The Road Runner
BEN AMES WILLIAMS
This instalment concludes the story. Now write a letter of not more than two hundred zvords, telling which illustrator's work is more in conformity with YOUR idea of the characters and situations. To the five best will be awarded an original signed illustration. In addition there is a cash prize of $25.00 for the reader whose letter is ranked first. Letters must reach this office by July 50.
WHEN Chad set out to patrol the motor routes of New England, he had no particular destination in mind; and it had not occurred to him to provide himself with maps. Many of the roads he had traveled in the past; and some regions he knew particularly well, so he had felt no concern. Furthermore, he proposed to go where Molly went, regardless of ways and by-ways.
But now he needed a map, and had none. His knowledge of the region around Bath was confined to the main route through the city. He knew' the Kennebec river came down to the sea between Bath and Woolwich. There was a ferry at Bath, which he dared not take; but where there is a river, there must always be bridges. Chad, mindful of this fact, planned his campaign. Decided to follow, by whatever roads offered, up the west bank of the river till he should find opportunity to cross.
So when presently, driving like the wind back along the Brunswick road, he came to a way that led northward, he turned into it. The road did not look promising; but any untried road is a gamble.
Chad followed it, at what speed he could make; and at each fork chose w'hat seemed the better way; but after something less than three miles of bad traveling, he came to the end of his path.
The road he had been following ended in a barnyard; there was nothing ahead but a pigsty. And some one looked out of the kitchen window to see who he might be.
Chad ventured to make inquiries. The woman who came to the kitchen door shook her head and said in a dull voice-
“Bridge? I never heard of no bridge around here, did you, Joe?” This inquiry was addressed to a man who sat apathetically by the stove, his feet before the open door of the oven. This man answered without turning.
“Reckon they’s a bridge up river somewheres.”
“They’ll take you acrost in the ferry boat, down’t Bath,” the woman told Chad; and he thanked her, with a dry grin, fíe asked whether there was a road upriver from this farm; and the woman professed ignorance. The man, however, laughed a cackling little laugh; and he said jeeringly: l s
“Not excepting you want to drive across Merry Meeting Bay. Be wet going, I ’low.”
“Where is that?” Chad asked; and the man waved a hand toward the west.
“Runs down to Brunswick,” he replied.
Chad escaped. But he was not yet convinced, and took time to climb into a pasture beside the road, atop a little knoll, from which he could see that the river was on his right, that a broader expanse of water did cut off his way north and west. He had run inio a blind alley, could only turn back by the way he had come. And in the end, he did so.
W hen the road from Brunswdek to Bath lay before lim, f ! had was half-minded to risk trying to cross the U try now. lie could change his number plates. But the danger of recognition would still be great, the result of recognition would be disastrous. He could not risk it. So he skimmed along to Brunswick, saw a signboard there that marked the Augusta road, and turned that way. He remembered hearing that Augusta was on the Kennebec. There he would certainly find a bridge. . . .
It was four o’clock in the afternoon when he left Brunswick. He was making speed; and a car which he passed was tempted into contesting his supremacy. It took up the pursuit, followed close behind him for a long
mile. Chad gave the other car as much road as it needed, and grinned with contentment to see the Road Runner hold its own.
Then he perceived a left-hand curve ahead, with a danger sign to mark it; and he slowed a little, keeping well to the outside of the road. The other car tooted triumphantly, and shot alongside; and at the same time, a lumbering truck rounded the curve, approaching them. Chad checked his speed; the car beside him tried to cut in ahead of the Road Runner. There was not quite sufficient room; for the rear hub of the other car caught Chad’s front left-hand wheel with a jar and a shock that forced Chad off the road. The ditch, fortunately, was not deep. He was able to wrench thé Road Runner back upon the macadam again. The truck was gone, the other car was ahead and drawing swiftly away. Chad set his jaw angrily, and opened his throttle, and forgot for the moment Molly and everything else in his determination to even this new score.
pj E PERCEIVED at once that the Road Runner now A A steered drunkenly, veering and yawing without apparent reason. But there was a stubborn streak in Chad; and he held on. Held on even when he began to hear a sharp, clicking complaint from that injured wheel. Held on till he saw the cluster of homes and stores that was Bowdoinham, just ahead. He slowed down a little, and an appalling stench of hot rubber came to his nostrils. Also the clicking became louder; and the difficulty of steering increased. Chad’s common sense returned to him; he decided to stop and investigate. Marked the gasoline pump of a garage ahead, and pulled in beside it.
When he alighted, he found that front wheel drunkenly askew. The tire had been a new one, checked in a nonskid pattern. These checkings and excrescenses had disappeared; had been rubbed down till the thread was almost smooth. Chad touched the tire, and it was so hot that he uttered an exclamation, and jerked his hand
The garage man had come forth to see what was the
matter; he watched Chad, and bent and looked at the wheel, and gripped it by the spokes and shook it to and fro. Looked up at Chad and grinned.
“Hit something, ain’t you?” Chad nodded, his good humor returning. “Rather, I got hit,” he agreed. “How much damage is there?”
The man considered. “Looks like the front ax’ is O.K.,” he said. “Steering gear may be strained a mite. Race is gone to pot; and the spindle and the bushings is probably messed around some.”
“Wheel itself looks all right,” Chad suggested.
The man pointed a grimy forefinger. “Couple of spokes started,” he pointed out. “Cracked.”
Chad looked toward the garage. “Can you fix it?” he asked.
The other spat. “Sure.” “How long?”
“Couple of hours. I guess I got all the parts you’ll need, except a new wheel. This one’ll prob’ly run all right, if you don’t strain it, till you can get a new one somewheres.”
The man’s own car, twinbrother to Chad’s, stood beside the garage. Chad
pointed toward it. “Stripa wheel off that,” he suggested. “We can strike a bargain. And I’ll give you a bonus if you get the job done in an hour.”
The man demurred; but Chad’s patience was forsaking him. He was in a hurry; the mechanic perceived it and set his price accordingly. Chad was in no mood for chaffering. They worked together; and Chad went on his way within the hour, the wheel repaired, his purse depleted.
But he considered that he had made a good bargain; for he had learned that there was another ferry, only a few miles away, at Richmond. There were two roads, the garage man said. One, longer, was also smoother; the other was short, but hard going. Chad chose the harder way, got directions, and struggled with gullies, rocks, ruts and thank-you-marms for a difficult eight or nine miles into the town. Followed a street down to the river and asked an idler where he would find the ferry. The man pointed across the river.
