The Horrible Restaurant of the Boule d'Or, Suresnes, near Paris,
Forgive me, dear, long-suffering-because-you-couldn't-help-yourself-Dad, for being such a beast about writing. But I did send you three cables, didn't I? Aunt Mary would have written, only I threatened her with unspeakable things if she did. I knew so well what she would say, and I wouldn't have it. Now, however, I'm going to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—no varnish. Indeed, there isn't much varnish left on anything.
I wonder if I can make you comprehend the things I've gone through in the last two or three days? Why, Dad, I feel old enough to be your mother. But I'll try and begin at the beginning, though it seems, to look back, almost before the memory of man, to say nothing of woman. Let me see, where is the beginning, when I was still young and happy? Perhaps it's in our outfit for the trip. I can dwell upon that with comparative calmness.
Even Aunt Mary was happy. You would have had to rush out and take your "apoplectic medicine," as I used to call it, if you could have seen her trying different kinds of masks and goggles, and asking gravely which were most becoming. Thank Heaven that I've inherited your sense of humour! To that I have owed my sanity during the last dies iræ. (Is that the way to spell it?)
I wouldn't have the conventional kind of mask, nor goggles. Seeing Aunt Mary in her armour saved me from that. I bought what they call a "toilet mask," which women vainer than I wear at night to preserve their complexions. This was only for a last resort on very dusty days, to be hidden from sight by a thin, grey veil, as if I were a modern prophet of Korassan.
We got dust-grey cloaks, waterproof cloth on the outside, and lined with fur. Aunt Mary invested in a kind of patent helmet, with curtains that unfurl on the sides, to cover the ears; and I found myself so fetching in a hood that I bought one, as well as a toque, to provide for all weathers. Then we got a fascinating tea-basket, foot-warmers that burn charcoal, and had two flat trunks made on purpose to fit the back of the car, with tarpaulin covers to take on and off. Our big luggage we planned to send to places where we wanted to make a long stay; but we would have enough with us to make us feel self-contained and independent.
We did look ship-shape when we started from the "Carlton" on the morning of November 19th, with our luggage strapped on behind, the foot-warmers and tea-basket on the floor, our umbrellas in a hanging-basket contrivance, a fur-lined waterproof rug over Aunt Mary's knees and mine. I'd taken no more lessons since that first day I wrote you about, owing to the car not being ready until the night before our start, so Rattray sat in front alone, Aunt Mary and I together behind.
We meant to have got off about eight, as we had to drive over fifty miles to Newhaven, where the car was to be shipped that night; but Rattray had a little difficulty in starting the car, and we were half an hour late, which was irritating, especially as a good many people were waiting to see us off. At last, however, we shot away in fine style, which checked Aunt Mary in the middle of her thirty-second sigh.
All went well for a couple of hours. We were out in the country—lovely undulating English country. The car, which Mr. Cecil-Lanstown had said was beyond all others as a hill-climber, was justifying its reputation, as I had confidently expected it would. The air was cold, but instead of making one shiver, our blood tingled with exhilaration as we flew along. You know what a chilly body Aunt Mary is? Even she didn't complain of the weather, and hardly needed her foot-warmer "This is life!" said I to myself. It seemed to me that I'd never known the height of physical pleasure until I'd driven in a motor-car. It was better than dancing on a perfect floor with a perfect partner to pluperfect music; better than eating when you're awfully hungry; better than holding out your hands to afire when they're numb with cold; better than a bath after a hot, dusty railway journey. I can't give it higher praise, can I?—and I did wish for you. I thought you would be converted. Oh, my unprophetic soul!
Suddenly, sailing up a steep hill at about ten miles an hour, the car stopped, and would have run back if Rattray hadn't put on the brakes. "What's the matter?" said I, while Aunt Mary convulsively clutched my arm.
"Only a belt broken, miss," he returned gloomily. "Means twenty minutes' delay, that's all. Sorry I must trouble you ladies to get up. New belts and belt-fasteners under your seat. Tools under the floor."
