FICTION

Simmie, Do Something!

Remember when the first automobile came to your town? Here’s a hilarious tale out of yesterday

RYERSON JOHNSON April 1 1946
FICTION

Simmie, Do Something!

Remember when the first automobile came to your town? Here’s a hilarious tale out of yesterday

RYERSON JOHNSON April 1 1946

Simmie, Do Something!

FICTION

Remember when the first automobile came to your town? Here’s a hilarious tale out of yesterday

RYERSON JOHNSON

YOU'D have thought mamma would be excited about our family being the first in town to own an automobile. But that was mamma all over

—she’d get stirred up about little things, like this first beau of my sister’s, but not about something important, like the first automobile.

Mamma came out on the back porch and let the screen door slam. She looked up through the rambler rose into the old apple tree where papa was, and just said:

“It’s here.”

What papa was doing in the apple tree was getting down a swarm of beesthe golden Italian ones that he had sent all the way to Italy for their queen. What 1 was doing was holding the ladder. I had on my bee armor—the old blue sweater that papa wore in college. Tne sweater had a turtle neck that went all around, and no buttons for bees to crawl between. Mamma had made me a bee veil out of an old lace curtain, but today I wasn’t wearing it, because Apple-Cobs Gordon had bet me three fishhooks and a bobber that I couldn’t go without the veil and not get stung.

So Apple-Cobs and my big sister, Geraldine, who is starting to go with boys now, and my little brother, Willie, only aged five, were sitting under the grape arbor eating grapes and pounding their bare feet in the grass while waiting for me to get stung.

Three patients were waiting for papa in his office, and mamma had already been out to tell him he had

better make up his mind if he was going to be a beekeeper or a doctor, and if she was one of his patients she wouldn’t stand for it, and he certainly couldn’t blame her if she went to the other doctor in town.

That showed how much mamma didn’t like bees, because the other doctor just gave calomel for everything. Any of papa’s patients, especially the ones who owed him money, would tell you that.

Mamma was also against automobiles. Papa’s automobile was going to be just another one of his time wasters, she said, like the bees, only more dangerous, and it was just too bad that he did not have enough mechanical toys to play with when he was a child. Papa said she would change her mind when she got in it. Mamma said she would never get in a smelly old gasoline buggy.

Well, believe me, I would get in it. I guess so would anybody else in town. Why, it was all they ever talked about any more at places like Shively and Neeson’s Livery Stable, and in front of Klein’s barbershop, and at the post office, waiting for the mail to be put up. They were always stopping me to ask when it was coming. Not only kids asking. Grown-ups too.

“Are you ready, Walter?” I heard papa shout down from the tree. “Here they come.”

I held the ladder tighter. Above my head the leaves made a swishing sound as papa shook the limb. Bees pattered around me like little lost raindrops—then something happened that never did before. I felt a soft brushing down the back of my head, shaved for summer, and then a feeling like soap bubbles breaking all around my neck. I knew what it was. A chunk of that swarm had missed the hive . . . and now, just like it was a funnel, the turtle neck of that old football sweater was filled with bees that were crawling around my neck and buzzing like—well, like crawling, buzzing real live bees!

I was scared. I was scared stiff. That turned out to be exactly right. They’re not supposed to sting you if you don’t move, and I wasn’t even blinking my eyes; I wasn’t even breathing at first.

That wasn’t getting rid of the bees, though, because holding myself so stiff and si ill, nobody took any notice of me. They were all watching papa up there with the hive. I could hear mamma’s foot stamp with impatience on the porch, and out of the corner of my eyes I could see her flushed cheeks, pink and pretty. It was funny, the little things I noticed—like the little things they say you think about when you’re drowning. I could even see the smooch of flour on one of mamma s cheeks from where she had been baking an angel food cake for the Baptist sale.

“Is there nothing that will bring you down out of that tree, doctor?” I heard her ask. “I said your automobile’s here.”

“Great Scott!” papa answered her then. “Why on earth didn’t you say so? Great Scott my automobile!”

Papa came down the ladder like a fireman on a greased pole. Now, I thought, now papa will see me, because by this time I was getting about crazy from the way the bees were tickling my neck. I could feel sweat breaking out, hot and sticky, under the wool sweater, and I wondered if bees could smell that you were afraid, like they say dogs can.