“Tied up over there,” he said.
“How often does it cross?” Chad asked.
“Whenever he gits him a load,” the man replied. “He’s prob’ly gone to supper now.”
“Anyway I can hurry him up?”
The man grinned. “He ain’t got a telephone,” he said. “You c’n yell if you’re a mind.”
Chad was not of a mind. The river was too broad. “He’s sure to come over, after supper?” he asked.
“Might not, if they wa’n’t no load coming this way,” the other told him. “But they usually is.”
Y^HAD settled himself to wait because there was Y^ nothing else to do. It was a little after six o’clock. Against the further bank of the river he could see a large scow, which was, he judged, the ferry boat itself. Beyond, the road was empty; no sign of any vehicle desiring to cross. And the.ferryman was not in sight. The sun dropped more and more swiftly toward the horizon. There were still some provisions in the tonneau of the Road Runner. Chad made himself sandwiches, and while he waited, ate his supper.
He was beginning to dislike the Kennebec river. It represented, in his thoughts, an obstacle which kept him from overtaking Molly. He had forgotten that he no longer desired to overtake her. The fact that he could not, made him wish to do so; but the Kennebec lay between, and the ferryman ate his leisurely supper on the further shore. When he had waited for a little while, Chad went down and began to toss pebbles into the water. It rolled so slickly by, so snugly, so hypocritically innocent in appearance. Chad called it a hard name or two, but the river flowed serenly on its way to the sea and regarded him not at all.
Then he saw a team coming into sight upon the further shore and drive toward the water and stop by the ferry; and a little after, a man came reluctantly down the road, and stopped to light his pipe; and at last Chad heard the uncertain popping of a one-cylinder motor. The scow which served as ferry began to move; and Chad perceived that a small motor-boat supplied the propulsive power. He listened to the beat of the exhaust as the boat came slowly toward him.
After a while, the explosions became irregular, then stopped; but immediately they began again. When the ferry was within a hundred yards of where he stood, the engine stopped again; again started with a prompt readiness that spoke volumes for its good-nature. A little later, the scow grounded at his feet. The team came ashore; and Chad promptly drove the Road Runner on board.
The ferry master, he now saw, was a thin, withered man in a faded sweater who looked as though a harsh word might shatter him to bits. A most complete timidity enshrouded him. This man considered Chad, studied the Road Runner, and asked diffidently:
“You wishful to go acrost, Mister?”
Chad nodded, smiling at him. “Absolutely,” he replied.
The man shook his head. “I dunno,” he remarked. “Engine ain’t really working first rate, somehow. Mebbe we’ll make it. I dunno.”
“Sure we’ll make it,”
Chad told him. “Sure we’ll make it. Now, let’s go!”
“I dunno,” the other repeated timidly. But he descended into the motor boat, and maneuvred it into position, its nose fast against the ferry’s side. Gripped the fly wheel, preparatory to turning it over; then looked up at Chad again. “I ain’t the reg’lar man,” he explained. “I never run this boat before today. Fact, I never run any motor boat.
She don’t seem to act right. She don’t do what he said she’d do.”
Chad laughed confidently. “Why, I’ve run motor boats all my life. We’ll manage,” he declared.
“Want me to turn her over?”
The man shook his head. “I’m responsible, I guess,” he replied. “I better do it.”
He hesitated doubtfully. “You sure you want to go acrost, are you?” And when Chad spoke impatiently, he gripped the fly wheel again, and turned it over. The engine took hold; they began to move.
Began to move, and for a little while continued so to do. But it was as though the engine, missing its master’s touch, took on some of the timidity of the man who sought to run it. There was a diffidence about its staccato explosions; and presently, with an apologetic cough, it stopped. When the
man persuaded it to go once more, it labored audibly. Stopped a second time, and then a third. They were, Chad saw, drifting sluggishly down stream; and he evicted the timorous man, and himself took charge.
While Chad hurriedly introduced himself to the rusty motor, the other man sat on the scow and watched and made remarks to him. “She don’t ever act this way with him,” he said.
“Who’s him?” Chad asked, inspecting ’the coil connections.
“The reg’lar man. He’s sick. I’m only a-substituting. He’s never had any trouble at all.”
“He must carry a horse-shoe,” Chad declared. “This engine is made for trouble as the sparks fly upward.” He stripped off his coat, rolled up his sleeves. “Now let’s have a look. ...”
'TPWO hours later—there,was a moon which in another day or two would be at the full—Chad ’s sleeves were still rolled up, and he was still working. The engine had made a spasmodic attempt to go, once or twice during the interim; but always had sickened and died. A low river fog, through which the moon shone pallidly, had descended upon the face of the waters. A wet fog. Drops of water clung everywhere. In this fog, they had made a landing; that is to say, they had touched against a steep bank that lifted a dozen feet from the water; and the timid man had managed to take a turn about a tree with the mooring rope. Chad would have driven the Road Runner ashore but for two circumstances. One was that the bank was almost perpendicular, and with a clump of trees atop; the other was that the diffident ferry man said they were upon an island. There was, he assured Chad, no bridge from this island to either shore.
So Chad, aching to be away upon his search for Molly, was forced to accept the necessity of doctoring
this decrepit motor. When he w'as sure there was nothing else to do, he spoke his mind, briefly, but so vividly that the timid man cowrered away from him. Then found wrench and pliers and screw driver and settled to his task
The man on the scowventured one protest. “I dunno whether he’d like your monkeying with his engine,” he suggested.
Chad grinned without mirth. “When you see him,” he told the other, “you ask him whether he minds.”
“What you going to do, anyhow?” the man asked; and Chad said:
“Look her over. What the doctors call an exploratory operation.” He glared down at the rusty lump of steel and copper and iron. “If she’s as dead as she acts, it’ll be an autopsy,” he added.
“I dunno whether you ought to monkey with it,” the substitute ferryman repeated timidly.
“And before I get through,” Chad told him grimly, “I might perform a little autopsy on you.”
The man slid away; and Chad went to work. When he had occasion to raise his head again, he saw that the other had disappeared; had climbed up the bank and departed. Chad, left alone in the fog and the sickly moonlight, labored and labored mightily.
He wondered whether the Falks had stopped at Damariscotta. At that hotel which he had recommended to Molly. It was unlikely, he knew; since she, and with such reason, despised him. Nevertheless he heartened himself with the hope. ... If he could get this engine to run, he might reach the shore, be in Damariscotta by dawn. . . .
