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the novel free air

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Title:FreeAir
Author:SinclairLewis
ReleaseDate:September30,2008[EBook#26732]
Language:English

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FREEAIR



BY
SINCLAIRLEWIS
AUTHOROF

THEJOB,ETC.

GROSSET&DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS

NEWYORK

COPYRIGHT,1919,BY
HARCOURT,BRACEANDHOWE,INC.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
VIII
IX
X
XI
XII
XIII
XIV
XV
XVI
XVII
XVIII
XIX
XX
XXI
XXII


XXIII
XXIV
XXV
XXVI
XXVII
XXVIII
XXIX
XXX
XXXI
XXXII
XXXIII
XXXIV

MISSBOLTWOODOFBROOKLYNISLOSTINTHEMUD
CLAIREESCAPESFROMRESPECTABILITY
AYOUNGMANINARAINCOAT
AROOMWITHOUT
RELEASEBRAKES—SHIFTTOTHIRD
THELANDOFBILLOWINGCLOUDS
THEGREATAMERICANFRYINGPAN
THEDISCOVERYOFCANNEDSHRIMPSANDHESPERIDES
THEMANWITHAGATEEYES
THECURIOUSINCIDENTOFTHEHILLSIDEROAD
SAGEBRUSHTOURISTSOFTHEGREATHIGHWAY
THEWONDERSOFNATUREWITHALLMODERN
IMPROVEMENTS
ADVENTURERSBYFIRELIGHT
THEBEASTOFTHECORRAL
THEBLACKDAYOFTHEVOYAGE
THESPECTACLESOFAUTHORITY
THEVAGABONDINGREEN
THEFALLACYOFROMANCE
THENIGHTOFENDLESSPINES
THEFREEWOMAN
THEMINEOFLOSTSOULS
ACROSSTHEROOFOFTHEWORLD
THEGRAELINABACKYARDINYAKIMA
HEROWNPEOPLE
THEABYSSINIANPRINCE
ACLASSINENGINEERINGANDOMELETS
THEVICIOUSNESSOFNICETHINGS
THEMORNINGCOATOFMR.HUDSONB.RIGGS
THEENEMYLOVE
THEVIRTUOUSPLOTTERS
THEKITCHENINTIMATE
THECORNFIELDARISTOCRAT
TOOTH-MUGTEA
THEBEGINNINGOFASTORY

PAGE
3
10
21
36
49
66
74
85
101
112
119
129
138
149
154
165
176
188
194
205
219
228
237
242
254
270
279
290
300
307
310
331
345
361



FREEAIR


FREEAIR


CHAPTERI
MISSBOLTWOODOFBROOKLYNISLOSTINTHE
MUD

W

HENthewindshieldwascloseditbecamesofilmedwithrainthatClaire
fanciedshewaspilotingadrownedcarindimspacesunderthesea.Whenitwas
open, drops jabbed into her eyes and chilled her cheeks. She was excited and
thoroughly miserable. She realized that these Minnesota country roads had no
respect for her polite experience on Long Island parkways. She felt like a
woman,notlikeadriver.
ButtheGomez-Deproadsterhadseventyhorsepower,andsangsongs.Sinceshe
had left Minneapolis nothing had passed her. Back yonder a truck had tried to
crowd her, and she had dropped into a ditch, climbed a bank, returned to the
road, and after that the truck was not. Now she was regarding a view more
splendidthanmountainsaboveagardenbythesea—astretchofgoodroad.To
herpassenger,herfather,Clairechanted:
"Heavenly!There'ssomegravel.Wecanmaketime.We'llhustleontothenext
townandgetdry."
"Yes.Butdon'tmindme.You'redoingverywell,"herfathersighed.
Instantly,thedismayofitrushingather,shesawtheendofthepatchofgravel.
Theroadaheadwasawetblacksmear,criss-crossedwithruts.Thecarshotinto
a morass of prairie gumbo—whichismudmixedwithtar,fly-paper,fishglue,
andwell-chewed,chocolate-coveredcaramels.Whencattlegetintogumbo,the
farmerssendforthestump-dynamiteandtryblasting.
Itwasherfirstreallybadstretchofroad.Shewasfrightened.Thenshewastoo
appallinglybusytobefrightened,ortobeMissClaireBoltwood,ortocomfort
heruneasyfather.Shehadtodrive.Herfrailgracefularmsputintoitavicious
vigorthatwasgenius.