We were relieved to think it was no worse, and reminded ourselves that we had much to be thankful for, while we disarranged our comfortably established selves. There were the tea-basket and the foot-warmers to be lifted from the floor and deposited on Rattray's vacant front seat, the big rug to be got rid of, our feet to be put up while the floor-board was lifted, then we had to stand while the cushions were pulled off the seat and the lid of the box raised. We, or at least I, tried to think it was part of the fun; but it was a little depressing to hear Rattray grunting and grumbling to himself as he unstrapped the luggage, hoisted it off the back of the car so that he could get at the broken belt inside, and plumped it down viciously on the dusty road.The delay was nearer half an hour than twenty minutes, and it seemed extra long because it was a strain entertaining Aunt Mary to keep her from saying "I told you so!" But we had not gone two miles before our little annoyance was forgotten. That is the queer part about automobiling. You're BO happy when all's going well that you forget past
"WE ATE AT A LOVELY ENGLISH INN."
We got on all right until after lunch, which we ate at a lovely inn close to George Meredith's house. Then it took half an hour to start the car again. Rattray looked as if he were going to burst. Just to watch him turning that handle in vain made me feel as if elephants had walked over me. He said the trouble was that "the compression was too strong," and that there was "back-firing"—whatever that means. Just as I was giving up hope the engine started off with a rush, and we were on the way again through the most soothingly pretty country. About four o'clock, in the midst of a glorious spin, there was a "r-r-r-tch," the car swerved to one side, Aunt Mary screamed, and we stopped dead. "Chain broken," snarled Rattray.
Up we had to jump once more: tea-basket, foot-warmers, rugs, ourselves, everything had to be hustled out of the way for Rattray to get at the tools and spare chains which we carried in the box under our seats. I began to think perhaps the car wasn't quite so conveniently arranged for touring as I had fancied, but I'd have died sooner than say so—then. I pretended that this was a capital opportunity for tea, so opened the tea-basket, and we had quite a picnic by the roadside while Rattray fussed with the chain. It wasn't very cold, and I looked forward to many similar delightful halts in a warmer climate "by the banks of the brimming Loire," as I put it jauntily to Aunt Mary. But she only said, "I'm sure I hope so, my dear," in a tone more chilling than the weather.
It was at least half an hour before Rattray had the chain properly fixed, and then there was the usual difficulty in starting. Once the handle flew round and struck him on the back of the hand. He yelled, kicked one of the wheels, and went to the grassy side of the road, where in the dusk I could dimly see him holding his hand to his mouth and rocking backwards and forwards. He did look so like a distracted goblin that I could hardly steady my voice to ask if he was much hurt. "Nearly broke my hand, that's all, miss," he growled. At last he flew at the terrible handle again, managed to start the motor, and we were off.
Going up a hill in a town that Rattray said was called Lewes, I noticed that the car didn't seem to travel with its customary springy vigour. "Loss of power," Rattray jerked at me over his shoulder when I questioned him as to what was the matter, and there I had to leave it, wondering vaguely what he meant. I think he lost the way in Lewes (it was now quite dark, with no stars); anyhow, we made many windings, and at last came out into a plain between dim, chalky hills, with a shining river faintly visible. Aunt Mary had relapsed into expressive silence; the car seemed to crawl like a wounded thing; but at last we got to Newhaven pier, and had our luggage carried on board the boat. Rattray was to follow with the car in the cargo-boat. So ended the "lesson for the first day"—a ten-hour lesson—and I felt sadder as well as wiser for it.
Aunt Mary went to sleep as soon as we got on the boat; but I was so excited at the thought of seeing France that I stayed on deck, wrapped in the warm coat I'd bought for the car. We had a splendid crossing, and as we got near Dieppe I could see chalk cliffs and a great gaunt crucifix on the pier leading into the harbour. It seemed as if I were in a dream when I heard people chattering French quite as a matter of course to each other, and I liked the douaniers, the smart soldiers, and the railway porters in blue blouses. It was four in the morning when, we landed. Of course, it was the dead season at Dieppe, but we got in at a hotel close to the sea. It was lovely waking up, rather late, one's very first day in France, looking out of the window at the bright water and the little fishing-boats, with their red-brown sails, and smelling a really heavenly scent of strong coffee and fresh-baked rolls.
