By Ian Hay
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
THE COMING OF "BILL BAILEY"
FOR SALE.—A superb 3-seated Diablement-Odorant Touring Car, 12-15 h.-p., 1907 model, with Cape-cart hood, speedometer, spare wheel, fanfare horn, and lamps complete Body French-grey picked out with red. Cost £550. Will take——
The sum which the vendor was prepared to take was so startling, that to mention it would entirely spoil the symmetry of the foregoing paragraph. It is therefore deleted. The advertisement concluded by remarking that the car was as good as new, and added darkly that the owner was going abroad.
Such was the official title and description of the car. After making its acquaintance we devised for ourselves other and shorter terms of designation. I used to refer to it as My Bargain. Mr, Gootch, our local cycle-agent and petrol-merchant, dismissed it gloomily as "one of them owe-seven Oderongs." My daughter (hereinafter termed The Gruffin) christened it "Bill Bailey," because it usually declined to come home; and the title was adopted with singular enthusiasm and unanimity by subsequent passengers.
I may preface this narrative by stating that until I purchased Bill Bailey my experience of motor mechanics had been limited to a motor-bicycle of antique design, which had been sold me by a distant relative of my wife's. This stately but inanimate vehicle I rode assiduously for something like two months, buoyed up by the not unreasonable hope that one day, provided I pedalled long enough and hard enough, the engine would start. I was doomed to disappointment; and after removing the driving-belt and riding the thing for another month or so as an ordinary bicycle, mortifying my flesh and enlarging my heart in the process, I bartered my unresponsive steed—it turned the scale at about two hundredweight—to Mr. Gootch, in exchange for a set of new wheels for the perambulator Teresa—we called it Teresa after our first cook, who on receiving notice invariably declined to go—was immediately put into working order by Mr. Gootch, who, I believe, still wins prizes with her at reliability trials.
To return to Bill Bailey. I had been coquetting with the idea of purchasing a car for something like three months, and my wife had definitely made up her mind upon the subject for something like three years, when the advertisement already quoted caught my eye on the back of an evening paper. The car was duly inspected by the family en bloc, in its temporary abiding-place at a garage in distant Surbiton. What chiefly attracted me was the price. My wife's fancy was taken by the French-grey body picked out with red, and the favourable consideration of The Gruffin was secured by the idea of a speedometer reeling off its mile per minute. The baby's interest was chiefly centred in the fanfare horn.
My young friend, Andy Finch—one of those fortunate people who feel competent to give advice upon any subject under the sun—obligingly offered to overhaul the engine and bearings and report upon their condition. His report was entirely favourable, and the bargain was concluded.
Next day, on returning home from the City, I found the new purchase awaiting me in the coach-house. It was a two-seated affair, with a precarious-looking arrangement like an iron camp-stool—known, I believe, as a spider-seat—clamped on behind. A general survey of the car assured me that the lamps, speedometer, spare wheel, and other extra fittings had not been abstracted for the benefit of the gentleman who had gone abroad; and I decided there and then to take a holiday next day and indulge the family with an excursion.
THE PROVING OF "BILL BAILEY"
Where I made my initial error was in permitting Andy Finch to come round next morning. Weakly deciding that I might possibly be able to extract a grain or two of helpful information from the avalanche of advice which would descend upon me, I agreed to his proposal that he should come and assist me to "start her up."
Andy arrived in due course, and proceeded to run over the car's points in a manner which at first rather impressed me. Hitherto I had contented myself with opening a sort of oven door in the dish-cover arrangement which concealed the creature's works from view, and peering in with an air of intense wisdom, much as a diffident amateur inspects a horse's mouth. After that I usually felt the tyres, in search of spavins and curbs. Andy began by removing the dish-cover bodily—I learned for the first time that it was called the bonnet,—and then proceeded to tear up the boards on the floor of the car. This done, a number of curious and mysterious objects were exposed to view for the first time, with the functions and shortcomings of each of which I was fated to become severally and monotonously familiar.
Having completed his observations, Andy suggested a run along the road. I did not know then, as I know now, that his knowledge of automobilism was about on a par with my own; otherwise I would not have listened with such respect or permitted him to take any further liberties with the mechanism. However, I knew no better, and this is what happened.
I had better describe the results in tabular form:—
- 12.15. Andy performs a feat which he describes as tickling the carburetter."
