Mrs. Todd was one of those gentle souls who get their happiness in being unhappy in the presence of their so-called loved ones. She was perpetually displeased with Todd.
His Christian name was James, but she did not speak Christian to him. When she hailed him from the house she called him "Jay-eems"--the "eems" an octave higher than the "Jay."
He would drop the grease-can or the monkey-wrench to rush to her side.
"Look at your sleeves!" she would say. "Your best shirt!" Words failing her, she would sigh and go into a silence that was worse than words. He was a great burden to her.
Humbly he entreated her one day for an obsolete tooth-brush. "I want to clean spark-plugs with it," he explained.
"Next," she replied, icily, "you'll be taking your little pet to the dentist, I suppose."
From such encounters Jay-eems would creep back to the barn and seek consolation in tinkering around me.
He liked to take the lid off my transmission-box and gaze at my wondrous works. He was always tightening my axle-burrs, or dosing me with kerosene through my hot-air pipe, or toying with my timer. While he was never so smart as Willie about such things, he was intelligent and quick to learn; and this was not surprising to me after I discovered the nature of his occupation in life.
I had taken him to be a retired silk-worm fancier, a chronic juryman, or something of the sort. But shiver my windshield if he wasn't a professor in a college!
On the morning when first he dared to drive me to his work, the college must have got wind of our coming, for the students turned out in a body to cheer him as he steered in at the campus gate, and the faculty gathered on the steps to shake his hand.
A bald-headed preceptor asked him if he meant to cyanide me and mount me on a pin for preservation in the college museum. The chancellor inquired if Todd had identified me. Todd said he had. He said I was a perfect specimen of Automobilum cursus gandium, the most beautiful species of the Golikellece family. It was the nearest he ever came to profanity in my hearing. I suppose he got it from associating with Willie.
They demanded a speech, and he made one--about me. He said that my name was Hilaritas, signifying joy. He said, among other flattering things, that I was no common mundane contraption, though such I might seem to the untutored eye. In their studies of the Greek drama they had read of gods from the machine. I was a machine from the gods. In my cylinders I consumed nectar vapour, in my goo-cups ambrosia, in my radiator flowed the crystal waters of the Fount of Bandusia.
Three other items of his eulogium I remember: The breath of Pan inflated my tires, I could climb Olympus in high, and he, James Todd, a mere professor in a college, while sitting at my wheel, would not bare his head to Zeus himself, no, nor even to the chairman of the college board of trustees.
His nonsense appeared to be as popular in that part of town as it was unpopular in another. They gave the varsity yell with his name at the end.
The day came when Mrs. Todd risked her life in our sportive company. She made it clear to us that she went protesting. She began her pleasantries by complaining that my doors were trivial. Straightening her hat, she remarked that the John Quincy Burtons' car top never took a woman's scalp off.
"But theirs is only a one-man top," Todd hinted vaguely.
"Whatever you mean by that is too deep for me," she said, adding bitterly, "Yours is a one-boy top, I presume."
He waived the point and asked where she preferred to make her début as an automobilist.
"Back roads, by all means," she answered.
As we gained the street a pea-green Mammoth purred past, the passengers putting out their heads to look at us.
"Goodness!" she sighed. "There go the John Quincy Burtons now."
"We can soon join them," said Todd confidently.
She expostulated. "Do you think I have no pride?" Yet we went in pursuit of the John Quincy Burton dust-cloud as it moved toward the park.
"Since you have no regard for my feelings," said she, "you may let me out."
"Oh, no, Amanda, my dear. Why, I'm going to give you a spin to Mountaindale!"
"I do not care to be dragged there," she declared. "That is where the John Quincy Burtons ride."
"Aren't they nice people? It seems to me I've heard you sing hosannas to their name these last twenty years."
They were nice people indeed. That was just it, she said. Did he suspect her of yearning to throw herself in the way of nice people on the day of her abasement? If he chose to ignore her sentiments in the matter, he might at least consider his own interests. Had he forgotten that John Quincy Burton was chairman of the board of trustees of the college? Would the head of the department of classical languages acquire merit in Mr. Burton's eyes through dashing about under Mr. Burton's nose in a pitiable little last-century used car that squeaked?
Todd gripped the wheel tighter and gave me gas.
"You missed that storm sewer by an inch!" she exclaimed.
"My aim is somewhat wild yet," he admitted. "Perhaps I'll get the next one."
"My dear, we have a horn, remember."
"You did not see that baby carriage until we were right upon it! Don't tell me you did, sir, for I know better."
"I saw it," said Todd, "and I was sure it wouldn't run over us. As you see, it didn't. Trust a baby carriage my love."
His humour, she informed him, was on a par with his driving. Also it was in poor taste at such a moment.
In time of danger, he replied, the brave man jests.
We were now in the park. We clipped a spray of leaves off a syringia bush. On a curve we slid in loose gravel to the wrong side.
"Yes, my dear?"
"Let me out! I decline to be butchered to make a holiday for a motormaniac."
"Don't talk to the motormaniac," said Todd.
She clutched a top support and gasped for breath, appalled at his audacity, or my speed, or both. In the straight reaches I could see the Burton Mammoth a quarter of a mile ahead. When it swung into the broad avenue that leads to the mountain, we were holding our own.
"You are following them--deliberately," said Mrs. Todd.
"Yet not so deliberately, at that. Do you feel us pick up my dear, when I give her gas? Aha!" he laughed. "I agree with you, however, that the order of precedence is unsatisfactory. Why should we follow the Burtons, indeed?"
We went after them; we gave them the horn and overtook and passed them on a stiff grade, amid cheers from both cars. But all of our cheering was done by Todd.
"Now they are following us," said he. "Do you feel better, my dear?"
"Better!" she lamented. "How can I ever look them in the face again?"
"Turn around," he suggested, "and direct your gaze through the little window in the back curtain."
She bade him stop at the next corner. She would walk home. She was humiliated. Never had she felt so ashamed.
"Isn't that an odd way to feel when we have beaten the shoes off them?"
"But they will think we tried to."
"So we did," he chuckled; "and we walked right past them, in high, while Burton was fussing with his gear shift. Give our little engine a fair go at a hill, my dear----"
"I am not in the least interested in engines, sir. I am only mortified beyond words."
She had words a-plenty, however.
"Isn't it bad enough for you to drive your little rattletrap to college and get into the paper about it? No; you have to show it off in a fashionable avenue, and run races with the best people in Ashland, and scream at them like a freshman, and make an exhibition of me!"
His attention was absorbed in hopping out from under a truck coming in from a side street. A foolish driver would have slowed and crashed. I was proud of Todd. But his lady was not.
"You have no right to go like this. You don't know enough. You will break something."
He had already broken the speed law. Unknown to him, a motor-cycle cop was tagging close behind us on our blind side.
"If you think this is going, my dear," said Todd reassuringly, "wait till we strike the turnpike. Then I'll show you what little Hilaritas can really do."
"Stop at the car barns," she commanded.
We crossed the car-barn tracks at a gallop. The cop rode abreast of us now. "Cut it out, Bill," he warned.
"You see?" she crowed. "You will wind up in jail and give the papers another scandal. Why didn't you stop at the car barns?"
"Because we are going to Mountaindale," he explained cheerily; "where the nice people drive. Perhaps we shall see the John Quincy Burtons again--as we come back."
"If we ever do come back!"
"Or how would you like to have supper with them up there?"
She had gone into one of her silences.