PHAD had overstated his familiarity with motorboats.
No one is familiar with motorboats. Motorboats do not permit familiarity. There is no mechanism in which
so many things can go wrong. Chad found, in this particular case, that there was water in the cylinder base. He mopped it out, painfully. Found further that there was an obstacle somewhere in ~the gasoline feed pipe; and laboriously removed that pipe from its moorings. He tried to blow through it, but got only feeble results; located a coil of wire in one of the lockers under the seat, and straightened this wire and pushed it through the long pipe and so removed the obstruction. Restored the pipe to its appointed place in the scheme of things. This all took time, but still the engine w'ould not go. Towards midnight, he convinced himself that the spark was weak, too weak to fire the mixture; and when he had tested the connections and made sure there were no short circuits, he decided that the batteries had become exhausted.
The only remedy for this was new batteries. He looked hopefully for spares, in every cranny of the boat, but there were none. And when he was sure of this, he climbed philosophically ashore and washed himself in the river, and put on his coat. To start out in the fog, at midnight, on an island in the Kennebec, in an attempt to locate half a dozen dry batteries, did not appeal to him as feasible. He dragged blankets from his car, climbed the bank, and composed himself for
sleep. There is such a thing as accepting the inevitable. Waking at dawn, he saw that the fog upon the river was already beginning to lift. There was no sign of the diffident ferryman; and Chad cursed him for a deserter. A fierce impatience was beginning to take hold of him; but he curbed it, forced himself to grin. “I’ve got some grub, anyway,” he reminded himself; and rummaged in the car, and cooked and ate his breakfast. Smoked a cigarette, expecting every moment the reappearance of the timid man. “He’ll know his way around,’’he decided. “I’ll send him to find a boat, somewhere; get over to town and bring some batteries.”
But at seven the man had not yet come; and at eight Chad was beginning to consider an expedition on his own account. A little after eight, however, a rowboat appeared upriver, and bore down upon him; and when it came nearer, he saw that in it was the ferryman. He watched Chad, over his shoulder, as he approached; and when Chad made no ferocious gesture, the man brought the rowboat alongside.
“Well,” Chad asked. “Where have you been?”
“Why,” said the man, ‘T cal’lated I might as well git me a night’s sleep. They wa’n’t a thing I could do. So I did. I went over t’see him this morning...”
“The reg'lar man that runs this ferry. He’s sick. Lord, you’d a died to see the way he laughed when I told him how you got stuck down here f’r the night. He knowed what the matter was, right off.”
“Oh,” said Chad. “He laughed? And he knew what the matter was?”
“Yeah. Batteries run down, he told me. Said he’d been meaning to put in fresh ones.”
“Did you bring them?” Chad asked.
The man shook his head. “I’m just going over to get some. I come down to tell you, so you’d know it was all right.”
Chad nodded gravely. “I see. Well, I’m obliged to you. You might go ahead, now. I’m really anxious to get on my way.”
“Why, I’m a-going,” the man protested, backing water so as to put open space between him and the ferry. “I’m a-going right along.”
Chad laughed, his good-nature returning. “It’s all right, old man,” he said. “You’re doing all you know how. Go ahead.”
It was within a few minutes of ten o’clock when the ferry, propelled by the rejuvenated and revived engine, approached its proper landing. Four or five cars cast in the same mold as the Road Runner, waiting to cross the river, honked their derisive or impatient greetings. A horse neighed; and a small boy yelled. Chad, with the river behind him, and the open road ahead, was swept with a new impatience. Before they reached the shore, he climbed into the Road Runner and pressed the starter. At which the diffident ferry man took alarm and yelled: “Hey, you ain’t paid.”
'“pHE humor of this appealed to Chad so strongly that -*• he made no protest; merely asked: “How much?” and produced the coin. He had not realized, till then, that the Road Runner’s engine had failed to catch. He pressed the starter again; and the ferry nudged the bank.
But nothing happened. Chad got out to look under the hood; and the ferry man touched his arm. “You got to get ashore, Mister,” he told Chad. “All them people there a-waiting. You got to get ashore.”
This was so obviously true that Chad nodded, and called to the man in the nearest car for help, and they pushed the Road Runner ashore and out of the way. The ferry took aboard an automobile and a team—which constituted a load—and departed, barking, on its way. Chad tried the starter again for luck; and then delved beneath the hood.
Two or three of those who waited for the ferry’s next trip came to offer suggestions and advice. One—a young man from one of the farms, with an intelligent eye— asked :
“Was you on the river all night?”
“Yes,” Chad nodded. “Yes.”
“Fog’s got in her,” said the young man. “Wires wet. Short somewhere. You’ll have to wait till she dries. Take off her hood and let the sun in.”
This was so obviously a reasonable suggestion that Chad adopted it; but he did not cease to labor in the meantime. While he worked, he asked a question or two, found that he might reach Wiscasset by such and such a route, and there pick up the state road toward Damariscotta. About the time the ferry returned for its next trip, the engine at last relented. One cylinder caught, then another; and after a little all four were firing. As the ferry departed, so did Chad; and when the Kennebec was out of sight behind him, fie wiped his brow and took a deep breath in which was real relief.
He thought hi is troubles were done; as a matter of fact they were just commencing. The Road Runner, much abused car, had suffered hitherto in silence, passively. But this day the wurm turned. For two or three miles, over a moderately good road, all went sweetly as a wedding bell; then Chad struck bad going, rough and
rutted, and to keep from being racked to pieces, slowed to a crawl.
It was as well. After one bump, no worse than others that had gone before, the Road Runner lurched forward and to the left and came to an abrupt standstill, the rear wheels spinning desperately until Chad cut off the engine. When he alighted, he saw that the left front wheel had come off. A matter of a cotter pin, one little cotter pin, omitted in his haste by the man who had adjusted this wheel at Bowdoinham. Chad looked up the road and down. There were no farmhouses immediately behind him; there were none in sight ahead. This road was a rough short cut from the ferry to the state road, and little used. It was not likely that help would come along.
Y^HAD set to work on his account. Investigated the ^ damage and found that save for the cracking of a race and the shattering of a few ball bearings, no irreparable harm had been done. But this was enough. For all his contriving, he could discover no way to make this repair without new parts. And when he was assured of this, he set out afoot along the road to seek what help he might find.