“Papa, look at me . . . look at me!” I yelled to him over and over, but silent yelling, only in my mind, because with the bees on it I didn’t dare move my throat to call out loud.

In the automobile excitement papa didn’t notice any more than the others did. He just pranced around, yanking off his bee gloves and the chopped-off old pair of mamma’s cotton stockings that he wore to keep the bees from going up his sleeves. I could hear the kids running around too, whooping—all except Geraldine. Lately Geraldine likes to act grown up. She was in line with my eyes and I could see her just standing

there, like the picture of a stork, on one bare foot., while scratching at her ankle with the toes of the other foot. Geraldine is getting more like mamma every day. Papa says so.

They kept not paying any attention to me and that ring of golden Italian bees around my neck, and behind his veil that he was trying to get out of, papa kept hollering questions: “Where is it? When did it come? Great Scott, why didn’t you tell me—”

“If you’d only listen,” mamma said. “It’s in a boxcar at the Central depot. Mr. Feathergrew just phoned up about it.”

I knew I couldn’t stand the bees much longer. Sweat was dripping out of my hair into my eyes. I couldn’t tell which was sweat and which was bees. I took a chance at the last and started making noises deep in my throat, trying not to move anything, like an Indian talking: “Ugh . . . ugh . . . ugh,” and

pointing to how I was holding my neck stiff.

Mamma saw me finally. “Look at that child!” she screamed. Her white buttoned shoes clicked down the steps and she ran as close to me as she dared, and stood, staring at me with great helplessness. “He’ll be stung to death!” she screamed. “Simmie, do something!”

Papa’s name is Simeon, like one of the men in the Bible, but mamma calls him, mostly, Simmie.

“Now take it easy, Effye,” he said. "You just have to keep calm.”

Well, when you think about the bad fix I WSN in, and how serious it could have been, it sounds kind of silly the way it turned out. Papa just came over and blew his breath on my neck very carefully, and brushed some more bees off with the goose wing that we’d saved from last Thanksgiving, and pretty soon he had them all off. Boy, oh boy, did 1 take a good deep breath.

“The idea!” mamma said, still looking at me while her hands made little flutters, like baby birds learning to fly. “Your own son! He might have been stung to death! I suppose I should be grateful you don’t keep bears.”

“Aw now, Effye,” papa said again and jiggled some silver dollars in his pocket like he does. I know he'd already forgotten the bees and was thinking about the automobile.

DOWN at the depot it was like when the carnival unloads for the Elks picnic, with about all the men and boys in town there, including the patients that had been waiting in papa’s office. Papa forgot all about them, but they didn’t forget about the automobile. We walked along, and there was a nice bouncy feeling, with everybody excited and laughing, and calling, “Hi, doc,” to my father.

Papa looks tall and thin in his floppy summer suit and with his floppy brown mustache, but he is stronger than you would think. He is captain of the Elks tug-of-war team, and he pitches ball for the Elbernon Tigers whenever somebody isn’t having something like a broken arm or a baby during ball time.

Today everybody seemed to want to get close to him and touch him, the same as they do to a bulloon jumper. They would slap him on the back and say things like, “Well, doc, I know where you can get a good horse in case the machine throws you.”

They didn’t mean anything by it. The very last thing anybody thought was that this could be a day of danger. I remembered afterward it had been the same way when the carnival came to Greenville that time, to the Old Settler’s picnic there. The man who went up in the balloon—his parachute didn t open. But on that day everybody was laughing at the beginning of it, just like now.

Closer to the tracks we could smell the new wheat from where it was being spouted into the railroad cars by Mr. Twist’s grain elevator, the highest building in Elbernon except the coal shaft. I snitched a handful of wheat from the back of a wagon and crammed it in my mouth. It makes

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chewing gum if you chew it long enough. My little brother, Willie, aged five, hollered for some. I was going to give Geraldine some too, but she shook her head, no, she didn’t want any.