- 12.16-12.20. Andy turns the handle in front.
- 12.20-12.25. I turn the handle in front.
- 12.25-12.30. Andy turns the handle in front.
- 12.30-12.45. Adjournment to the dining-room sideboard.
- 12.45-12.50. Andy turns the handle in front.
- 12.50-12.55. I turn the handle in front.
- 12.55-1. Andy turns the handle in front and I tickle the carburetter.
- 1-1.5. I turn the handle in front and Andy tickles the carburetter.
At 1.5 Andy announced that there was one infallible way to start a refractory car, and that was to let it run down hill under its own momentum, and then suddenly let the clutch in. I need hardly say that my residence lies in a hollow. However, with the assistance of The Gruffin, we manfully trundled our superb 1907 Diablement-Odorant out of the coach-house, and pushed it up the hill without mishap, if I except two large dents in the back of the body, caused by the ignorance of my daughter that what looks like solid timber may after all be only hollow aluminium.
We then turned the car, climbed on board, and proceeded to descend the hill by the force of gravity. Bill Bailey I must say travelled beautifully, despite my self-appointed chauffeur's efforts to interfere with his movements by stamping on pedals and manipulating levers. Absorbed with these exercises, Andy failed to observe the imminence of our destination, and we reached the foot of the hill at a good twenty-five miles an hour, the back wheels locked fast by a belated but whole-hearted application of the hand-brake. However, the collision with the confines of my estate was comparatively gentle, and we soon disentangled the head-light from the garden hedge.
The engine still failed to exhibit any signs of life.
At this point my wife, who had been patiently sitting in the hall wearing a new motor-bonnet for the best part of two hours, came out and suggested that we should proclaim a temporary truce and have lunch.
At 2.30 we returned to the scene of operations. Having once more tickled the now thoroughly depressed carburetter to the requisite pitch of hilarity, Andy was on the point of resuming operations with the starting-handle, when I drew his attention to a small stud-like affair sliding across a groove in the dash-board.
"I think," I remarked, "that that is the only thing on the car which you haven't fiddled with as yet. Supposing I push it across?"
Andy, I was pleased to observe, betrayed distinct signs of confusion. Recovering quickly, he protested that the condemned thing was of no particular use, but I could push it across if I liked.
I did so. Next moment, after three deafening but encouraging backfires, Bill Bailey's engine came to life with a roar, and the car proceeded rapidly backwards down the road, Andy, threaded through the spare wheel like a camel in a needle's eye, slapping down pedals with one hand and clutching at the steering-gear with the other.
"Who left the reverse in?" he panted, when the car had at length been brought to a standstill and the engine stopped. No explanation was forthcoming, but I observed the scared and flushed countenance of my daughter peering apprehensively round the coach-house door, and drew my own conclusions.
Since Bill Bailey was obviously prepared to atone for past inertia by frenzied activity, our trial trip now came within the sphere of possibility. My wife had by this time removed her bonnet, and flatly declined to accompany us, alleging somewhat unkindly that she was expecting friends to tennis at the end of the week. The Gruffin, however, would not be parted from us, and presently Bill Bailey, with an enthusiastic but incompetent chauffeur at the wheel, an apprehensive proprietor holding on beside him, and a touzled long-legged hoyden of twelve clinging grimly to the spider-seat behind, clanked majestically out of the garden gate and breasted the slope leading to the main road.
Victory at last! This was life! This was joy! I leaned back and took a full breath. The Gruffin, protruding her unkempt head between mine and Andy's, shrieked out a hope that we might encounter a load of hay en route. It was so lucky, she said. She was not disappointed.
From the outset it was obvious that the money expended upon the fanfare horn had been thrown away. No fanfare could have advertised Bill Bailey's approach more efficaciously than Bill himself. He was his own trumpeter. Whenever we passed a roadside cottage we found frantic mothers garnering stray children into doorways, what time the fauna of the district hastily took refuge in ditches or behind hedges.
Still, all went well, as they say in reporting railway disasters, until we had travelled about four miles, when the near-side front wheel settled down with a gentle sigh upon its rim, and the tyre assumed a plane instead of a cylindrical surface. Ten minutes' strenuous work with a pump restored it to its former rotundity, and off we went again at what can only be described as a rattling pace.
After another mile or so I decided to take the helm myself, not because I thought I could drive the car well, but because I could not conceive how any one could drive it worse than Andy.