Came presently to a farmhouse, where no one answered his knock. He investigated the stable, and found a horse’s stall, empty, and guessed the farmer and his wife must have gone to town. Investigated further and discovered, in a shed beside the barn, a disreputable car, stripped of hood and radiator, and apparently in process of repair. Chad considered, sought out jack and wrench and pliers, and in fifteen minutes’ time had stripped off this car’s front wheel and ravished it of the race and the bearings that he needed. He wrote, upon a bit of paper:
“No one at home, sol helped myself. Apologies and many thanks. I hope this will recompense you.”
To this paper he attached a twenty dollar bill, and thrust the note into the wheel hub, where it could not fail to be discovered. Then went back, at a jog-trot, to his own car. It took him thirty minutes of fitting and pounding to accomplish the necessary replacement; but he managed it. Toward noon, he was again upon his way.
Half way to Wiscasset, the engine began to skip and pound. Chad, investigating, found the radiator was boiling and was also leaking in a persistent little stream. The hose which connected the lower part of the radiator to the water jacket was decrepit; it had surrendered to adversity. He walked half a mile for water; refilled the radiator four times, in the intervening miles, and so reached Wiscasset where a new hose section could be secured and adjusted. It was two o’clock when he crossed the long bridge over the Sheepscot; but he was back on the road now, and tried to assure himself his troubles were done. Nine miles to Damariscotta. He was desperately hoping to get word of Molly there.
BUT the Road Runner was not done with him. He picked up a nail on the bridge; and the rim stuck and would not, for a considerable time, yield to his efforts to remove it. The new tire, it developed, was not fully inflated; and he strained over the pump. But the tube was an old one; there was a slow leak in it which surrendered under the strain. It was necessary for him to ápply a patch; and this took time. The three miles of bad road beyond the bridge had, because he was in haste, shaken the Road Runner severely. His engine began to ov>. .'heat again; and Chad, investigating, found an oil leak un.'er the crank case. He dared not go on with insufficient c 1; but by sheer insistence begged a ride back to Wiscasset, bought oil there, and begged another ride to where he had left the Road Runner. Electrician’s tape and a few tightened bolts checked the leak. He started on . . .
Cylinders began to miss. Once, and then again, the Road Runner back-fired, Chad groaned, and investigated. Ignition trouble somewhere. He located it, at last. The connection between spark lever and commutator had worn loose. He repaired it with a bit of wire and a nail.
Then dusk descended upon him. When he switched on his lights, they refused to work. He drove on as long as he dared without them, then reluctantly attacked this new problem. Wires all right, connections all right. The right hand bulb, he at length discovered, was burned out. He removed the lens, smashed the bulb, and twisted together the wires within it. Since the lights were in series, this threw full current into the other bulb. It endured the strain for long enough to bring him into the streets of Newcastle. Then it also burned out. He found a garage, got new bulbs.
He was dog-tired. Had to have sleep. Damariscotta was just across the river. He pulled up the hill to that hotel of which he had written to Molly, and stopped the Road Runner, and went into the office. Asked wearily for a room; and when the register was thrust toward him, scanned it with hopeless eyes
Hopeless eyes that abruptly brightened. Their names were here. Falk, Mrs. Falk, Molly. And Mr. Joseph Vaughn, the remarkable chauffeur. Chad pointed with his
“Did they stop here last night?” he asked. “Or just have a meal?”
The clerk looked at the names he indicated. “Oh, they’re still here.” he said.
Chad cried: “Still here!”
“Yeah,” the man assured him. “The young lady’s sick. So they stayed.”
WHEN Chad heard that Molly, his Molly, was ill, he was—for all his weariness—half frantic. He leaned across the hotel desk to ask ferociously: “Very sick?” The clerk stared at him, shook his head. “No. Don’t think so,” he replied.
“Why, her mother did send for a doctor. Doe Trenton. I didn’t see him come.”
“Where is she?” Chad demanded. “What room?” “Twenty-four,” the clerk told him. “You know them, do you?”
Chad looked desperately around, saw a pad of stationery bearing the hotel’s letter head, upon the desk at one side. He had to send some word to her. He stepped to the desk, sat down, wrote swiftly:
“The man here at the desk says you are sick. I’m terribly sorry. Is there anything I can do? I’ll do anything. I just got here. Couldn’t get here before at all. Please tell me what to do for you. . .
“Don’t bother to be angry with me. Not any more.
I deserved it; but I’m sorry.
“When will you be well enough so that I may see you? I want to see you, mighty bad.
There was, as may be noted, something very boyish in Chad where Molly was concerned.
When he had written this note, remarkable because it was so unremarkable, Chad stuffed it into an envelope and turned swiftly back to the desk. “Now, listen,” he said, swiftly, to the clerk.^ “I want to send this note to Miss Falk. It’s got to reach her. And no one else. And no one to know she gets it. Isn’t there a chambermaid, or something?”
The clerk grinned a little, hid his mirth, and told Chad it might be managed. Bade Chad wait, and himself departed toward the rear of the hotel. After a little, he returned and said: “I’ve sent a girl upstairs. She’s going to let me know.”
She came, after an interval that seemed to Chad endless. “I gave it to her,” she told him.
Chad asked: “You did? What did she say?”
“Just took it,” said the maid. “You didn’t tell me to ask for an answer.”
Chad smiled at her. “That’s all right. There wasn’t any, probably. Nobody saw you?”
“There wasn’t any one else there.”
“Alone?” Chad asked indignantly. “Have they left her all alone, when she’s sick?”
The maid smiled. “She didn’t look sick. Had on a kimono, reading in a chair.”
Chad was so elated to hear that Molly was recovering that he gave his messenger twice her fondest expectations. When she had gone, however, his misgivings returned. Perhaps Molly was not so well as she had seemed. He remembered there had been a doctor. . . The clerk gave him the physician’s name again, gave directions; and Chad hurried out, forgetting his own weariness, to interview the medical man. He found Doctor Trenton at home. An elderly, white-haired man with a pink-andwhite complexion and a twinkling eye. The doctor looked at Chad and asked:
“Hello, young fellow. What’s the matter with you?” Chad laughed. “I’m not sick, doctor,” he replied. “I— I just wanted to ask you something. I know it isn’t ethical perhaps'. But—you were called in to see Miss Falk, at the hotel, weren’t you?”