Whenthewheelsstrucktheslime,theyslid,theywallowed.Thecarskidded.It
was terrifyingly out of control. It began majestically to turn toward the ditch.
She fought the steering wheel as though she were shadow-boxing, but the car
kept contemptuously staggering till it was sideways, straight across the road.
Somehow,itwasbackagain,eatingintoarut,goingahead.Shedidn'tknowhow
shehaddoneit,butshehadgotitback.Shelongedtotaketimetoretraceher
ownclevernessinsteering.Shedidn't.Shekeptgoing.
The car backfired, slowed. She yanked the gear from third into first. She sped
up. The motor ran like a terrified pounding heart, while the car crept on by
inchesthroughfilthymudthatstretchedaheadofherwithoutrelief.
Shewasbattlingtoholdthecarintheprincipalrut.Shesnatchedthewindshield
open,andconcentratedonthatleftrut.Shefeltthatshewaskeepingthewheel
fromclimbingthosehighsidesoftherut,thosesix-inchwallsofmud,sparkling
withtinygrits.Hermindsnarledatherarms,"Lettherutsdothesteering.You're
just fighting against them." It worked. Once she let the wheels alone they
comfortablyfollowedthefurrows,andforthreesecondsshehadthatdelightful
belief of every motorist after every mishap, "Now that this particular
disagreeablenessisover,I'llnever,neverhaveanytroubleagain!"
But suppose the engine overheated, ran out of water? Anxiety twanged at her
nerves. And the deep distinctive ruts were changing to a complex pattern, like
therailsinacityswitchyard.Shepickedoutthetrackoftheonemotorcarthat
hadbeenthroughhererecently.Itwasmarkedwiththeswastikatreadoftherear
tires.Thattrackwasherfriend;sheknewandlovedthedriverofacarshehad
neverseeninherlife.
Shewasverytired.Shewonderedifshemightnotstopforamoment.Thenshe
came to an upslope. The car faltered; felt indecisive beneath her. She jabbed
downtheaccelerator.Herhandspushedatthesteeringwheelasthoughshewere
pushingthecar.Theenginepickedup,sulkilykeptgoing.Totheeye,therewas
merelyariseintherollingground,buttoheranxietyitwasamountainupwhich
she—nottheengine,butherself—pulledthisbulkymass,tillshehadreachedthe
top,andwassafeagain—forasecond.Stilltherewasnovisibleendofthemud.
Inalarmshethought,"Howlongdoesitlast?Ican'tkeepthisup.I—Oh!"
The guiding tread of the previous car was suddenly lost in a mass of heaving,
bubble-scatteredmud,likeabatterofblackdough.Shefairlypickedupthecar,
andflungitintothatwelter,throughit,andbackintothereappearingswastika-