Later in the morning I walked round to the harbour to find that the cargo-boat had arrived, and that Rattray and the car had been landed. The creature actually greeted me with smiles. Now for the first time he was a comfort. He did everything, paid the deposit demanded by the custom-house, and got the necessary papers. Then he drove me back to the hotel, but as it was about midday I thought that it would be nicer to start for Paris the next day, when I hoped we could have a long, clear run. In Paris, of course, Aunt Mary and I wanted to stay for at least a week. Rattray promised to thoroughly overhaul the car, so that there need be no "incidents" on the way.
There was a crowd round us next morning a friendly, good-natured little crowd when we were getting ready to start in the stable-yard of the hotel. Our landlady was there, a duck of a woman; the hotel porters in green baize aprons stood and stared; some women washing clothes at a trough in the corner stopped their work; and a lot of funny, wee schoolboys, with short cropped hair and black blouses with leather belts, buzzed round, gesticulating and trying to explain the mechanism of the car to each other. Rattray bustled about with an oil-can in his hand, then loaded up our luggage, and all was ready. With more dignity than confidence I mounted to the high seat beside Aunt Mary. This time, with one turn of the handle, the motor started, so contrary is this strange beast, the automobile. One day you toil at the starting-handle half an hour, the next the thing comes to life with a touch, and nobody can explain why. Bowing to madame and the hotel people, we sailed gracefully out of the hotel yard, Rattray tootooing a fanfarronade on the horn. It was a splendid start!
The streets of Dieppe are of those horrid uneven tones that the French call pavé, and our car jolted over them with as much noise and clatter as if we'd had a cargo of dishes. You see the car's very solidly built and heavy—that, said Mr. Cecil-Lanstown, is one of its merits. It is of oak, an inch thick, and you can't break it. Another thing in its favour is that it has solid tyres, and not those horrid pneumatics, which are always bursting and puncturing, and give no end of trouble. "With solid tyres you are always safe," said Mr. Cecil-Lanstown. I can't help thinking, though, that on roads like these of Dieppe it would be soothing to have "pneus," as they call them. Jingle, jingle! scrunch, scrunch! goes the machinery inside, and all the loose parts of the car. It did get on my nerves.
But soon we were out of the town and on one of the smoothest roads you ever saw. Rattray said it was a "route nationale," and that they are the best roads in the world. The car bounded along as if it were on a billiard-table. Even Aunt Mary said, "Now, if it were always like this——" My spirits went up, up. I proudly smiled and bowed to the peasants in their orchards by the roadsides. I was even inclined to pat Rattray on the shoulder of his black leather coat. This, this was life! The sun shone, the fresh air sang in our ears, the car ran as if it had the strength of a giant. I felt as independent as a gipsy in his caravan, only we were travelling at many times his speed. The country seemed to unfold just like a panorama. At each turn I looked for an adventure.
We skimmed through a delicious green country given up to enormous orchards which, Aunt Mary read out of a guide-book, yield the famous cidre de Normandie. I thought of the lovely pink dress this land would wear by-and-by, and then suddenly we came out from a small road on to a broad, winding one, and there was a wide view over waving country, with a white town like a butterfly that had fluttered into a bird's nest. Rattray let the car go down this long road towards the valley at something like thirty miles an hour, and Aunt Mary's hand had nervously grasped the rail when there came a kind of sigh inside the car, and it paused to rest.
Rattray jumped off and made puzzled inspection. "Can't see anything wrong, miss; must take off the luggage and look inside." It is a peculiarity that every working part is hidden modestly under the body of the car. This protects them from wet and dust, Mr. Cecil-Lanstown told me; "but it seems a little inconvenient to have to haul off all the luggage every time you want to examine the machinery. It didn't take long to find out what was the matter. The "aspiration pipe," Rattray said, had worked loose (no doubt through the jolting over the Dieppe pavé) and the "vapour couldn't get from the carburetter to the explosion chamber."
