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   Chapter 11 A CHAPTER OF BRAKES AND WORMS

My Friend the Chauffeur By A. M. Williamson Characters: 15004

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Mamma laughed one of those coquettish, twenty-five-year-old laughs that go with her auburn hair and her crowns.

"Well, have you decided to give us a chance to breathe, after all?" she asked. "I should say it was about time."

"I'm afraid you'll breathe maledictions when you hear what is the matter," said our Chauffeulier.

"Good gracious! what's happened?" exclaimed Mamma. "If the thing's going to explode, do let us get out and run."

"So far from exploding, she's likely to be silent for some time," Mr. Barrymore went on, jumping down and going to the automobile's head. "I'm awfully sorry. After the delays we've suffered, you won't think motoring is all it's painted, when I tell you that we're in for another."

"Why, what is it this time?" Mamma asked

.

"I'm not quite sure yet," said Mr. Barrymore, "but the chains are wrong for one thing, and I'm inclined to think there's some deep-seated trouble. I shall soon find out, but whatever it is, I hope you won't blame the car too much. She's a trump, really; but she had a big strain put upon her endurance yesterday and this morning. Dragging another car twice her size for thirty miles or more up a mountain pass isn't a joke for a twelve horse-power car."

Any one would think the automobile was his instead of Sir Ralph's by the pride he takes in it. Sir Ralph doesn't seem to care half as much; but then I don't believe he's a born sports-man like his friend. You can be a motor-car owner if you've got money enough; but I guess you have to be born a motor-car man.

"Well, this isn't exactly an ideal place for an accident," remarked Mamma, "as it seems to be miles from anywhere; but we ought to be thankful to Providence for not letting the break come up there on that awful mountain."

I saw a faint twinkle in Mr. Barrymore's eyes and a twitch of his lips, as he bent down over the machinery without answering a word, and I couldn't resist the temptation of letting him see that I was in his secret. There couldn't be any harm in it's coming out now.

"Thankful to Mr. Barrymore for bringing us safely down the 'awful mountain' when the break had come at the top," I corrected Mamma, with my chin in the air.

"Good Heavens, Beechy, what do you mean?" she gasped, while our Chauffeulier flashed me a quick look of surprise.

"Oh, only that the accident, whatever it was, happened soon after we came out of the tunnel, and if Mr. Barrymore'd stopped when you wanted him to, he couldn't have started again, for we were just running downhill with our own weight; and I knew it all the time," I explained airily.

"You're joking, Beechy, and I think it's horrid of you," said Mamma, looking as if she were going to cry.

"Am I joking, Mr. Barrymore?" I asked, turning to him.

"I had no idea that you guessed, and I don't see now how you did; but it's true that the accident happened up there," he admitted, and he looked so grave that I began to feel guilty for telling.

"Then it was only by a merciful dispensation that we weren't hurled over the precipice and dashed to pieces," exclaimed Mamma.

"That depends on one's definition of a merciful dispensation," said Mr. Barrymore. "From one point of view every breath we draw is a merciful dispensation, for we might easily choke to death at any instant. We were never for a single moment in danger. If I hadn't been sure of that, of course I would have stopped the car at any cost. As a matter of fact, when we began the descent I found that the hand-brake wouldn't act, and knew the chains had gone wrong. If I'd thought it was only that I could have put on our spare chains, but I believed there was more and worse, so I determined to get on as far towards civilization as I could before stopping the car."

"You brought us down those ghastly hills without a brake!" Mamma cried out, losing her temper. "And Sir Ralph called you careful! I can never trust you again."

I could have slapped her and myself too.

"Aunt Kathryn!" exclaimed Maida. Then I could have slapped her as well for interfering. It would serve her right if I married her off to the Prince.

The Chauffeulier looked for a second as if he were going to say "Very well, madam; do as you like about that." But Maida's little reproachful exclamation apparently poured balm upon his troubled soul.

"Not without a brake," he answered, with great patience and politeness, "but with one instead of two. If the foot-brake had burned, as possibly it might, the compression of the gas in the cylinder could have been made to act as a brake. The steering-gear was in perfect order, which was the most important consideration in the circumstances, and I felt that I was undertaking a responsibility which the car and I together were well able to carry out. But as I thought that amateurs were likely to be alarmed if they knew what had happened, I naturally kept my knowledge to myself."