Doctor Trenton’s eyes sharpened, then he smiled. “I—can say ‘yes’ to that,” he replied.
“Is she really sick, Doctor?” Chad asked. “That’s what I wanted to know. I mean, seriously?”
The Doctor put a counter question. “You know Miss Falk?” he asked.
“I—” Chad hesitated. “Yes,” he replied.
“Known her long?”
“Not long,” said Chad, honestly. “Not long, but very well, sir. I mean to know her very much better, though . . ” “You met her—where?”
Chad considered; and laughed. “Why, I suppose you’d say I met her on top of a hill down near Cornish, sir. Or perhaps it was beside a little lake along the road to Portland from Cornish. At least, her mother was there. You might call that meeting her.” He was faintly surprised to find himself telling so much; but—the doctor had an understanding eye. At Chad’s words, he laughed. Laughed and said:
“You sound like the youngster she was looking for.” “Looking for?” Chad repeated.
The doctor nodded. “The young lady insisted on seeing
Continued on page 24
Continued from page 22
me alone,” he explained. “And—told me something of the situation. Her mother had called me in. Miss Falk—did not look sick, and in fact, was not. She told me, confidentially, and by way of appealing for my help, that she was expecting a young man to overtake them at the hotel here, but thought he might be delayed. V anted a pretext to stay here till he came...”
CHAD could not sit still: came to his feet with a countenance so transfigured that the Doctor laughed aloud. They struck hands; Chad blurted incredulous, rapturous thanks. He left the physician still chuckling, ar.d put the Road Runner in a garage, and walked back to the hotel as though he were treading on air. His fatigue was forgotten; he was not even disappointed to find that no answer to his note had come downstairs. He went to his room and to bed and fell asleep as swiftly and as soundly as any other man whose muscles are weary and whose mind is utterly at ease.
When Chad opened his eyes next morning, he lay still for a little while, collecting his thoughts, marshalling his memories. It was some little time before he looked, quite casually, at his watch. But in a split fraction of a second more, he was out of bed and reconnoitering to see if the way was clear to his morning’s tub. For his watch said that it was some twenty minutes past eleven o’clock; and when he came down stairs, eighteen minutes later, the office clock corroborated this bad news. Chad asked: “The Falks! They haven’t gone?”
“Got away about nine,” said the clerk. Chad thought there was something triumphant in his manner; but he had no time to quarrel with any man’s manner. A few minutes past twelve, he was upon the road.
There was some comfort for him in the situation. Unless the fact that they had lost a day here should force them to make haste, those he was pursuing would not go through to Bar Harbor that night. Would more probably stop in Bangor. He counted on that certainty; and he remembered his tribulations of the day before, and humored the Road Runner accordingly.
That temperamental car behaved as though it knew no paths save those of virtue. The engine hummed as
smoothly and as silently as any reasonable man could desire; the miles fell behind like ribbon pulled off a roll. Half past twelve saw him dropping into Waldoboro. At sight of the big policeman who guards the crossing half way up the hill through the town, he had some qualms, but pressed on and the man paid him no attention. Through the Warrens into Thomaston a little after one. Through Thomaston and Rockland and over the rough road that approaches Camden his pace was slow; it was after two when he left Camden behind him. From Camden to Belfast and to Searsport, beyond, he found difficulty in keeping his eyes upon the road. On his right lay the Bay, almost continually visible as sweet, blue water dotted with jewel-islands, the sun playing upon white caps everywhere. It was near half past three when he reached Searsport; it was after five when he put the Road Runner into a Bangor garage. Whether the Falks was here or not, he had no mind to push on to Bar Harbor that night. If they had gone on, they would be on Mt. Desert island for days; he could surely find them there.
He found them, as a matter of fact, in one of the Bangor hotels. That is to say, he made sure they were registered. Sure though he might be of Molly’s disposition toward him, he had no wish to risk himself in sight of Falk, or of the chauffeur. Not while there were policemen all around. Chad began to feel like an outlaw, and grinned at the thought. He meant to keep out of sight, to keep from being seen; but, at the same time, if it were possible to see. He might be able to compass a moment with Molly . . . He was desperately lonely for her, as lonely as though she had been a part of his life for years on years. If you had asked him, he would have said that she had been just that. And he wondered if she were as lonely for him as he was for her. He must have speech with her soon, at no matter what cost. Of so much he was sure.
But he was not to see her that evening; not to have so much as a glimpse. And next morning he set out early, along the Bar Harbor Road, confident that they would follow him, and ready for any expedient that would bring him and Molly together. There had been rain during the night; one of those heavy thunder showers to which the region is, in the summer months, subject. The road was slippery; and puddles filled the ditches on either side. But
this day was clear, the sun bright, and a warm wind moved over the uplands. Chad drove slowly, keeping an eye upon the road behind him for trace of the other car, and at the same time watching for some situation that might offer him the opportunity he sought.
HE BEGAN to come into territory with which he was familiar. There were, in the wooded lands on both sides of the road, many little lakes and streams; and Chad had fished some of them, and seen most of them. His summers for years had been spent at Blue Hill, twelve to fourteen miles to the southward; he had ranged these roads, alighting here and there to go adventuring with rod and reel. The very contours of the countryside were familiar to him; and once he met a farmer whom he knew, and stopped for a little talk with the man, who stared at the Road Runner in astonishment, asked a question or two, and chuckled at Chad’s good-natured responses.
Chad inquired about the road through to Bar Harbor. There had been, the year before, a bad stretch of it some little way ahead. The farmer nodded. “They’re working on it, now,” he told Chad. “You got to go around about to git past. The road’s closed.”
Chad drove on; and when he came presently to a trestle that barred his way and bore a warning placard, he stopped to consider the situation. The warning read:
ROAD CLOSED POSITIVELY NO PASSING
There are some detour signs which may safely be ignored. A road “passable but unsafe” is often a very good road indeed; and even a sign which reads: “No Passing Through” may sometimes be ignored with profit. But when you are advised that there is “Positively no Passing,” you will do well to obey that intimation.
THIS imperative warning was set at a fork in^the roads; and a sign in the fork indicated that the right hand way was the proper detour to Ellsworth. fA hundred yards beyond, another road turned off, this time to the
Continued on page 45
The Road Runner
Continued, from page 21
left. There was something about the locality which seemed to Chad familiar; he drove the Road Runner around the trestle and on and into that left hand road, to confirm his recollection. When he returned to the main road again, he was grinning cheerfully, and knew exactly what he meant to do.
