Charles Battell Loomis ~ Araminta and the Automobile

Some persons spend their surplus on works of art; some spend it on Italian gardens and pergolas; there are those who sink it in golf, and I have heard of those who expended it on charity.

None of these forms of getting away with money appeal to Araminta and myself. As soon as it was ascertained that the automobile was practicable and would not cost a king’s ransom, I determined to devote my savings to the purchase of one.

Araminta and I lived in a suburban town; she because she loves Nature and I because I love Araminta. We have been married for five years.

I am a bank clerk in New York, and morning and night I go through the monotony of railway travel, and for one who is forbidden to use his eyes on the train and who does not play cards it is monotony, for in the morning my friends are either playing cards or else reading their papers, and one does not like to urge the claims of conversation on one who is deep in politics or the next play of his antagonist; so my getting to business and coming back are in the nature of purgatory. I therefore hailed the automobile as a Heaven-sent means of swift motion with an agreeable companion, and with no danger of encountering either newspapers or cards. I have seen neither reading nor card-playing going on in any automobile.

The community in which I live is not progressive, and when I said that I expected to buy an automobile as soon as my ship came in I was frowned upon by my neighbors. Several of them have horses, and all, or nearly all, have feet. The horsemen were not more opposed to my proposed ownership than the footmen—I should say pedestrians. They all thought automobiles dangerous and a menace to public peace, but of course I pooh-poohed their fears and, being a person of a good deal of stability of purpose, I went on saving my money, and in course of time I bought an automobile of the electric sort.

Araminta is plucky, and I am perfectly fearless. When the automobile was brought home and housed in the little barn that is on our property, the man who had backed it in told me that he had orders to stay and show me how it worked, but I laughed at him—good-naturedly yet firmly. I said, “Young man, experience teaches more in half an hour than books or precepts do in a year. A would-be newspaper man does not go to a school of journalism if he is wise; he gets a position on a newspaper and learns for himself, and through his mistakes. I know that one of these levers is to steer by, that another lets loose the power, and that there is a foot-brake. I also know that the machine is charged, and I need to know no more. Good day.”

Thus did I speak to the young man, and he saw that I was a person of force and discretion, and he withdrew to the train and I never saw him again.

Araminta had been to Passaic shopping, but she came back while I was out in the barn looking at my new purchase, and she joined me there. I looked at her lovingly, and she returned the look. Our joint ambition was realized; we were the owners of an automobile, and we were going out that afternoon.

Why is it that cheap barns are so flimsily built? I know that our barn is cheap because the rent for house and barn is less than what many a clerk, city pent, pays for a cramped flat, but again I ask, why are they flimsily built? I have no complaint to make. If my barn had been built of good stout oak I might to-day be in a hospital.

It happened this way. Araminta said, “Let me get in, and we will take just a little ride to see how it goes,” and I out of my love for her said, “Wait just a few minutes, dearest, until I get the hang of the thing. I want to see how much go she has and just how she works.”

Araminta has learned to obey my slightest word, knowing that love is at the bottom of all my commands, and she stepped to one side while I entered the gayly-painted vehicle and tried to move out of the barn. I moved out. But I backed. Oh, blessed, cheaply built barn. My way was not restricted to any appreciable extent. I shot gayly through the barn into the hen yard, and the sound of the ripping clapboards frightened the silly hens who were enjoying a dust-bath, and they fled in more directions than there were fowls.

I had not intended entering the hen yard, and I did not wish to stay there, so I kept on out, the wire netting not being what an automobile would call an obstruction. I never lose my head, and when I heard Araminta screaming in the barn, I called out cheerily to her, “I’ll be back in a minute, dear, but I’m coming another way.”

And I did come another way. I came all sorts of ways. I really don’t know what got into the machine, but she now turned to the left and made for the road, and then she ran along on her two left wheels for a moment, and then seemed about to turn a somersault, but changed her mind, and, still veering to the left, kept on up the road, passing my house at a furious speed, and making for the open country. With as much calmness as I could summon I steered her, but I think I steered her a little too much, for she turned toward my house.

I reached one end of the front piazza at the same time that Araminta reached the other end of it. I had the right of way, and she deferred to me just in time. I removed the vestibule storm door. It was late in March, and I did not think we should have any more use for it that season. And we didn’t.

I had ordered a strongly-built machine, and I was now glad of it, because a light and weak affair that was merely meant to run along on a level and unobstructed road would not have stood the assault on my piazza. Why, my piazza did not stand it. It caved in, and made work for an already overworked local carpenter who was behind-hand with his orders. After I had passed through the vestibule, I applied the brake, and it worked. The path is not a cinder one, as I think them untidy, so I was not more than muddied. I was up in an instant, and looked at the still enthusiastic machine with admiration.