I only partly understood, but I felt that the poor car wasn't to blame. How could it be expected to go on without aspirating? There was "no spanner to fit the union," and Rattray darkly hinted at further trouble. Three little French boys with a go-cart had come to stare. I Kodaked them and send you their picture in this letter as a sort of punctuation to my complaints.
Well, when Rattray had screwed up the "union" as well as he could (isn't that what our statesmen did after the confederate war?), off we started again, bustled through the town in the valley (which I found from Murray was Neufchâtel-en-Bray), and had a consoling run through beautiful country until, at noon, we shot into the market-place of Forges les Eaux. It was market-day, and we drove at a walking pace through the crowded place, all alive with booths, the cackling of turkeys, and the lowing of cows. There seemed to be only one decent inn, and the salle à manger was full of loud-talking peasants, with shrewd, brown, wrinkled faces like masks, who "ate out loud," as I used to say.
The place was so thronged that Rattray had to sit at the same table with us, and though as a good democrat I oughtn't to have minded, I did squirm a little, for his manners well, "they're better not to dwell on." But the luncheon was good, so French and so cheap. We hurried over it, but it took Rattray half an hour to replenish the tanks of the car with water (of course he had to lift down the luggage to do this) and to oil the bearings. We sailed out of Forges les Eaux so bravely that my hopes went up. It seemed certain we should be in Paris quite in good time, but almost as soon as we had got out of the town one of the chains glided gracefully off on to the road.
You'd think it the simplest thing in the world to slip it on again, but that was just what it wasn't. Rattray worked over it half an hour (everything takes half an hour to do on this car, I notice, when it doesn't take more), saying things under his breath which Aunt Mary was too deaf and I too dignified to hear. Finally I was driven to remark waspishly, "You'd be a bad soldier; a good soldier makes the best of things, and bears them like a man. You make the worst."
"That's all very well, miss," retorted my gloomy goblin; "but soldiers have to fight men, not beasts."
"They get killed sometimes," said I.
"There's things makes a man want to die," groaned he. And that silenced me, even though I heard a ceaseless mumbling about "every bloomin' screw being loose; that he'd engaged as a mechanic, not a car-maker; that if he was a car-maker, he was hanged if he'd disgrace himself making one of this sort, anyhow."
You'll think I'm exaggerating, but I vow we had not gone more than ten miles further before that chain broke again. This time I believe Rattray shed tears. As for Aunt Mary, her attitude was that of cold, Christian resignation. She had sacrificed herself to me, and would continue to do so, since such was her Duty, with a capital D; indeed, she had expected this, and from the first she had told me, etc., etc. At last the chain was forced on again and fastened with a new bolt. We sped forward for a few deceitful moments, but—detail is growing monotonous. After that something happened to the car, on the average, every hour. Chains snapped or came off; if belts didn't break, they were too short or too long. Mysterious squeaks made themselves heard; the crank-head got hot (what head wouldn't?), and we had to wait until it thought fit to cool, a process which could scarcely be accelerated by Rattray's language. He now announced that this make of car, and my specimen in particular, was the vilest in the automobile world. If a worse could be made, it did not yet exist! When I ventured to inquire why he had not expressed this opinion before leaving London, he announced that it was not his business to express opinions, but to drive such vehicles as he was engaged to drive. I hoped that there must be something wrong with the automobile which Rattray didn't understand; that in Paris I could have it put right, and that even yet all might go well. For a few miles we went with reasonable speed, and no mishaps; but half-way up a long, long hill the mystic "power" vanished once more, and there we were stranded nearly opposite a forge, from which strolled three huge, black-faced men, adorned with pitying smiles.
"Hire them to push," I said despairingly to Rattray, and as he turned a sulky back to obey, I heard a whirring sound, and an automobile flew past us up the steep hill, going about fifteen miles an hour. That did seem the last straw; and with hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness in my breast, I was shaking my fist after the thing, when it stopped politely.