The thing was, like most strokes of genius, simplicity itself. He shifted the detour signs, lowering the Road Runner’s top so that he might load the heavy trestle across it and carry it down the road and set it where he wished it to be. When his task was finished, there was nothing to indicate that the right fork was the proper road; the signs bade cars take that way to_ the left, a hundred yards beyond, which Chad had so swiftly explored.
. He did not wish any but his proper victim to fall into the trap he had set, so remained at the fork, warning those cars that came along to take the right hand way. One man seemed suspicious, stopped to question him; but Chad said the thing was simple enough. “Rain spoiled the other road, and we haven’t time to shift the signs, sir,” he explained. “I’ve got men coming up to do it, right away.” When he saw the Falk limousine approaching, Chad simply backed into the bushes and let the big car go to its own ignominy. _ He saw it take that left hand way; saw it pass across the level uplands, and then dip down into the woods beyond. Listened intently, and presently heard, from that direction, the scream of brakes.
At the sound, Chad smiled in sweet contentment. At the foot of the steep hill which led down into the woods, there was a sharp curve; and beyond it the road dropped into a marsh, passable in wet seasons for only the lightest of cars, and only then if they were well equipped with chains. This was not the wet season; but Chad’s inspection had convinced him that the rain of the night before had created a perfectly adequate slough in the woods, down there. Barring a miracle, the big limousine was completely mired.
IT WAS no part of Chad’s plan to appear upon the scene too promptly. As soon as he was sure the limousine was stuck, he ran at top speed to replace the detour signs as they had been before his tampering. He had no time to spare; another car came from the direction of Bangor as he was finishing his task, but it swept by without stopping to question him, and took the proper way.
When Chad had removed all traces of the trap he had set, he sought the Road Runner, and climbed in, and drove back toward Bangor till he came to the crest of the first hill. Turned, there, and sat watching and waiting. From this vantage, he could see the way the limousine had gone; he would be able to see when Falk or Vaughn came, as they must come, to summon help in their extremity.
He was very well pleased with himself. The road into which he had guided them led along the shores of a little lake where bass worth the taking could occasionally be found; it ran through a quaking swamp for a mile or more before coming out upon higher land again. The road through the swamp was of corduroy; it was meant for teams, and adequate enough for them; but it was not fit for a three-ton limousine.
So he was sure either Falk or Vaughn would quickly come to summon aid; but five minutes passed, and ten, and fifteen, and no one came. Chad began to be uneasy. There were so many things that might have happened. The limousine might have ploughed through to hard going and passed on; or it might have overturned at the first pitch. Molly might even be hurt!
When this possibility occurred to him, he delayed no longer. He sent the Road Runner scurrying down the hill, went into the ditch to pass the detour sign, and turned into the road by which the other car had gone. Rocketed across to the hill’s crest, and with tight brakes went down the long grade. He was going slowly, and it was as well; for when his radiator rounded the curve at the bottom, he found himself almost atop the rear end of the limousine. He checked the Road Runner, brought it to a halt, got out and blocked its wheels with stones. Not till then did he turn to face those who watched him from below.
Vaughn, plastered with mud, was on his knees beside one of the rear wheels, striving to adjust a chain. Falk, on the other side, was digging with a fresh-cut alder pole, in an effort to get a stone under the jack with which he sought to pry the other rear wheel free. Mud had claimed him, also, for its own. And at the rear window of the car, upon the sound of his coming, the faces of Mrs. Falk and of Molly had appeared. All four of them stared at him; Mrs. Falk in surprise, Vaughn and Falk himself in truculent amazement, and Molly with an expression Chad could not interpret.
Chad was entirely unabashed, entirely free from any weight, of guilt at their dilemma. He took off his cap and said cheerfully: “Why, good morning, folks. What’s the matter? Trouble?”
Falk was the first to speak. “I thought we’d lost you for good, down at Bath,” he exclaimed.
“I was delayed a little,” Chad assented. And he added, as though surprised. “But is it possible you wanted to lose me?”
Falk grunted; and then he grinned. ‘‘Why, I wouldn’t mind,” he declared. “Of course, I’m not sore, or anything; but if I saw you choking to death, I’d stand and laugh.”
Chad shook his head good-humoredly. “ You don’t appreciate me. I told you, the first time we talked together, that you’d see me again. You remember?” He hesitated, smiling still. “It’s your bad manners that attract me,” he explained. “I’m watching for improvement in you, sir.”
Falk stood up, brushing and scrubbing the wet mud from his hands with a wisp of grass. “You’re a cheerful criminal,” he declared. “I’d think you were responsible for this mess, if it were possible.”
Chad considered the big car’s plight; and he chuckled. “It is rather a mess,” he conceded. “Can I help you out?”
Falk shook his head. “Guess we can pull out when we get some chains on,” he replied. “I wouldn’t trust you very far, you know. You might shoot another hole in my tires.”
Chad looked pained. “That was because you refused to help the poor chap who was in trouble,” he explained. “Don’t you remember? Wouldn’t even give him a lift to town. . . I’m as ready to help you as I am to help any one else.” He nodded toward Vaughn. “Your man, there, doesn’t seem to know his business very well.”
VAUGHN had been sitting back on his heels and glaring at Chad. He spoke now. “You know any more about it than I do?” he asked, harshly.
“A great deal,” C ad assured him. “I know, for instance ''hat in such a case it’s not necessary to ,:at your chains on in the regu'ar way. They’ll do as much good, possibly more, if you wind them around the wheel where you can get at it, and fasten them there.”
Vaughn stared; and Falk laughed aloud. “He’s right, Vaughn,” he cried. “It’s sensible, anyway. Fix ’em that way.”
“It will cut your paint,” Vaughn protested. “Any man that ever drove a decent car knows that.”
“Drat the paint,” Falk told him. “I want to get out of here.” He caught up the other chain and began to adjust it as Chad had advised. “Fix the 'me on your side,” he told the chauffeur.
Vaughn, silenced but not in the least convinced, set stubbornly to work. Chad stood in the road, watching. There was nothing he could do, so he looked at Molly through the rear window of the limouYne; and she looked at him. And he smiled, and so did she. These two had exchanged no more than a few dozen words; but in the occasional meetings of their eyes, much had passed between them. Chad felt that they were very close together.