markedtrail.
Her father spoke: "You're biting your lips. They'll bleed, if you don't look out.
Betterstopandrest."
"Can't! No bottom to this mud. Once stop and lose momentum—stuck for
keeps!"
Shehadtenmoreminutesofitbeforeshereachedacombinationofbridgeand
culvert, with a plank platform above a big tile drain. With this solid plank
bottom,shecouldstop.Silencecameroaringdownassheturnedtheswitch.The
bubbling water in the radiator steamed about the cap. Claire was conscious of
tautnessofthecordsofherneckinfront;ofapainatthebaseofherbrain.Her
fatherglancedathercuriously."Imustbeawreck.I'msuremyhairisfrightful,"
shethought,butforgotitasshelookedathim.Hisfacewasunusuallypale.In
thetumultofactivityhehadbeenbetrayedintolettingtheolddespondentlook
blurhiseyesandsaghismouth."Mustgeton,"shedetermined.
Claire was dainty of habit. She detested untwisted hair, ripped gloves, muddy
shoes.Hesitantasacatbyapuddle,shesteppeddownonthebridge.Evenon
theseplanks,themudwasthreeinchesthick.Itsquidgedaboutherlow,spatted
shoes."Eeh!"shesqueaked.
She tiptoed to the tool-box and took out a folding canvas bucket. She edged
downtothe tricklingstreambelow.Shewasmiserablyconsciousofa pastoral
scene all gone to mildew—cows beneath willows by the creek, milkweeds
dripping,driedmulleinweedstalksnolongerdry.Thebankofthestreamwasso
slippery thatsheshotdown twofeet,andnearlywentsprawling.Herkneedid
touchthe bank,andtheskirt of hergraysports-suitshowedasmear ofyellow
earth.
Inlessthantwomilestheracingmotorhadusedupsomuchwaterthatshehad
tomakefourtripstothecreekbeforeshehadfilledtheradiator.Whenshehad
climbed back on the running-board she glared down at spats and shoes turned
intograylumps.Shewasnottearful.Shewasangry.
"Idiot!Oughttohaveputonmyrubbers.Well—toolatenow,"sheobserved,as
shestartedtheengine.
She again followed the swastika tread. To avoid a hole in the road ahead, the
unknown driver had swung over to the side of the road, and taken to the


intensely black earth of the edge of an unfenced cornfield. Flashing at Claire
camethesightofadeep,water-filledhole,scatteredstrawandbrush,débrisofa
battlefield,whichmadehergaspinglyrealizethatherswastikaedleaderhadbeen
stuckand—
Andinstantlyherowncarwasstuck.
Shehadhadtoputthecaratthathole.Itdropped,fardown,anditstayeddown.
The engine stalled. She started it, but the back wheels spun merrily round and
round,withouttraction.Shedidnotmakeoneinch.Whensheagainkilledthe
blattingmotor,sheletitstaydead.Shepeeredatherfather.
Hewasnotafather,justnow,butapassengertryingnottoirritatethedriver.He
smiledinawaxyway,andsaid,"Hardluck!Well,youdidthebestyoucould.
The other hole, there in the road, would have been just as bad. You're a fine
driver,dolly."
Hersmilewaswarmandreal."No.I'mafool.Youtoldmetoputonchains.I
didn't.Ideserveit."
"Well, anyway, most men would be cussing. You acquire merit by not beating
me.Ibelievethat'sdone,inmomentslikethis.Ifyou'dlike,I'llgetoutandcrawl
aroundinthemud,andplayturtleforyou."
"No.I'mquiteallright.Ididfeelfrightfullystrong-mindedaslongastherewas
anyuseofit.Itkeptmegoing.ButnowImightjustaswellbecheerful,because
we'restuck,andwe'reprobablygoingtostaystuckfortherestofthiscare-free
summerday."
Thewearinessofthelongstraincaughther,allatonce.Sheslippedforward,sat
huddled, her knees crossed under the edge of the steering wheel, her hands
fallingbesideher,oneofthemmakingafaintbrushingsoundasitsliddownthe
upholstery.Hereyesclosed;asherheaddroopedfarther,shefanciedshecould
hearthevertebraeclickinhertenseneck.
Her father was silent, a misty figure in a lap-robe. The rain streaked the mica
lightsintheside-curtains.Adistanttrainwhistleddesolatelyacrossthesodden
fields.Theinsideofthecarsmelledmusty.Thequietwaslikeablanketoverthe
ears.Clairewasinahazydrowse.Shefeltthatshecouldneverdriveagain.