I was wrong.
Still, loads of hay are proverbially soft; and since the driver of this one continued to slumber stertorously upon its summit even after the shock of impact, we decided not to summon a fellow-creature from dreamland for the express purpose of distressing him with unpleasant tidings on the subject of the paint on his tail-board. So, cutting loose from the wreck, we silently stole away, if the reader will pardon the expression.
It must have been about twenty minutes later, I fancy, that the gear-box fell off. Personally I should never have noticed our bereavement, for the din indigenous to Bill Bailey's ordinary progress was quite sufficient to allow a margin for such extra items of disturbance as the sudden exposure of the gear-wheels. A few jets of a black and glutinous compound, which I afterwards learned to recognise as gear-oil, began to spout up through cracks in the flooring, but that was all. It was The Gruffin who, from her retrospective coign of vantage in the spider-seat, raised the alarm of a heavy metallic body overboard. We stopped the car, and the gear-box was discovered in a disintegrated condition a few hundred yards back; but as none of us was capable of restoring it to its original position, and as Bill Bailey appeared perfectly prepared to do without it altogether, we decided to go on in statu quo.
The journey, I rejoice to say, was destined not to conclude without witnessing the final humiliation and exposure of Andy Finch. We had pumped up the leaky tyre three times in about seven miles, when Andy, struck by a brilliant idea, exclaimed:
"What mugs we are! What is the good of a Stepney wheel if you don't use it?"
A trifle ashamed of our want of resource, we laboriously detached the Stepney from its moorings and trundled it round to the proper side of the car. I leaned it up against its future partner and then stepped back and waited. So did Andy. The Gruffin, anxious to learn, edged up and did the same.
There was a long pause.
"Go ahead," I said encouragingly, as my young friend merely continued to regard the wheel with a mixture of embarrassment and malevolence. "I want to see how these things are put on."
"It's quite easy," said Andy desperately. "You just hold it up against the wheel and clamp it on."
"Then do it," said I.
"Yes, do it!" said my loyal daughter ferociously. With me she was determined not to spare the malefactor.
A quarter of an hour later we brought out the pump, and I once more inflated the leaky tyre, while Andy endeavoured to replace the Stepney wheel in its original resting-place beside the driver's seat. Even now the tale of his incompetence was not complete.
"This blamed Stepney won't go back into its place," he said plaintively. "I fancy one of the clip things must have dropped off. It's rather an old-fashioned pattern, this of yours. I think we had better carry it back loose. After all," he added almost tearfully, evading my daughter's stony eye, "it doesn't matter how you carry the thing, so long——"
He withered and collapsed. Ultimately we drove home with The Gruffin wearing the Stepney wheel round her waist, lifebuoy fashion. On reaching home I sent for Mr. Gootch to come and take Bill Bailey away and put him into a state of efficiency. Then I explained to Andy, during a most consoling ten minutes, exactly what I thought of him as a mechanic, a chauffeur, and a fellow-creature.
THE PASSING OF "BILL BAILEY"
It is a favourite maxim of my wife's that any woman can manage any man, provided she takes the trouble to thoroughly understand him, (The italics and split infinitive are hers.) This formula, I soon found, is capable of extension to the relations existing between a motor-car and its owners. Bill Bailey and I soon got to understand one another thoroughly. He was possessed of what can only be described as an impish temperament. He seemed to know by instinct what particular idiosyncrasy of his would prove most exasperating at a given moment, and he varied his répertoire accordingly. On the other hand, he never wasted his energies upon an unprofitable occasion. For instance, he soon discovered that I had not the slightest objection to his back-firing in a quiet country road. Consequently he reserved that stunning performance for a crowded street full of nervous horses. He nearly always broke down when I took critical or expert friends for an outing; and the only occasions which ever roused him to high speed were those upon which I was driving alone, having dispatched the rest of the family by train to ensure their safe arrival.
Gradually I acquired a familiarity with most of the complaints from which Bill Bailey suffered—and their name was legion, for they were many—together with the symptoms which heralded their respective recurrences. In this connection I should like to set down, for the benefit of those who may at any time find themselves in a similar position, a few of the commonest causes of cessation of activity in a motor-car, gradual or instantaneous, temporary or permanent:—
- A. Breakdowns on the part of the engine. These may be due to—
- (1) Absence of petrol. (Usually discovered after the entire car has been dismantled.)