There were two men in it, both in leather caps and coats—I noticed that half unconsciously. Now one of them jumped out and came walking back to us. Taking off his cap, he asked me with his eyes and Aunt Mary with his voice—in English—if there was anything he could do. He was very good-looking, and spoke nicely, like a gentleman, but he seemed so successful that I couldn't help hating him and wishing he would go away. The only thing I wanted was that he and the other man and their car should be specks in the distance when Rattray came back with his blacksmiths to push us up the hill; so I thanked him hurriedly, and said we didn't need help. Perhaps I said it rather stiffly, I was so wild to have him gone. He stood for a minute as if he would have liked to say something else, but didn't know how, then bowed, and went back to his car. In a minute it was shooting up hill again, and I never was gladder at anything in my life than when I saw it disappear over the top—only just in time too, for it wasn't out of sight when our three blacksmiths had their shoulders to the task.
"There's a good car, if you like, miss," said that fiend Rattray. "It's a Napier. Some pleasure in driving that."
I could have boxed his ears.
Once on level ground again, the car seemed to recover a little strength. But night fell when we were still a long way from Paris, and our poor oil-lamps only gave light enough to make darkness visible, so that we daren't travel at high speed. There were uncountable belt-breakings and heart-achings before at last, after eleven at night, we crawled through the barriers of Paris and mounted up the Avenue de la Grande Armée to the Arc de Triomphe. We drove straight to the Elysée Palace Hotel, and let Rattray take the brute beast to a garage, which I wished had been a slaughter-house.
I couldn't sleep that night for thinking that I was actually in Paris, and for puzzling what to do next, since it was clear it would be no use going on with the car unless some hidden ailment could be discovered and rectified. Our plan had been to stop in Paris for a week, and then drive on to the beautiful château country of the Loire that I've always dreamed of seeing. Afterwards, I thought we might go across country to the Riviera; but now, unless light suddenly shone out of darkness, all that was knocked on the head. What was my joy, then, in the morning, when Rattray came and deigned to inform me that he had found out the cause of the worst mischief! "The connecting-rod that worked the magnet had got out of adjustment, and so the timing of the explosions was wrong." This could be made right, and he would see to the belts and chains. In a few days we might be ready to get away, with some hope of better luck.
I was so pleased I gave him a louis. Afterwards I wished I hadn't—but that's a detail. I sent you a cable, just saying, you'll remember: "Elysée Palace for a week; all well"; and Aunt Mary and I proceeded to drown our sorrows by draughts of undiluted Paris.
Crowds of Americans were at the hotel, a good many I knew; but Aunt Mary and I kept dark about the automobile—very different from that time in London, where I was always swaggering around talking of "my motor-car" and the trip I meant to take. Poor little me!
Mrs. Tom van Wyck was there, and she introduced me to an Englishwoman, Lady Brighthelmstone, a viscountess, or something, and you pronounce her "Lady Brighton." She's near-sighted and looks at you through a lorgnette, which is disconcerting, and makes you feel as if your features didn't match properly; but she turned out to be rather nice, and said she hoped we'd see each other at Cannes, where she's going immediately. She expects her son to join her there. He's touring now on his motor-car, and expects to meet her and some friends on the Riviera in about a fortnight. Mrs. van Wyck told me he's the Honourable John Winston, and a very nice fellow, but I grudge him an automobile, which goes.
I just couldn't write to you that week in Paris; not that I was too busy—I'm never too busy to write to my dear old boy. But I knew you'd expect to hear how I enjoyed the trip, and I didn't want to tell you the bad news till perhaps I might have good news to add. Consequently I cabled whenever a writing-day came round.
Well, at last Rattray vowed that the car was in good condition, and we might start. It was a whole week since I'd seen the monster, and it looked so handsome as it sailed up to the hotel door that my pride in it came back. It was early in the morning, so there weren't many people about, but I shouldn't have had cause to be ashamed if there had been. We went off in fine style, and it was delicious driving through the Bois, en route for Orleans, by way of Versailles. After all, I said to myself, perhaps the car hadn't been to blame for our horrid experience. No car was perfect, even Rattray admitted that. Some little thing had gone wrong with ours, and the poor thing had been misunderstood.