Geraldine had put her shoes and stockings on to come and see papa get the automobile. She is only out of the eighth grade, not much older than I am, but she tries to act like the summer is past and she is already in high school. Certainly an eighth-grade girl is not old

enough to go with boys—those are mamma’s exact words. Especially a boy who did not even graduate from the eighth grade after being in it two years, but who quit school to go to work in the coal mine with his father.

What reminded me of it was the way Geraldine started walking all of a sudden—slow and kind of wriggling inside her skirt and middy blouse, with her hand on the back of her hair, like the night before we saw a moving picture actress do in a two-reeler called “Siren of the Sea.”

I looked in the direction Geraldine was being so careful not to look, and, just like I figured, there was this

Dummy Dawson. You could call him that and he didn’t care. It was his nickname, and even his father called him that. Only his mother didn’t. Dummy started smoking cigarettes in the third grade. Everybody said it would stunt his growth, and the physiology book said so too. I don’t know why it didn’t, but it didn’t. Because, even if he could not get through the eighth grade, he is big and very athletic and with a pompadour haircut that he throws back out of his eyes with a toss of his head, and I guess it is things like that which make the girls so goo-goo about him, especially Geraldine.

Not that it ever did her any good. I don’t think he even knew she was alive except to poke her pigtails in the inkwell at school. And now that he had quit to go to work in the coal mine, they did not even have that much in common.

I crowded Geraldine so that she had to walk right past him.

“Hi, Dummy,” I said.

He looked at us out of his pale-blue eyes. From under his cap, a little greasy in front, and that he wore so far on one side of his head that I don’t know why it didn’t fall off, he gave us a friendly grin.

“Hi, Wallie,” he said back at me. “Hi, Geraldine.” He even said, “Hi, Willie,” to my little brother. He did not even have to take the cigarette out of his mouth to say it. It stuck to his lip and went up and down. Where I think he got the idea was from a moving picture show called “Redskin Vengeance” that came to the Elbernon Opera House. An Indian fighter in it was always going around with a cigarette on his lip while he shot Indians.

I could tell that Geraldine thought it was because of her that Dummy Dawson talked to us so nice, but heckfire, I figured it was only because of our family getting an automobile. Dummy was crazy about automobiles. He had been hopping freight trains and going into Springfield on days when the mine didn’t work, and he would hang around Bennington’s Bicycle Hospital which had gone into partnership with a livery stable to start a garage, which is French for something which sells and fixes automobiles, especially fixes them.

Papa said once that even if Dummy didn’t take much to books he had a good mechanical mind, and he wouldn’t be surprised if he’d turn out all right. Mamma said Dummy Dawson was little short of an imbecile, whatever that is. Papa said a lot of the best people were.

Dummy walked along beside us to the tracks, with Geraldine’s face red, and she still afraid to look at him. Mr. Feathergrew, the station agent, in his suspenders and leather sleeve cuffs, took the cigar out of his mouth that he chewed more than he smoked, and waved to us from inside the boxcar. He had already broken the seal on the car door and climbed in with some other men. “To examine the shipment,” he said.

I WAS hoping papa would start the automobile inside the boxcar and come roaring down the planks the same as with 20 horses pulling him, because it was a full 20-horsepower automobile. But what they did was tie a rope behind and just let it come down easy, with papa telling them how. I was picking at people’s clothes, trying to get close, and in the end I had to climb up on the boxcar and tear my overalls before I could see my own family’s automobile.

It was sure a beaut—a one-sea ter Autocar Runabout painted blue. It had brass head lamps, and silvery things to guide it with, and a horn that

honked. All you did was press the rubber bulb. Men kept pressing it and laughing.

“Anyway, your horn works, doc,” they would say, like they were surprised it did.

And they would say things like: “Only two cylinders. The Locomobile’s got four.”

“Steers with a handle. Some of ’em use wheels this year.”

“Cranks in front—dangerous; might run over you before you could get clear. It’s the Winton, ain’t it, that cranks on the side? Safer.”

“Me, I’d rather one that cranked in back—about a mile back.”

Even papa laughed with them on that. But I didn’t. Heck-fire, they sounded like they thought all the other automobiles in the world were better than this one.