"I saw that something was wrong by the set expression of your face," said I, "and I wasn't a bit afraid, because I felt, whatever it was, you'd bring us through all right. But I'm sorry I spoke now."

"You needn't be," said he. "I shouldn't have done so myself yet I wasn't silent for my own sake; and I should do the same if it had to be done over again."

But this didn't comfort me much, for I was sure that Maida wouldn't have spoken if she had been in my place. I don't know why I was sure, but I was.

"Whatever Barrymore does in connection with a motor-car, is always right, Countess," said Sir Ralph, "though in other walks of life I wouldn't vouch for him."

His funny way of saying this made us all laugh and Mamma picked up the good temper which she had lost in her first fright. She began to apologize, but Mr. Barrymore wouldn't let her; and the storm was soon forgotten in the interest with which we hung upon the Chauffeulier's explorations.

He peered into the mysterious inner workings of the machine, tapped some things, thumped others, and announced that one of the "cones of the countershaft" was broken

.

"There's no doubt that the undue strain yesterday and this morning weakened it," he said, coming up from the depths with a green smear on his noble brow. "What we've really to be thankful for is that it waited to snap until we'd got up all the hills. Now, though as the Countess says we seem to be miles from anywhere, we're actually within close touch of civilization. Unless I'm out in my calculations, we must be near a place called Limone, where, if there isn't much else, at least there's a station on the new railway line. All we've got to do is to find something to tow us, as we towed Dalmar-Kalm (a mere mule will answer as well as a motor) to that station, where we can put the car on the train and be at Cuneo in no time. The guide-books say that Cuneo's interesting, and anyhow there are hotels of sorts there-also machine tools, a forge, a lathe, and things of that kind which we can't carry about with us."

"What a splendid adventure!" exclaimed Maida. "I love it; don't you, Beechy?"

I answered that I entertained a wild passion for it; but all the same, I wished I'd mentioned it first.

This settled Mamma's attitude towards the situation. She saw that it was young to enter into the spirit of the adventure, so she took the cue from us and flung herself in with enthusiasm enough to make up for her crossness.

"Somebody must go on an exploring expedition for a mule," said Mr. Barrymore, "and as I'm the only one

whose Italian is fairly fluent, I suppose I must be the somebody. Miss Destrey, would you care to go with me for the sake of a little exercise?"

In another minute I would have volunteered, but even thirteen-year-olds have too much pride to be the third that makes a crowd. Gooseberry jam is the only jam I don't like; so I kept still and let them go off together, chaperoned by the little black dog. Sir Ralph stood by the automobile talking to Mamma while I wandered aimlessly about, though I could tell by the corner of his eye that she didn't occupy his whole attention.

Just to see what would happen, I suddenly squatted down by the side of the road, about twenty yards away, and began to dig furiously with the point of my parasol. I hadn't been at work for three minutes when I was rewarded. "The Countess has sent me to ask what you are doing, Miss Beechy," announced a nice voice; and there was Sir Ralph peering over my shoulder.

"I'm looking for one of my poor relations," said I. "A worm. She's sent up word that she isn't in. But I don't believe it."

"I'm glad my rich relations aren't as prying as you are," said he. "I often send that message when it would be exceedingly inconvenient to have further inquiries pressed. Not to rich relations, though, for the very good reason that they don't bother about me or other poor worms, who have not my Félicité to defend them."

"Who's Félicité?" I asked, not sorry to keep Sir Ralph for my own sake or that of Mamma-who was probably taking advantage of his absence to put powder on her nose and pink stuff on her lips, by the aid of her chatelaine mirror.

"Who's Félicité? You might as well ask who is the Queen of England. Félicité is my cook-my housekeeper-my guide, philosopher and friend; my all."

"That dear, fat duck who brought us tea the day we were at your house?"

"I have two ducks. But Félicité was the one who brought you the tea. The other eats mice and fights the cat. Félicité doesn't eat mice, and fights me."

"I loved her."

"So do I. And I could love you for loving her."

"Perhaps you'd better not."

"Why? It's safe and allowable for men of my age to love little girls."

"I'm different from other little girls. You said so yourself. Besides what is your age?"

"Twenty-nine."

"You look about nineteen. Our Chauffeulier looks older than you do."

"Chauffeulier? Oh, I see, that's your name for Terry. It's rather smart."