We had traversed the Bois, and were mounting the long hill of Suresnes, when "squeak! squeak!" a little insinuating sound began to mingle with my reflections. I was too happy, with the sweet wind in my face, to pay attention at first, but the noise kept on, insisting on being noticed. Then it occurred to me that I'd heard it before in moments of baleful memory.
"I believe that horrid crank-head is getting hot," said I. "Are you sure it doesn't need oil?"
"Sure, miss," returned Rattray. "The crank-head's all right. That squeak ain't anything to worry about."
So I didn't worry, and we bowled along for twenty perfect minutes, then something went smash inside, and we stopped dead. It was the crank-head, which was nearly red hot. The crank had snapped like a carrot. I was too prostrate, and, I trust, too proud to say things to Rattray, though if he had just made sure that the lubricator was working properly, we should have been saved.
Fortunately we had lately passed a big garage by the Pont de Suresnes, and we "coasted" to it down the hill, although of course our engine was paralysed. You couldn't expect it to work without a head, even though that head was only a "crank!"
For once Rattray was somewhat subdued. He knew he was in fault, and meekly proposed to take an electric tram back to Paris, there to see if a new crank could be bought to fit, otherwise one would have to be made, and it would take two or three days. At this I remarked icily that in the latter case we would not proceed with the trip, and he could return to London. Usually he retorted, if I showed the slightest sign of disapproval, but now he merely asked if I would give him the money to buy the new crank if it were obtainable.
I had only a couple of louis in change and a five-hundred franc note, so I gave that to him, and he was to return as soon as possible, probably in an hour and a half. Aunt Mary and I found our way gloomily to a little third-class restaurant, where we had coffee and things. Time crept on and brought no Rattray. When two hours had passed I walked back to the garage, but the proprietor had no news. The car was standing in the place where they had dragged it, and I climbed up to sit in gloomy state on the back seat, feeling as if I couldn't bear to go back to Aunt Mary until something had happened. Then something did happen, but not the thing I had wanted. The very car that had stopped when we were in trouble on the hill of the blacksmiths, far on the other side of Paris, more than a week ago, came gliding smoothly, deliciously into the garage.
The same two leather-capped and coated men were in it, master and chauffeur, I thought. The madame of the establishment was talking sympathetically to me, but I heard the voice of the man who had asked me if he could help (the one I had taken for the master) inquiring in French for a particular kind of essence. Then I didn't hear any more. He and the garage man were speaking in lower tones, and besides, the shrill condolences of madame drowned their murmurs. She was loudly giving it as her opinion that my chauffeur had run off with my money, and that, unless I had some means of tracing him, I should never look upon his face again. I did wish that she would be quiet, at least until the fortunate automobilists rolled away like kings in their chariot; but I couldn't make her stop, and I was certain they heard every word. I even imagined that they had deserted the subject of petrol for my troubles, because I could see out of a corner of an eye that the proprietor in his conversation with them nodded more than once towards my car, in which I sat ingloriously enthroned like a sort of captive Zenobia.
They seemed to be a long time buying their petrol, anyway, and presently my worst fears were confirmed. The man who had spoken to me on the fatal hill came forward, repeating himself (like history) by taking off his cap and wearing exactly the same half-shy, half-interested expression as before.
He said "er" once or twice, and then informed me that the proprietor had been telling him what a scrape I was in, or words to that effect. He offered to drive into Paris on his car, which would only take a few minutes, go to the place where my chauffeur had intended to buy the crank, see whether he had been there, and if so, what delayed him. Then, if anything were wrong, he would come back and let me know.
I said that I couldn't possibly let him take so much trouble, but he would hardly listen. He knew the address of the place from the garage man, who had recommended it to Rattray, and almost before I knew what had happened the car and the dusty, leather-clad men were off.
There was nothing for me to do but to go back to Aunt Mary, which I did in no happy frame of mind.