Except Mr. Feathergrew. “Fourinch tire,” he pointed out. “Biggest I ever saw.” He kicked at the tire, looking thoughtful. Some more men came up and kicked at it, also looking thoughtful, but I don’t know about what. I guess, though, Mr. Feathergrew was the first man in Elbernon to ever kick an automobile tire.

There was a book came with the automobile, that told how to run it. Everybody tried to read the book over my father’s shoulder. I read it afterward myself. It said things like:

“Raise the seat cushion, unscrew the cap from gasoline tank and see that it is full . . . give engine an inch of oil as shown in glass of dashboard oil pump . . . give one stroke with air pump to depress float in vaporizer.”

“You got to take your switch off that’s on the coil box,” Dummy Dawson said.

Papa did all those things. Then he cranked. Everybody waited, silent. Nothing happened. Papa took off his coat and cranked some more.

“You got to push your spark farther back,” Dummy told him.

Papa pushed it.

“Better get a horse, doc,” they started to holler at him.

Papa kept calm and read the book again. “Turn the starting crank,” the book said, “and the engine should start immediately.”

He turned it some more.

“Let a man in there, doc,” someone said.

Different ones started spelling him. They cranked and cranked, just stopping long enough to rub their hands on their pants to get the sweat off and give a better grip. Still nothing happened —just bad advice and jokes from the crowd.

Papa unhooked the front and lifted the lid up to look at the engine. From on top the boxcar I could see his hands moving, his fingers touching things, gentle, like when he is examining my foot to take a splinter or a bee stinger out.

He frowned very important and put the lid back down again. “Now watch her start, boys,” he told them.

And it did! On the very next crank. He laughed that night at supper and said he really didn’t do anything special to make it start. It was notional, he guessed, like a woman.

Well, with the engine going, the automobile was like something alive. It shook all over, with blue smoke puffing out the back, and making a terrible loud bang-bang, bang-bang, bang-bang. I felt goose-pimply just watching it, remembering something Apple-Cobs Gordon had said—that every day somewhere an automobile took fire and blew up, and even the pieces, you couldn’t find them afterward.

While the farmers scattered to quiet

their teams at the hitch racks, papa

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hurried around and climbed on the automobile and sat in the seat, reading the book, his hands moving things to make the engine quiet down and then get loud again. The branch line train that runs from Greenville to Elbernon came and stopped at the depot, with people sticking their heads out the windows, staring, and even the engineer and fireman looking. I was awful proud for them to see that Elbernon, and especially our family, had an automobile.

When the. automobile started to move finally, it looked to me like it was before papa was quite ready. His old slouch hat, that mamma says is a disgrace, had been shaking farther and farther over his eyes. It went clear off as the automobile gave a kind of leap. With his mouth shut tight under his mustache, and a very surprised look on his face, papa grabbed hold of the steering lever, but not dropping the book, though, that told how to run it.

Away he went like a runaway wagon, wiggle-waggle all over the street. He ran over one of Mrs. Boblitt’s chickens, but fortunately did not hit anything big like trees, horses, or people. When he steered around the first turn he went way up on the wooden sidewalk, which was very interesting to me, as I didn’t know an automobile could run on a sidewalk. It did break the walk some, and one of the mudguards on the automobile.

Papa very quickly disappeared out of sight, and I ran with everybody else to the public square, where he was steering the automobile around and around, like on a race track, bouncing in the seat, hair all over his face, elbows flopping. He still hung onto the steering stick— and to the instruction book, which he seemed to be trying to read while he guided, but he wasn’t having very much luck, if I must say it, with either one.

Storekeepers and customers came bumping each other out of stores to see what all the commotion was about. Mrs. Garvey, who is my Sunday-school teacher, got so scared, or blinded by the dust, that she ran into the pool hall by mistake. To make things worse, quite a few horses tied to the park rail broke away and started running. Mr. Lent’s buggy stove up against Hardison’s grocery store, squashing considerable bananas and watermelons out in front. I guess it could be considered papa’s fault, in a way, but the Lents still owed for their last baby, and Mr. Hardison owed for his mother-in-law’s gallstones, so everything evened up about right on that. Everybody was wondering, though, why papa had to pick the public square at a busy hour to learn to steer the automobile on.

