in a Mother Hubbard and a sun-bonnet. The body which Somers had adjusted was not a good fit. It was unduly high in the rear, sloped acutely toward the front. There was something about the broad, curving upward sweep of the back end of the car that suggested the rear elevation of a scratching hen. So Chad laughed. Laughed so hard that even Brad Somers grinned in sympathy. “Just the same,” said Brad, “she’ll travel; and she’ll hold the road; and you’ll find she blends in with the landscape right well. There’s a lot of old flivvers around here that you couldn’t tell her apart from.”
“I don’t think I ever saw one,” Chad told him, “with such a kickup behind.” “I had to do that,” Brad explained. “Chassis is underslung. I got the front end right down on the axle; but them shock absorbers behind make her stick up a little. You want to carry two-three hundred pound of scrap iron back there. She’ll ride better.”
Chad thought of Bob and said he had plenty of ballast. He asked Somers to go along and give him a lesson in manoeuvring the car. Somers agreed; and they drove back through the village till they came to that road which runs from York Corner straight across to the Beach, avoiding the village and Harbor. Here Chad had his lesson. He had no difficulty with gears and clutch, but the small steering wheel and the quick response bothered him. More than once he skimmed the ditch before he learned the trick of it. Somers said: “I can put on an oversize wheel for you,” but Chad decided it was unnecessary.
He took the car out to Don’s cottage that evening, and found room for it in Don’s garage. It would be ready when he was ready. But he was in no hurry to be . gone. He told Betty that this was because he was waiting for Bob. But as a matter of fact, when Bob did arrive on Thursday, Chad still delayed. “Got to wait for those Rhode Island number plates,” he explained. “They haven’t come in yet.” The other sets had all arrived, and those issued by the state of Massachusetts had been adjusted on front and rear of the curious car.
THE Rhode Island plates came Friday morning. But Chad still declined to move. “I think I’ve a little cold coming on,” he told Betty. “Don’t want to start till I see whether it develops.” She wished to doctor him; and he submitted to her ministrations.
His reason for waiting was sufficiently convincing, in his own mind. His reason was that that big California limousine was still in the Miller garage, that the extremely nice girl whom he had glimpsed more than onóe was still in York. So long as she remained here, he had no thought of moving on.
He had seen her once,>at a distance; and once again had thought he was to have speech with her. He had been swimming alone; idling in the water beyond the rocks. From this vantage point had seen a girl come down to a rock on the Miller shore and settle herself beneath a parasol there. He began to swim that way, unostentatiously, planning an excuse for landing, for having words with her. Even at that distance, he was sure, it was the nice girl. There had been something about her wálk.
When he approached the rocks, her countenance was hidden from him by her parasol; and when he landed, so steep was the low bluff above him, he could not see her at all. But he began to clamber up toward her. ‘Chad was not, ordinarily, over bold in such matters; but there were times, he knew, when fortune favors the brave. He was confident, eager, assured.
But when he topped the rocks and she looked up at him, he saw it was not the nice girl, but another. Nice enough herself, no doubt; but, under the circumstances, disappointing. Chad flushed, and said awkwardly:
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to trespass. Just climbed up to take a divé . . . ”
The girl said: “You’d best not dive from here. There’s no deep water, only a beach below.” Her tone was austerely scornful.
CHAD looked down toward the water and saw that she was right. He would have given much to be able to make his word good by taking a header; and if there had been any water at all beneath him, might have chanced it. But there was, as the girl had said, nothing but gravel beach for a rod or so out from the base of this particular rock. So he said: ‘Oh! We-ell! Oh!” And retreated somewhat hurriedly, and plunged into the sea again.
His thoughts were increasingly occupied with that California limousine, and not altogether on the nice girl’s account. Wednesday evening, he had gone with Betty and Ellen Lovejoy to the Marshall House, to dance. Had encountered there a man whose countenance was vaguely familiar. Chad had been at first unable to remember him, and was disturbed. He made an inquiry or’two, learned that the man was a guest at the hotel, that he was registered as Joseph A. Vaughn, of Los Angeles. Los Angeles was in California. . . So Chad presently was able to remember. Joseph A. Vaughn was the chauffeur of the big limousine, \ the man who had grinned at Bob’s appeal for help, and whom Chad had disliked on sight.
Now the Marshall House is not a hostelry that caters to chauffeurs. Nor is it usual to see chauffeurs, perfectly clad, attending a fashionable dance. There was no snobbery in Chad ; but he wondered. . . He had heard of such impostures as this seemed to be. The easy standards of summer society lend themselves to this particular form of knavery. Chad was of two minds whether to report the facts to the manager of the Hotel ; and while still in this perplexity, he encountered the •¡chauffeur himself, between dances, upon the broad veranda.
Chad asked for a match, and Joseph A. Vaughn, chauffeur, nodded somewhat sullenly, and handed him a tiny match safe which was either silver or platinum. Chad thought it was the latter. As Chad returned the match safe, Vaughn selected a cigarette from a case which was certainly gold. Furthermore, upon attentive consideration, Chad was more than half convinced that the man’s shirt studs were pearls.
Certainly an amazing chauffeur. Chad tried to talk, but the man was not communicative. The matter stayed in Chad’s mind thereafter.
He had found that from his window he could see over intervening shrubbery and meadow land and catch a glimpse of the drive that led to the Miller cottage, half a mile away. Saturday morning, rising comfortably at a^little after eight, he chanced to glance that way. And saw—-it was unmistakable—the big limousine roll out of the drive and head toward the village. There were auto trunks strapped upon the running board!
She was leaving! He had been moving indolently about the task of dressing, his indolence fell from him. Bob still slept in the next room; and Chad roused him rudely. “Starting, Bob,” he shouted. “Get a hustle on.”
To be Continued