That Napier must have tossed its bonnet at the legal limit of speed, for in less than an hour it drew up before this restaurant. Out jumped my one of the two men and came into the room where Aunt Mary and I had sat so long reading old French papers.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you," said he in his nice voice, "that your man appears to be a scoundrel. He hasn't been to Le Sage's, nor to another place which I tried. I'm afraid he has gone off with your money, and that your only hope of getting it will be to track the fellow with a detective."
"I don't want to track him," I said. "I never want to see him again, and I don't care about the money. I'll engage another chauffeur. There must be plenty in Paris."
As I said this he had rather a curious look on his face. I didn't understand it then, but I did afterwards. "I'm afraid you'll find very few who understand your make of car," he said, "which is German, and—er—perhaps not up to the very latest date."
"I can believe anything of it," said I. "But now the crank's broken, and——"
"I've taken the liberty of bringing another, which we took out of a similar car," broke in the man. "The proprietor of the garage across the way thinks he can put it in for you; if not, I can help him, for I once drove a car of the same make as yours, and have reason to remember it."
I burst into thanks, and when I had used up most of my prettiest adjectives I asked how long the work would take. He thought only a few hours, and my car might be ready to start again in the afternoon.
I clapped my hands at this; then I could feel my face fall. (Funny expression, isn't it?—almost as absurd as I "dropped my eyes"; but I think I did that too.) "How lovely!" said I. And then, "But what good if I can't get a chauffeur?"
The man's face grew red—not a bricky, ugly red; but as he was very brown already, it only turned a nice mahogany colour, and made him look quite engaging. "If you would take me," he said, "I am at your service."
I never was more astonished in my life, and I just sat and stared at him. I was sure he must be making fun.
"Of course you'll think it strange," he went on in a hurry; "but the fact is, I'm out of a job——"
"Why, are you a real chauffeur—a mechanic?" I couldn't help breaking in on him. I almost blurted out that I had taken him for the master, which would have been horrid, of course, and suddenly I was ashamed of myself, for I had been treating him exactly like an equal; and perhaps I was silly enough to be a tiny bit disappointed too, for I'll confess to you, Dad, that I'd had visions of his being someone rather grand, which would have spread a little jam of romance over the stale, dry bread of this disagreeable experience. Anyhow, this man was much better looking than his companion, whom I knew now was the master. He wasn't a gorgeous person, like" Mr. Cecil-Lanstown, but I'd certainly thought he had rather a distinguished air. However, these Englishmen, even the peasants, are sometimes such splendid types—clear-cut features, brave, keen eyes, and all that, you know, as if their ancestors might have been Vikings.
While I was thinking, he was telling me that he was a chauffeur, sure enough, and that this was the last day of his engagement with his master, who didn't wish to take a mechanic any farther. His name, he said, was James Brown. He had had a good deal of experience with several kinds of cars—my sort was the first he'd ever driven; he knew it well, and if I cared to try him, he could get me a very good reference from his master, Mr. Winston.
"Mr. Winston!" I repeated. "Is your master the Honourable John Winston?"
"That is his name," he answered, though he looked so odd when he said it that I thought it wise to mention that I knew Mr. Winston's mother, so he would have a sort of warning if he weren't speaking the truth. But he didn't look like a man who would tell fibs, and to cut a long story short, he brought out a letter which the Honourable John Winston had already given him. It was very short, as if it had been written in a hurry, but nothing could have been more satisfactory. Brown, as I suppose I must call him, said that he would be able to start with us as soon as the car was ready, and when I mentioned where I wanted to go he remarked that he had been all through the château country several times on a motor-car. One can see from the way he talks that he's an intelligent, competent young man (he can't be more than twenty-eight or nine) and knows his business thoroughly. I think I'm very lucky to get him, don't you?
Now you will understand the address at the top of this long letter; and I am writing it while James Brown and the garage man fit the new crank into the car. I must have been scribbling away for two hours, so almost any minute my new chauffeur may arrive to say that we can start. I shall write again soon to tell you how he turns out, and all about things in general; and when I don't write I'll cable.
Your battered but hopeful