“Have you got the hang of it?” said Araminta.

Now that’s one thing I like about Araminta. She does not waste words over non-essentials. The point was not that I had damaged the piazza. I needed a new one, anyway. The main thing was that I was trying to get the hang of the machine, and she recognized that fact instantly.

I told her that I thought I had, and that if I had pushed the lever in the right way at first, I should have come out of the barn in a more conventional way.

She again asked me to let her ride, and as I now felt that I could better cope with the curves of the machine I allowed her to get in.

“Don’t lose your head,” said I.

“I hope I shan’t,” said she dryly.

“Well, if you have occasion to leave me, drop over the back. Never jump ahead. That is a fundamental rule in runaways of all kinds.”

Then we started, and I ran the motor along for upward of half a mile after I had reached the highway, which I did by a short cut through a field at the side of our house. There is only a slight rail fence surrounding it, and my machine made little of that. It really seemed to delight in what some people would have called danger.

“Araminta, are you glad that I saved up for this?”

“I am mad with joy,” said the dear thing, her face flushed with excitement mixed with expectancy. Nor were her expectations to be disappointed. We still had a good deal to do before we should have ended our first ride.

So far I had damaged property to a certain extent, but I had no one but myself to reckon with, and I was providing work for people. I always have claimed that he who makes work for two men where there was only work for one before, is a public benefactor, and that day I was the friend of carpenters and other mechanics.

Along the highway we flew, our hearts beating high, but never in our mouths, and at last we saw a team approaching us. By “a team” I mean a horse and buggy. I was raised in Connecticut, where a team is anything you choose to call one.

The teamster saw us. Well, perhaps I should not call him a teamster (although he was one logically): he was our doctor, and, as I say, he saw us.

Now I think it would have been friendly in him, seeing that I was more or less of a novice at the art of automobiling, to have turned to the left when he saw that I was inadvertently turning to the left, but the practice of forty years added to a certain native obstinacy made him turn to the right, and he met me at the same time that I met him.

The horse was not hurt, for which I am truly glad, and the doctor joined us, and continued with us for a season, but his buggy was demolished.

Of course I am always prepared to pay for my pleasure, and though it was not, strictly speaking, my pleasure to deprive my physician of his turn-out, yet if he had turned out it wouldn’t have happened—and, as I say, I was prepared to get him a new vehicle. But he was very unreasonable; so much so that, as he was crowding us—for the seat was not built for more than two, and he is stout—I at last told him that I intended to turn around and carry him home, as we were out for pleasure, and he was giving us pain.

I will confess that the events of the last few minutes had rattled me somewhat, and I did not feel like turning just then, as the road was narrow. I knew that the road turned of its own accord a half-mile farther on, and so I determined to wait.

“I want to get out,” said the doctor tartly, and just as he said so Araminta stepped on the brake, accidentally. The doctor got out—in front. With great presence of mind I reversed, and so we did not run over him. But he was furious and sulphurous, and that is why I have changed to homeopathy. He was the only allopathic doctor in Brantford.

I suppose that if I had stopped and apologized, he would have made up with me, and I would not have got angry with him, but I couldn’t stop. The machine was now going as she had done when I left the barn, and we were backing into town.

Through it all I did not lose my coolness. I said: “Araminta, look out behind, which is ahead of us, and if you have occasion to jump now, do it in front, which is behind,” and Araminta understood me.

She sat sideways, so that she could see what was going on, but that might have been seen from any point of view, for we were the only things going on—or backing.

Pretty soon we passed the wreck of the buggy, and then we saw the horse grazing on dead grass by the roadside, and at last we came on a few of our townfolk who had seen us start, and were now come out to welcome us home. But I did not go home just then. I should have done so if the machine had minded me and turned in at our driveway, but it did not.

Across the way from us there is a fine lawn leading up to a beautiful greenhouse full of rare orchids and other plants. It is the pride of my very good neighbor, Jacob Rawlinson.

The machine, as if moved by malice prépense, turned just as we came to the lawn, and began to back at railroad speed.

I told Araminta that if she was tired of riding, now was the best time to stop; that she ought not to overdo it, and that I was going to get out myself as soon as I had seen her off.

I saw her off.

Then after one ineffectual jab at the brake, I left the machine hurriedly, and as I sat down on the sposhy lawn I heard a tremendous but not unmusical sound of falling glass——

I tell Araminta that it isn’t the running of an automobile that is expensive. It is the stopping of it.

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