“He’s just showing off, that’s what!” I heard a woman scream. It was Mrs. Toppin. She didn’t like papa because he told her once there was nothing the matter with her, only her imagination.

“He is not showing off! The doctor never did a cheap or show-off thing in his life. The automobile won’t stop for him—that’s what’s the matter. It won’t stop. Do something, somebody! Oh, do something! He’ll be killed!”

I knew that voice all right. Mamma’s. And now' I was remembering how the automobile had started out like a bucking horse while papa was still reading the book that told how to start it, and I wondered if maybe he hadn’t yet got to the place that told how to stop it. Or maybe he was just rattled, like once in the pitcher’s box when lie threw a ball to first base instead of to home plate, and let the Virden Giants score two runs on him.

Anyway, there he was in a runaw'ay automobile, thunder-banging around and around the square, in a worse fix

even than I was that afternoon with the bees in my collar. He had thrown up so much dust by this time that you could taste it between your teeth. People started shouting him advice, like, “Drain out the gasoline tank,” and, “Head for the country and run her in the crick.”

But the only one to do anything besides just holler was Dummy Dawson. He ran right out into the road with papa roaring down at him like a four-horse fire eng’ne.

People hid their eyes. A kind of groan went up, like when the balloon man’s parachute didn’t open. Nobody could talk, only one man. “Come back on the sidewalk, you damn fool,” he yelled, savage.

But Dummy ran right at the automobile instead. He certainly was the candy kid all right. When the automobile made a turn he jumped at it from the inside corner and threw himself aboard, just like he hops a fast freight. After that it was as easy as papa blowing the bees out of my collar. Dummy just reached inside and turned the switch off that stops the electricity. That was as good as draining the gasoline tank, and the automobile coasted to a stop.

PAPA staggered out, still holding the book that told how to run it. His face was black as a coal miner’s, his mustache so heavy with dust that it looked like something tied to his lip. Mamma ran up and hugged him anyway. With her clean dress, and the whole town looking, she hugged him, crying.

Dummy Dawson stood beside him, trying to look like saving my father’s life was something he did every day. I never noticed it before, but with his square jaw and pompadour haircut he looked something like Hairbreadth Harry, the hero in the funny paper.

While mamma was kissing papa, I was half expecting Geraldine to start kissing Dummy. She was looking at him with her eyes big and her lips apart, like a picture show actress. But it wasn’t Geraldine who kissed him. It was mamma.

He blushed and pulled away and said quick to papa, “Want me to drive it home for you, Dr. Potts?”

Papa said, “Thank you. Thank you for everything . . . but I will steer this automobile home if I break every bone in my body.”

And he did. Steer it home, I mean. Dummy Dawson rode with him, and stayed around our yard for the rest of the afternoon, showing papa things about the automobile, and eating a lot of our grapes and apples. A lot of other people hung around too, but everybody except Dummy went home as it got toward suppertime. I began to wonder if maybe I was wrong after all, and it was really Geraldine instead of the automobile that was keeping Dummy. I guess mamma was wondering too, because she kept looking out of the kitchen, and it seemed like every time she would see Dummy say something to Geraldine to make her giggle she would call Geraldine in the house to do something.

I heard them through the screen door having an argument once.

“But, mamma,” Geraldine said, “you must like him yourself. You kissed him—in front of the whole town!”

“That has nothing to do with the case,” mamma said firmly. “That was merely in gratitude for what he did for papa. I do think we should be nice to him. But there is a limit. After all, he is older than you, and not very bright; you have utterly nothing in common.” “That has utterly nothing to do with

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the case,” Geraldine said in a voice that was so much like mamma’s that I thought for a minute it was mamma.

Geraldine came out on the porch and let the screen door slam, also like mamma. I walked with her back to the automobile. Dummy was just crawling out from under it with a wrench. He was all greasy, but he didn’t care. Papa was talking to him, like he does to people.

“What kind of things do you like, Chester?” That was Dummy’s real name—Chester.

“What do I like? You mean what do I like?”

“Yes, what do you like?”

Dummy looked quick at Geraldine and back at papa, and kind of grinned. “I like some girls,” he said. “And automobiles.”