- (2) Presence of a foreign body. E.g., a Teddy Bear in the water-pump. (How it got there I cannot imagine. The animal was a present from the superstitious Gruffin, and in the role of Mascot adorned the summit of the radiator. It must have felt dusty or thirsty, and dropped in one day when the cap was off.)
- (3) Things in their wrong places. E.g., water in the petrol-tank and petrol in the water-tank. This occurred on the solitary occasion upon which I entrusted The Gruffin with the preparation of the car for an afternoon's run.
- (4) Loss of some essential portion of the mechanism. (E.g., the carburetter.) A minute examination of the road for a few hundred yards back will usually restore it.
- B. Intermediate troubles.
- By this I mean troubles connected with the complicated apparatus which harnesses the engine to the car—the clutch, the gears, the driving-shaft, etc. Of these it is sufficient to speak briefly.
- (1) The Clutch. This may either refuse to go in or refuse to come out. In the first case the car cannot be started, and in the second it cannot be stopped. The former contingency is humiliating, the latter expensive.
- (2) The Gears. These have a habit of becoming entangled with one another. Persons in search of a novel sensation are recommended to try getting the live axle connected simultaneously with the top speed forward and the reverse.
- (3) The Driving-Shaft. The front end of this is comparatively intelligible, but the tail is shrouded in mystery. It merges into a thing called the Differential. I have no idea what this is. It is kept securely concealed in a sort of Bluebeard's chamber attached to the back-axle. Inquiries of mine as to its nature and purpose were always greeted by Mr. Gootch with amused contempt or genuine alarm, according as I merely displayed curiosity on the subject, or expressed a desire to have the axle laid bare.
- C. Trouble with the car. (With which is incorporated trouble with the brakes and steering apparatus.) It must not be imagined that the car will necessarily go because the engine is running. One of the wheels may refuse to go round, possibly because—
- (1) You have omitted to take the brake off.
- (2) Something has gone wrong with the differential. (I have no further comment to offer on this head.)
- (3) It has just dropped off. (N.B. This only happened once.)
After a time, then, I was able not merely to foretell the coming of one of Bill Bailey's periods of rest from labour, but to diagnose the cause and make up a prescription.
If the car came to a standstill for no outwardly perceptible reason, I removed the bonnet and took a rapid inventory of Bill's most vital organs, sending The Gruffin back along the road at the same time, with instructions to retrieve anything of a metallic nature which she might discover there.
When Bill Bailey without previous warning suddenly charged a hedge or passing pedestrian, or otherwise exhibited a preference for the footpath as opposed to the roadway, I gathered that the steering-gear had gone wrong again. The Gruffin, who had developed an aptness for applied mechanics most unusual in her sex, immediately produced from beneath the seat a suit of blue overalls of her own construction, of which she was inordinately proud—I hope I shall be able to dress her as cheaply in ten years' time—and proceeded to squirm beneath the car. Here, happy as a queen, she lay upon her back on the dusty road, with oil and petrol dripping in about equal proportions into her wide grey eyes and open mouth, adjusting a bit of chronically refractory worm-and-wheel gear which I, from reasons of embonpoint and advancing years, found myself unable to reach.
Finally, if my nose was assailed by a mingled odour of blistering paint, melted indiarubber, and frizzling metal, I deduced that the cooling apparatus had gone wrong, and that the cylinders were red-hot. The petrol tap was hurriedly turned off, and The Gruffin and I retired gracefully, but without undue waste of time, to a distance of about fifty yards, where we sat down behind the highest and thickest wall available, and waited for a fall of temperature, a conflagration, or an explosion, as the case might be.
Bill Bailey remained in my possession for nearly two years. During that time he covered three thousand miles, consumed more petrol and oil than I should have thought possible, ran through two sets of tyres, and cost a sum of money in repairs which would have purchased a small steam yacht.
There were moments when I loved him like a brother; others, more frequent, when he was an offence to my vision. The Gruffin, on the other hand, having fallen in love with him on sight, worshipped him with increasing ardour and true feminine perversity the dingier and more repulsive he grew.