He could hear Mrs. Falk’s high voice as she questioned Molly, now; could hear the murmur of Molly’s answers. And he sought for some artifice that would give him word with the girl. He could see her; but they could not talk together. And he wished, quite violently, to talk with
Molly.^ Then, Falk shouted to him: “We’re going to pull out of here. Back up. Get that rattle trap of yours out of the way.”
Chad nodded. “Right,” he agreed. “I’ll pull off the road.” He went back to the Road Runner, and backed up the hill till he came to a little clear space, and turned around, leaving his car beside the road. When he stopped his engine, he heard that of the limousine humming, and knew the rear wheels of the big car were spinning helplessly. It would never pull out of that muck unaided; and Chad had been quite sure of that from the beginning. He went back down the road, watched for a moment, then hailed Falk.
“You’re only digging in deeper,” he called. “Let me hitch on, and give you a pull.”
FALK would not at once accept his help;
but in the end was forced to do it. Chad backed the Road Runner down till only a few feet separated the two cars. He had a rope in his tonneau; and he brought this out and when Vaughn alighted, Chad tossed the rope to him and bade him make it fast to the rear springs of the limousine. Vaughn hesitated, sullen and angry; but in the end, he did as he was bade.
“I’ll have to have more weight in my car,” Chad explained, to Falk. “You’d better drive yours, and let the chauffeur push. Every little bit helps. Then let Mrs. Falk and Miss Molly come into my car, to hold her on the road. I’ll yank you out.”
When Falk had come to this way of thinking, and opened the door of the limousine and spoke to Mrs. Falk, the deaf woman threw up her hands and refused to have any share in such an enterprise. “You’ll not get me into that rattle bang, Jim Falk,” she told her husband. “I wouldn’t get in it for anything in the world. The thing’s not safe at all.”
He could not persuade her; but Molly needed no persuading. Her father lifted her from the running board and set her on solid ground, and she went up toward where Chad waited. Vaughn was fastening one end of the rope to the big car. Falk climbed in behind the wheel of the limousine; and Chad opened the door of the tonneau for Molly to get into the Road Runner.
When she came up to him, he had said: “Hello!” She answered: “Hello!” He whispered: “You’re not angry with me any more?” And she shook her head, and a smile was in her eyes.
There was something intoxicating in that smile; Chad’s senses reeled with it. He took his seat in the Road Runner, outwardly composed, but inwardly reeling. Molly was in his car, in his car, with him. They were together, and alone. . . Up the hill stretched the road, clear and open, with something inviting in its aspect. He started his engine. Vaughn shouted, from the rear end of the car:
“Hey! Wait! I haven’t got them hooked up yet.”
Not hooked up yet! A moment more and he would be anchored to the limousine... Chad suddenly caught fire; he freed his brake, engaged his clutch. Began to pull up the hill. . .
He heard Vaughn shout desperately behind him. The Road Runner picked up speed and climbed like a frightened squirrel. A weight descended upon the rear end; and Chad looked over his shoulder and saw that Vaughn had caught hold and was trying to climb into the tonneau. He spurted ahead, hoping the man would be shaken off. . .
WHEN he turned his head to snatch another glimpse, he saw that Molly was standing up; and she had his suitcase in her hand, swinging it as one swings a flyswatter. He heard the impact, heard Vaughn’s choking cry. The Road Runner took the ditch; and Chad swung it into the road again. Looking back this time, he saw Vaughn sprawling on the road, climbing painfully to his feet, shaking his fist after them.
So he came out atop the hill; and he began to realize what Molly had done. She had knocked Vaughn off the Road Runner! Why? Why? And why?
There could be only one answer. Chad could not believe his senses. He stopped,
with a jar of brakes, and swung in his seat. “You knocked him off!” he cried.
Molly nodded. “I hit him in the nose,” she said; and abruptly smiled at him. “It was bleeding. And he fell hard, too.”
Chad got to his knees on the front seat, leaning toward her. “Why did you do it?” he asked, eagerly. “Why did you knock him off?”
Molly who had been white with excitement, looked puzzled for a moment; and then across her cheeks there swept a wave of flaming color. She dropped her eyes; he heard her say: “Why. . . Why, I don’t know.”
Chad cried. “I know! I know!” He reached down and caught her hands and pulled her toward him. She cams to her feet because she had to. He drew her nearer still, and his eyes were shining.
It did not occur to them that there was anything ludicrous in their position._ The Road Runner, its engine still roaring—■ Chad had forgotten to close the throttle—■ trembled and vibrated beneath them. A car passed along the main r:>ad and paused while those in it stared at them across the field. A red squirr d in the thicket by the road chirped derisively. But Molly and Chad were quite unconsscious of these matters; were utterly absorbed in the discovery of why Molly had hit Mr. Joseph Vaughn of Los Angeles, California, upon the nose.
It was the appearance of Vaughn himself which brought them to earth again. He came to the crest of the hill, fifty yards behind them; and Chad saw him, and spoke to Molly; and she turned to look. But the chauffeur had seen enough to assure him there was no virtue in pursuit. He made no move when the Road Runner leaped forward and sped upon its way.
THEY had time a-plenty for getting acquainted as they drove slowly southward through the hills. Chad told her who he was, and she listened as though she were enthralled by the prosaic telling. There were many questions; they had each so much to ask and to tell.
After a while, she asked where they were going. -And when he told her, she laughed a little, softly; and said: “Mercy! I never thought I would. So suddenly as this...” But she did.
She wondered whether they might not send help to her father. Chad shook his head. “They’ll come up to the main road and hail a truck,” he told her. “It will take a truck to pull them out. . .”
She accepted his explanation. “Dad can take care of himself, anyway,” she told Chad; and added: “You know, he
really likes you.”
Chad chuckled. “He dissembles his love.”
Molly nodded. “I know. But he does. I can tell. And mother likes you, too.” “We’ll take no chances,” Chad assured her. “We’ll wait till afterwards to tell them.” And Molly who was not without an adventurous spirit of her own, assented quite contentedly.
By and by, she remembered Vaughn, and his bloody nose, and laughed a little; and Chad asked why she was laughing. She told him. “I knew I didn’t really care for him,” she explained. “But he wouldn’t believe me. I guess he believes me now.”
“Care for him?” Chad echoed. “That fellow. .
“He’s really nice, sometimes,” she said. “He’s wanted me to marry him for ever so long. That’s why he came on this trip with us. I told him to.”
“Told him to. . .”