"I call it a title, not a name," said I. "I thought he ought to have one, so I dubbed him that."

"He ought to be complimented."

"I mean him to be."

"Come now, tell me what name you've invented for me, Miss

Beechy."

I shook my head. "You've got a ready-made title. But you look too boyish to live up to it. The Chauffeulier would come up to my idea of a baronet better than you do."

"Oh, you don't have to be dignified really to be a baronet, you know. Terry-er-you mustn't mention to him that I told you; but he may be something a good deal bigger than a baronet one day."

"He's a good deal bigger than a baronet now," said I, laughing, and measuring Sir Ralph from head to foot. "But what may he be one day?"

"I mustn't say more. But if you're at all interested in him, that will be enough to fix your attention."

"What would be the good of fixing my attention on him, if that's what you mean," I inquired, "when he's got his attention fixed upon another?"

"Oh, you mustn't judge by appearances," said Sir Ralph hastily. "He likes you awfully; though, of course, as you're so young, he can't show it as he would to an older girl."

"I shall grow older," said I. "Even before we finish this trip I shall be a little older."

"Of course you will," Sir Ralph assured me soothingly. "By that time, Terry will, no doubt, have screwed up courage to show you how much he likes you."

"I shouldn't have thought he lacked courage," said I.

"Only where girls are concerned," explained Sir Ralph.

"He seems brave enough with my cousin Maida. It's Mamma and me he doesn't say much to, unless we speak to him first."

"You see he's horribly afraid of being thought a fortune-hunter. He's almost morbidly sensitive in that way."

"O-oh, I see," I echoed. "Is that the reason he's so stand-off with us-because he knows we're rich?"

"Yes. Otherwise he'd be delightful, just as he is with Miss Destrey, with whom he doesn't have to think of such things."

"You're fond of him, aren't you?" I asked, beginning again to dig for the worm; for Sir Ralph was squatting beside me now, watching the point of my parasol.

"Rather!" he exclaimed. "He's the finest fellow on earth. I should like to see him as happy as he deserves to be."

"But you don't want him to fall in love with Maida?"

"That's the last thing I should choose for either of them. Though it's early to talk of such contingencies, isn't it, as they've known each other-we've all known each other-only a few days?"

"It only takes a few minutes for the most important things to happen, such as being born and dying. Why should falling in love take more? It wouldn't with me."

"You're young to judge."

"Pooh, I've been in love several times. Now I come to think of it, I'm in love this moment-or almost. Why don't you want Mr. Barrymore to fall in love with my cousin?"

"It would be imprudent."

"Perhaps you're falling in love with her yourself."

"I shouldn't wonder."

"If you'll tell me whether you are or not, I'll tell you who it is I think I'm in love with."

"Well, I could be. Now for your secret."

"I give you leave to guess."

"Really?"

"And truly."

"Some one we've just been talking about?"

"'I could be.' Oh dear, I believe this worm is out after all."

"This is most interesting. I don't mean about the worm. Terry's in luck for once."

"But he thinks me a little girl."

"Little girls can be fascinating. Besides, I'll make it my business to remind him that little girls don't take long to grow up."

"Will you really? But you won't let him know about this talk?"

"Sooner would I be torn in two by wild motor-cars. These confidences are sacred."

"I'll say nice things about you to Maida," I volunteered.

He stared for a minute, and then laughed. "I should tell you not to if I weren't certain that all the nice things in the world might be said on that subject with no more effect upon Miss Destrey than a shower of rain has on my duck's back. You must try and help me not to fall in love with her."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because, for one reason, she'd never fall in love with me; and for another, I couldn't in any event afford to love her, any more than can my friend Terry Barrymore."

"Perhaps I'd better work her off on the Prince, and then you'd both be out of danger," said I.

"It would at least save me anxiety about my friend, though I should doubtless suffer in the process," replied Sir Ralph.

"I'll comfort you whenever I have time," I assured him

.

"Do," he entreated. "It will be a real charity. And in the meantime, I shan't be idle. I shall be working for you."

"Thank you ever so much," said I. "I should be glad if you'd report progress from time to time."

"I will," said he. "We'll keep each other up, won't we?"

"Be-echy!" shrieked Mamma. "I've been screaming to you for the last twenty minutes. Come here at once and tell me what you're doing. It's sure to be something naughty."

So we both came. But the only part that we mentioned was the worm.

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