Not that we had not our great days. Once we overtook and inadvertently ran over a hen—an achievement which, while it revolted my humanitarian instincts and filled the radiator with feathers, struck me as dirt cheap at half a crown. Again, there was the occasion upon which we were caught in a police-trap. Never had I felt so proud of Bill Bailey as when I stood in the dock listening to a policeman's Homeric description of our flight, over a measured quarter of a mile. At the end of the recital, despite my certain knowledge that Bill's limit was about twenty-three miles an hour, I felt that I must in common fairness enter him at Brooklands next season. The Gruffin, who came to see me through, afterwards assured her mother that I thanked the Magistrate who fined me and handed my accusing angel five shillings.
But there was another side to the canvas. Many were the excursions upon which we embarked, only to tramp home in the rain at the end of the day, leaving word at Mr. Gootch's to send out and tow Bill Bailey home. Many a time, too, have Bill and I formed the nucleus of an interested crowd in a village street. Bill inert and unresponsive, while I, perspiring vigorously and studiously ignoring inquiries as to whether I could play "The Merry Widow Waltz," desolately turned the starting-handle, to evoke nothing more than an inferior hurdy-gurdy melody syncopated by explosions at irregular intervals. Once, too, when in a fit of overweening presumption I essayed to drive across London, we broke down finally and completely exactly opposite "The Angel" at Islington, where Bill Bailey, with his back wheels locked fast in some new and incomprehensible manner,—another vagary of the differential, I suppose,—despite the urgent appeals of seven policemen, innumerable errand-boys, and the drivers, conductors, and passengers of an increasing line of London County Council electric tramcars, stood his ground in the fairway for nearly a quarter of an hour. Finally, he was lifted up and carried bodily, by a self-appointed Committee of Public Safety, to the side of the road, to be conveyed home in a trolley.
But all flesh is as grass. Bill Bailey's days drew to an end. The French-grey in his complexion was becoming indistinguishable from the red; his joints rattled like dry bones; his fanfare horn was growing asthmatic. Old age was upon him, and I, with the ingratitude of man to the faithful servant who has outlived his period of usefulness, sold him to Mr. Gootch for fifteen sovereigns and a small lady's bicycle.
Only The Gruffin mourned his passing. She said little, but accepted the bicycle (which I had purchased for her consolation) with becoming meekness.
At ten o'clock on the night before Bill Bailey's departure—he was to be sent for early in the morning—the nurse announced with some concern that Miss Alethea (The Gruffin) was not in her bed. She was ultimately discovered in the coach-house, attired in a pink dressing-gown and bath slippers. She was kneeling with her arms round as much of Bill Bailey as they could encompass; her long hair flowed and rippled over his scratched and dinted bonnet; and she was crying as if her very heart would break.
"BILL BAILEY" COMES AGAIN
A year later I bought a new car. It possessed four cylinders and an innumerable quantity of claims to perfection. The engine would start at the pressure of a button; the foot-brake and accelerator never became involved in an unholy alliance; it could climb any hill; and outlying portions of its anatomy adhered faithfully to the parent body. Pedestrians and domestic animals no longer took refuge in ditches at our approach. On the contrary, we charmed them like Orpheus with his lute; for the sound of our engine never rose above a sleek and comfortable purr, while the note of the horn suggested the first three bars of "Onward, Christian Soldiers!"
My wife christened the new arrival The Greyhound, but The Gruffin, faithful to the memory of the late lamented Bill Bailey, never referred to it as anything but The Egg-Boiler. This scornful denotation found some justification in the car's ornate nickel-plated radiator, whose curving sides and domed top made up a far-away resemblance to the heavily patented and highly explosive contrivance which daily terrorised our breakfast-table.
Of Bill Bailey's fate we knew little, but since Mr. Gootch once informed us with some bitterness that he had had to sell him to a Scotchman, we gathered that, for once in his life, our esteemed friend had "bitten off more than he could chew."
The Greyhound, though a sheer delight as a vehicle, was endowed with somewhat complicated internal mechanism, and I was compelled in consequence to retain the services of a skilled chauffeur, a Mr. Richards, who very properly limited my dealings with the car to ordering it round when I thought I should be likely to get it. Consequently my connection with practical mechanics came to an end, and henceforth I travelled with my friends in the back seat. The Gruffin keeping Mr. Richards company in front, and goading that exclusive and haughty menial to visible annoyance by her supercilious attitude towards the new car.