“I told him I wanted to know him better before I decided,” she explained, and there was an impish light in her eyes. “I told him I wanted to see him every day, and see how he acted when things went wrong, and everything. Dad doesn’t know that, of course. He just thinks he’s a chauffeur. I made him get the job. .
Chad was silent for a moment, till the situation broke upon him in its entirety; and then he laughed till Molly laughed with him. “And now the poor chap has to go home, five or six thousand miles, with nothing to show for his trouble. I’ll bet he quits his job to-day. . .”
“I expect he’s already quit it,” said Molly. “I should think he would.”
They were making their way southward through the hill country toward the sea; and once or twice they caught sight of a lofty, symmetrical hill ahead of them, and
Continued on page 47
Continued from page 45
Chad told her it was their destination. “It’s called Blue Hill,” he said. “There’s a little town below it. I know everybody there.”
She said it was beautiful, but asked why they need go there: and Chad explained to her that there were certain time restrictions which must be set aside. “I know the man who issues licenses, down there,” he told her. “I’ve fished with him. He’ll do whatever I ask him to do.”
Molly slipped her hand through the crook of his arm; and the Road Runner bore them swiftly on their way. After a while she said:
“I like this funny little old car.”
Chad was reminded of something, and he asked: “Oh, Molly! What is a road runner, anyway?”
She remembered he had thought a road runner was a hold-up man, and laughed. “A funny kind of bird,” she told him. “We see them, sometimes, out around home. .
IT WAS early afternoon when they left Blue Hill behind. Chad, as he had told her, knew the people there: it had seemed to her he knew everyone, and that they knew him. There had been many strange faces all about her, all friendly; and there had been a friendly and a jocular old man who poked fun at Chad, but did what he asked; and there had been a minister with a curiously kindly eye, and his wife, who wept on Molly’s shoulder for no reason at all except that all women weep at weddings.
Now they had left all these kindly folk behind them. But Chad drove slowly. They were in no hurry; they were going nowhere in particular. The day was fair, the wind was warm, the world was bright before them. Across Blue Hill Bay towered Mount Desert, an enormous, slumberous mass that had a curious suggestion of vitality about it, as though it were a drowsing beast. Molly spoke of this; and Chad nodded. “But a good-natured beast,” he told her. “Always has a friendly look, to me.”
“I think everything must have a friendly look to you—Chad,” she said softly.
After a while, he straightened a little, as though shaking off the irresponsible spirit which possessed them. “I suppose we—ought to look up your people,” he suggested.
“We-ell,” she agreed, “all my clothes are in the car.”
He nodded. “This road leads to Ellsworth,” he told her. “They’ll probably come on, there, when they get out of the mud.”
The Road Runner reached Ellsworth in late afternoon, and Chad asked questions and assured himself the limousine had not gone through. Returned to Molly, and reported to her. “We’ll have supper,” he suggested. “But—I don’t want to go to the hotel, do you?”
She shook her head, and Chad stopped before a grocery store, and made certain purchases. Then they drove back along the Bangor Road, and when they came to a hilltop which appealed to Molly, they stopped, and left the Road Runner beside the way, and climbed up through the field and chose a pleasant spot and spread there the viands Chad had bought. So had their first repast alone together. They spoke, as it happened, very little; and when they spoke at all, their voices were soft and low. But their eyes met often, and now and then as they passed things back and forth, their finger tips touched. When they had done, they found an old boulder, still warm from the sun that was now near setting; and they sat upon it, side by side, and the sun
descended and disappeared. Presently the full moon enfolded them with its soft radiance, and showed them all the world outspread at their feet. Far away, a dog barked. Over the hills came the faint whistle of a distant train, made musical by distance. Automobiles passed along the road below them, their headlights yellow in the white light of the moon. They could see the black shadow of the Road Runner, drawn up beside the road.
By and by, another car stopped by the Road Runner; and Chad, said quietly: “That may be your father, now.” She nodded, made no move. But he rose. “Shall we go down?” he asked. And so they descended the hillside, hand in hand.
When they approached, they saw that Molly’s father had descended from the limousine and was waiting for them. Vaughn was not there. They were to see that man no more.
They came near the older man, and stopped, facing him. For a moment, no one spoke at all. Then Falk said, a chuckle in his voice: “I saw your car
stopped here, young man. Thought you might be in trouble. Anything I can do?” Chad had expected almost anything but that. He saw that Molly’s father was smiling; and he laughed. “No, sir,” he exclaimed. “No trouble. Never any trouble any more. But—you’re kind to ask. There’s one thing. We might—” He held out his hand; and Falk gripped it hard. Molly, abruptly, left Chad’s side, and rose on tiptoe to kiss her father’s cheek. Then fled to the limousine. The adventurous day, it appeared, had been too much for Mrs. Falk. She must have been asleep; woke when Molly opened the door; cried: “Why, child, wherever have you been?” Then Molly had drawn the door shut behind her, and the two men heard no more.
Falk was saying: “Do I gather that you’ve trailed me all this time, and put me over the jumps this way, just because you wanted to get hold of Molly?”
Chad nodded. “Yes_, sir,” he assented. “I guess that’s the straight of it.”
Molly’s father laughed—and threw up his hands. “Best I can wish you is that she doesn’t make you the trouble she’s made me.” He pulled out his cigar case; and the two men sat down upon the wall beside the road to get acquainted.
MRS. FALK would have had Chad and Molly go along with them; Falk himself protested that Chad had robbed him of a good chauffeur, and should supply the deficiency. But Chad and Molly were of no such mind. “We’ve really just begun to get acquainted, Chad and I,” Molly explained. “It wouldn’t do at all to have you—to have you grownups around.”
“But you’re never going anywhere in that ridiculous car,” Mrs. Falk protested. “You’ll never get back to us alive.”
“It’s a good little car,” Chad told her; and Molly cried jealously:
“A beautiful little car.”
So presently the limousine, with Molly’s father at the wheel, went upon its way; and Molly and Chad and the Road Runner were left together by the road. The night was very still and warm, and the moonlight was a glory all about them. They stood for a little, till the red taillight of the big car had disappeared. Then at last Chad stirred, and said to Molly: “Shall we. . . Where shall we go?”
She looked up at him, and he saw her eyes, deep and serenely smiling. After a moment she asked: “Is it any more
beautiful, anywhere else, than it is here?” He shook his head... So in the warm moonlight, they went together through the fields and up the hill.