Papa’s hand was twisting at his mustache like it does when he is thinking. “I see,” he said. “And what do you intend to make out of yourself when you grow up?”

“Aw, work in the coal mine, I guess, like my father.”

Papa’s hand twisted harder on his mustache. “I thought maybe you might be planning to go into the automobile business.”

“I’d like to, but the old man says automobiles are just a fad. He says there’s more money in coal mining.” “But you could work up from a mechanic until you owned your own garage—”

“Too much like work,” Dummy said. “I just want to have my own automobile, that’s all—” he grinned again and looked over at Geraldine-—“and take a certain girl out riding.”

Somebody behind us said, “Supper’s ready, Simmie,” and it was mamma. We hadn’t even heard her coming up behind us in the grass. But she had heard Dummy and papa.

Papa invited Dummy to have supper with us, but he wouldn’t do it. “I’m full of apples,” he said. “I guess I’ll mosey down town and shoot me a game of pool.”

Working in the coal mine, Dummy made a lot of money, and his father let him keep $10 of it every week to spend any way he wanted to. He spent most of it playing pool. He would bet on the games and mostly lose.

That’s what I heard everybody say, as I don’t frequent the pool hall myself.

Before Geraldine came in the house Dummy Dawson got her in a corner of the grape arbor v • ^d said something to her that ’ íe her giggle again. 1 didn’t i*ear what Dummy said, but I ïièard Geraldine say, “I dare you to—T double dare you.”

Then she turned away quick and came in.

At supper mamma said to papa, “No brains and no ambition—now maybe you’ll believe me?”

Papa grinned tiredly across the table at her. “All right,

Effye, I believe you.”

There was a clatter as Geraldine’s fork dropped on her plate. “Well, I don’t,” she said. “Everybody’s always picking on Dummy—on Chester— because he’s just too good-natured to pick back at them. He’s only interested in the coal mine now because it’s new to him. He’ll probably end up to be a a famous automobile manufacturer.” Mamma and papa swapped a look, and papa said, “Pass your plate for some more steak, Geraldine,” and nothing more was said by anybody about Dummy Dawson during supper. They talked about the automobile instead. Mamma was still against it.

When we got up from supper she sighed. “Once I had only the bees to worry about,” I heard her say. “Now it’s the bees, the automobile, and Geraldine—”

She stopped because papa had swung down his arm and snapped his finger. “Great Scott!” he said. “The bees! I forgot all about them.” He looked at me. “Walter, did you—”

I shook my head, feeling guilty. “Gosh, no,” I admitted. “With the automobile excitement and all—”

Papa and 1 hurried out to the yard to look. The bees were gone. That’s what a swarm will do sometimes—just pick up and fly away, no telling where. I guess bees are notional too, like automobiles and women.

An ordinary swarm, it wouldn’t matter so much, but these were our golden Italian bees. Papa and I walked sadly around to the front porch together. Heck-fire, it began to look like the automobile was bad luck for everybody except Geraldine.

Mamma tried to cheer us up. She reached for papa’s hand with us sitting in the porch swing and she said, “It is too bad it had to be the Italian ones,” which was quite a concession for mamma to make about the bees. It seemed to me she spoiled it, though, when she went on to say, “But since they’re gone, don’t you think you might as well dispose of the rest of them, Simmie? The neighbors are complaining and I don’t blame them—” “Where is Geraldine?” asked papa, changing the subject.

I was wondering that myself, because by now she’d had plenty of time to put Willie to bed, and I remembered her giggling with Dummy Dawson in the grape arbor and daring him to do something, I didn’t know what. While I was thinking if I should mention it or not, mamma looked closely in the twilight at papa’s face.

“Are you actually becoming aroused at last about your daughter’s welfare?” she asked.

“I’ve been aroused enough,” papa kind of grumbled. “Where is she?” “Why, in the house, 1 suppose.”

Mamma rested her head on papa’s shoulder and held his arm with both hands. “Peaceful out here, isn’t it— after such a hectic day.”

The porch swing was creaking, and so were the crickets. Lightning bugs were starting in the maple leaves, with twilight coming in from the wheat and cornfields outside of town. A dog barked somewhere. It was nice and peaceful all right.