Finally we decided on a motor trip to Scotland. There was a luggage-carrier on the back of the car which was quite competent to contain my wife's trunk and my own suit-case. The Gruffin, who was not yet of an age to trouble about her appearance, carried her batterie de toilette in a receptacle of her own, which shared the front seat with its owner, and served the additional purpose of keeping The Gruffin's slim person more securely wedged therein.
We joined the car at Carlisle, and drove the first day to Stirling. On the second the weather broke down, and we ploughed our way through Perth and the Pass of Killiecrankie to Inverness in a blinding Scotch mist. The Greyhound behaved magnificently, and negotiated the Spittal of Glenshee and other notorious nightmares of the bad hill-climber in a manner which caused me to refer slightingly to what might have happened had we entrusted our fortunes to Bill Bailey. The Gruffin tossed back to me over her shoulder a recommendation to touch wood.
Next day broke fine and clear, and we rose early, for we intended to run right across Scotland. I ate a hearty breakfast, inwardly congratulating myself upon not having to accelerate its assimilation by performing calisthenic exercises upon a starting-handle directly afterwards. At ten o'clock The Greyhound slid round to the hotel door, and we embarked upon our journey. Infatuated by long immunity from disaster, I dispatched a telegram to an hotel fifty miles away, ordering luncheon at a meticulously definite hour, and another to our destination—a hospitable shooting-box on the west coast—mentioning the exact moment at which we might be expected.
Certainly we were "asking for it," as my Cassandra-like offspring did not fail to remark. But for a while Fate answered us according to our folly. We arrived at our luncheon hotel ten minutes before my advertised time, an achievement which pleased me so much that I wasted some time in exhibiting the engine to the courtly and venerable brigand who owned the hotel, with the result that we got away half an hour late. But what was half an hour to The Greyhound?
Blithely we sped across the endless moor beneath the September sun. The road, straight and undulating, ran ahead of us like a white tape laid upon the heather. The engine purred contentedly, and Mr. Richards, lolling back in his seat, took a patronising survey of the surrounding landscape. Evidently he rejoiced, in his benign and lofty fashion, to think how this glittering vision was brightening the dull lives of the grouse and sheep. Certainly the appearance of The Greyhound did him credit. Not a speck of mud defiled its body; soot and oil were nowhere obtrusive. Bill Bailey had been wont, during periods of rest outside friends' front doors, to deposit a small puddle of some black and greasy liquid upon the gravel. The Greyhound was guilty of no such untidiness. Mr. Richards, to quote his own respectfully satirical words, preferred using his oil to oil the car instead of gentlemen's front drives. Under his administration my expenditure on lubricants alone had shrunk to half of what it had been in Bill Bailey's time.
But economy can be pushed to excess. Even as I dozed in the back seat, sleepily observing The Gruffin's flying mane and wondering whether we ought not shortly to get out the Thermos containing our tea, there came a grating, crackling sound. The Greyhound gave a swerve which nearly deposited its occupants in a peat-hag; and after one or two zigzag and epileptic gambols came to a full stop.
"Steering-gear gone wrong, Richards?" I inquired.
"I don't think so, sir," replied Mr. Richards easily. "Seems to me it was a kind of a side sl—— Get out, sir! Get out, mum! The dam thing's afire!"
We cooled the fervid glowing of the back-axle with a patent fire-extinguisher, and sat down gloomily to survey the wreck. Economy is the foundation of riches, but you must discriminate in your choice of economies. Axle-grease should not be included in the list. Mr. Richards, whether owing to a saving disposition or an æsthetic desire to avoid untidy drippings, had omitted—so we afterwards discovered—to lubricate the back-axle or differential for several weeks, with the result that the bearings of the off-side back wheel had "seized," and most of the appurtenances thereof had fused into a solid immovable mass.
We sat in the declining rays of the sun and regarded The Greyhound. The brass-work still shone, and the engine was in beautiful running order; but the incontrovertible and humiliating fact remained that we were ten miles from the nearest dwelling and The Greyhound's career as a medium of transport was temporarily closed. Even the biting reminder of The Gruffin that we could still employ it to boil eggs in failed to cheer us.
Restraining an impulse to give Mr. Richards a month's warning on the spot, I conferred with my wife and daughter. We might possibly be picked up by a passing car, but the road was a lonely one and the contingency unlikely. We must walk. Accordingly we sat down to a hasty tea, prepared directly afterwards to tramp on towards our destination.
The wind had dropped completely, and the silence that lay upon the sleepy, sunny moor was almost uncanny. Imbued with a gentle melancholy, my wife and I partook of refreshment in chastened silence. Suddenly, as The Gruffin (considerably more cheerful than I had seen her for some days) was passing up her cup for the third time, a faint and irregular sound came pulsing and vibrating across the moor. It might have been the roar of a battle far away. One could almost hear the popping of rifles, the clash of steel, and the shrieks of the wounded. Presently the noise increased in intensity and volume. It appeared to come from beyond a steep rise in the long straight road behind us. We pricked up our ears. I became conscious of a vague sense of familiarity with the phenomenon. The air seemed charged with some sympathetic influence.
"What is that noise, Richards?" I said.
"I rather think, sir," replied Mr. Richards, peering down the road, "that it might be some kind of a——"
Suddenly I was aware of a distinct rise of temperature in the neighbourhood of my left foot. My daughter, with face flushed and lips parted, was gazing feverishly down the road. An unheeded Thermos flask, held limply in her hand, was directing a stream of scalding tea down my leg. Before I could expostulate she wheeled round upon me, and I swear there were tears in her eyes.
"It's Bill!" she shrieked. "Bill Bailey! My Bill!"
She was right. As she spoke a black object appeared upon the crown of the hill, and, incredible to relate. Bill Bailey, puffing, snorting, reeking, jingling, back-firing, came lumbering down the slope, in his old hopeless but irresistible fashion, right upon our present encampment.
His lamps and Stepney wheel were gone, his back tyres were solid, and his erstwhile body of French-grey was now decked out in a rather blistered coat of that serviceable red pigment which adorns most of the farmers' carts in the Highlands. But his voice was still unmistakably the voice of Bill Bailey.
He was driven by a dirty-faced youth in a blue overall, who presented the appearance of one who acts as general factotum in a country establishment which supports two or three motors and generates its own electric light. By his side sat a patriarchal old gentleman with a white beard, in tweeds, hobnail boots, and a deerstalker cap—obviously a head ghillie of high and ancient lineage.
The spider-seat at the back was occupied, in the fullest sense of the word, by a dead stag about the size of a horse, lashed to this, its temporary catafalque, with innumerable ropes.
The old gentleman was politeness itself, and on hearing of our plight placed himself and Bill Bailey unreservedly at our disposal. His master. The M'Shin of Inversneishan, would be proud to house us for the night, and the game-car should convey us to the hospitable walls of Inversneishan forthwith. Tactfully worded doubts upon our part as to Bill's carrying capacity—we did not complicate matters by explaining upon what good authority we spoke—were waved aside with a Highlander's indifference to mere detail. The car was a grand car, and the Castle was no distance at all. Mr. Richards alone need be jettisoned. He could remain with The Greyhound all night, and on the morrow succour should be sent him.
Mr. Richards, utterly demoralised by his recent fall from the summit of autocracy, meekly assented, and presently Bill Bailey, packed like the last 'bus on a Saturday night, staggered off upon his homeward way. My wife and I shared the front seat with the oleaginous youth in the overall, while the patriarchal ghillie hung on precariously behind, locked in the embrace of the dead stag. How or where The Gruffin travelled I do not know. She may have perched herself upon some outlying portion of the stag, or she may have attached herself to Bill Bailey's back-axle by her hair and sash, and been towed home. Anyhow, when, two hours later, Bill Bailey, swaying beneath his burden and roaring like a Bull of Bashan, drew up with all standing at the portals of Inversneishan Castle, it was The Gruffin who, unkempt, scarlet, but triumphant, rang the bell and bearded the butler while my wife and I uncoiled ourselves from intimate association with the chauffeur, the ghillie, and the stag.
Next morning, in returning thanks for the princely manner in which our involuntary host had entertained us, I retailed to him the full story of our previous acquaintance with Bill Bailey. I further added, with my daughter's hot hand squeezing mine in passionate approval, an intimation that if ever Bill should again come into the market I thought I could find a purchaser for him.
He duly came back to us, at a cost of five pounds and his sea-passage, a few months later, and we have had him ever since.
Such is the tale of Bill Bailey. To-day he stands in a corner of my coach-house, an occupier of valuable space, a stumbling-block to all and sundry, and a lasting memorial to the omnipotence of human—especially feminine—sentiment.