THEN all at once it wasn’t. From out in the back yard sounded a terrible loud bang-bang, bang-bang, bang-bang.

“That Dummy is monkeying with

my automobile!” announced papa. He jumped off the porch and went tearing around the corner of the house like he was running bases for the Elbernon Tigers. Mamma and 1 ran after him.

We got there too late. The automobile was just chugging out of the yard with guess who in it—Dummy Dawson and Geraldine.

“Come back here!” papa shouted.

Only dust came back as they chugged faster and faster down the road, wabbling some, and taking the turn that led out toward the country.

Mamma was fluttering around like when the bees were in my collar. “Simmie, do something! Geraldine— that maniac—she’ll be killed!”

“Now be calm, Effye,” papa advised. “Be calm. The boy knows a thing or two about motor cars. She’s probably just as safe with him as with me—”

“As if that were any comfort,” j wailed mamma.

Papa was starting for the barn, his j long legs running. “Come on, Walter— we’ll hitch up Barney.”

Mamma looked almost speechless. But she wasn’t quite, because she said, “Do you expect to catch an automobile with a horse and buggy? Simmie, sometimes you—you—”

“We can try,” papa hollered back. “What else is there? Sometimes automobiles break down.”

“Sometimes they wreck and catch on fire and blow up too! Oh, why did you have to get the awful thing?”

Papa and I hitched up, and papa pushed mamma into the buggy from behind while she was still talking. He took the reins from me and away we went. It was almost the first time I ever saw him touch the whip to Barney. We would gallop a ways, then trot a ways, then gallop again, with the buggy swaying like a prairie schooner I saw once in a special feature called “The Trail of Death.”

Mamma kept telling papa to be careful and to hurry.

“Make up your mind,” said papa. “I can’t do both at once.”

“How do we even know we’re going the right way?” moaned mamma.

“We can tell by the dust in the air,” I told her.

“Oh, where is this all going to end?” asked mamma, almost like a picture show actress herself if she only knew it

Where it ended was practically right there.

“Look!” cried mamma. “Ahead of usin the ditch. Isn’t that the automobile?”

“It would appear so,” papa said grimly, straining his eyes in the half darkness.

“Look, look!” mamma said wildly, pulling at papa. “It’s Geraldine running down the road. He’s chasing her! That—” “He’s not chasing Geraldine,” I put in. “He’s being chased. They both are. It’s bees —our Italian bees.”

“The boy’s right,” papa said. “They must have swarmed in the back of the car. The ride shook them up.”

We waited till they came panting along the road to where we stood by the buggy, Geraldine ahead and Dummy right after her. I couldn’t see any bees, and I guessed the main swarm had flown off to settle somewhere else.

Mamma bore down on Dummy

Dawson.

“You—you imbecile,” she called at him. “You kidnapper!”

But he didn’t back away from her as he had done in the afternoon when she kissed him.

“Hold real still, Mrs. Potts,” he said. “There’s a bee on your collar.”

He reached for it, moving his hand slow and careful. It stung him, and he said “Ouch!” and dropped it on the road.

Dummy looked more grown up somehow, standing there with Geraldine beside him, and his voice was grown up, deep.

“I’m not a—whatever you called me, Mrs. Potts,” he said. And to my father, “I’ll fix the automobile for you, Mr. Potts. I’ve been studying ’em. 1 know how.”

Then he turned and bulled down the road toward town.

“Oh, mamma,” Geraldine said, “you shouldn’t have! And anyway, it was my fault. 1 double dared him to take me for a ride.”

“Well,” my mother said, and she didn’t sound quite so ruffled now. “Well!”

I could hear papa jiggling the silver dollars in his pocket. “The .woman tempted him,” he murmured.

Then my mother and father both began to laugh, although I couldn’t see anything to laugh at.

“That boy has good stuff in him,” my father said. “I believe I’ll let him try his hand at fixing the machine. Now, Effye, if you were to buy yourself one of those fashionable linen dusters and doeskin gauntlets and a motoring bonnet—”

“With a long green veil?” my mother asked, still doubtful, but interested as if in spite of herself.

“With a long green veil,” my father said, and I knew she’d be riding in the automobile with him just as soon as Dummy got it mended.