CHAPTERII
CLAIREESCAPESFROMRESPECTABILITY

C

LAIRE BOLTWOOD lived on the Heights, Brooklyn. Persons from New
York and other parts of the Middlewest have been known to believe that
Brooklyn is somehow humorous. In newspaper jokes and vaudeville it is so
presented that people who are willing to take their philosophy from those
sources believe that the leading citizens of Brooklyn are all deacons,
undertakers,and obstetricians.ThefactisthatNorthWashingtonSquare,atits
reddestandwhitestandfanlightedest,GramercyParkatitsmostivied,arenotso
aristocraticasthesectionofBrooklyncalledtheHeights.HerepreachedHenry
Ward Beecher. Here, in mansions like mausoleums, on the ridge above docks
wherethegoodshipscamesailinginfromSourabayaandSingapore,ruledthe
lordsofathousandsails.Andstillisitaplaceofwealthtoosolidtoemulatethe
nimble self-advertising of Fifth Avenue. Here dwell the fifth-generation
possessors of blocks of foundries and shipyards. Here, in a big brick house of
much dignity, much ugliness, and much conservatory, lived Claire Boltwood,
withherwidowerfather.
HenryB.Boltwoodwasvice-presidentofafirmdealinginrailwaysupplies.He
was neither wealthy nor at all poor. Every summer, despite Claire's delicate
hints,theytookthesamecottageontheJerseyCoast,andMr.Boltwoodcame
downforSunday.ClairehadgonetoagoodschooloutofPhiladelphia,onthe
Main Line. She was used to gracious leisure, attractive uselessness, nut-center
chocolates,andacertainwonderastowhyshewasalive.
Shewantedtotravel,butherfathercouldnotgetaway.Heconsistentlyspenthis
daysinoverworking,andhiseveningsinwishinghehadn'toverworked.Hewas
attractive,fresh,pink-cheeked,white-mustached,andnerve-twitchingwithyears
ofdetail.
Claire's ambition had once been babies and a solid husband, but as various
young males of the species appeared before her, sang their mating songs and


preenedtheirnewlydry-cleanedplumage,shefoundthatthetroublewithsolid
young men was that they were solid. Though she liked to dance, the "dancing
men"boredher.Andshedidnotunderstandthedistrict'squotaofintellectuals
very well; she was good at listening to symphony concerts, but she never had
muchluckindiscussingtheclevernessofthewoodwindsintakingupthemain
motif. It is history that she refused a master of arts with an old violin, a good
tasteinties,andanincomeofeightthousand.
The only man who disturbed her was Geoffrey Saxton, known throughout the
interwoven sets of Brooklyn Heights as "Jeff." Jeff Saxton was thirty-nine to
Claire'stwenty-three.Hewascleanandbusy;hehadnosignsofviceorhumor.
Especially for Jeff must have been invented the symbolic morning coat, the
unwrinkablegraytrousers,andthemoralrimlessspectacles.Hewasagraduate
ofanicecollege,andhehadanicetenorandanicefamilyandnicehandsand
he was nicely successful in New York copper dealing. When he was asked
questionsbypeoplewhowereimpertinent,clever,orpoor,Jefflookedthemover
coldly before he answered, and often they felt so uncomfortable that he didn't
havetoanswer.
TheboysofClaire'sownage,notlongoutofYaleandPrinceton,doingwellin
businessandjumpingfortheireveningclothesdailyatsix-thirty,lighto'loves
andadmirersofathleticheroes,theseladsClairefoundpleasant,buthardtotell
apart.Shedidn'thavetotellJeffSaxtonapart.Hedidhisowntelling.Jeffcalled
—nottoooften.Hesang—nottoosentimentally.Hetookherfatherandherself
tothetheater—nottoolavishly.HetoldClaire—inavoicenottooserious—that
she was his helmed Athena, his rose of all the world. He informed her of his
substantial position—not too obviously. And he was so everlastingly, firmly,
quietly,politely,immovablyalwaysthere.
She watched the hulk of marriage drifting down on her frail speed-boat of
aspiration,andsteeredindesperatecircles.
Then her father got the nervous prostration he had richly earned. The doctor
ordered rest. Claire took him in charge. He didn't want to travel. Certainly he
didn'twanttheshoreortheAdirondacks.Astherewasabranchofhiscompany
inMinneapolis,sheluredhimthatfaraway.
Being rootedly of Brooklyn Heights, Claire didn't know much about the West.
She thought that Milwaukee was the capital of Minnesota. She was not so
uninformedassomeofherfriends,however.ShehadheardthatinDakotawheat


wastobeviewedinvasttracts—maybeahundredacres.
Mr. Boltwood could not be coaxed to play with the people to whom his
Minneapolis representative introduced him. He was overworking again, and
perfectlyhappy.Hewashopingtofindsomethingwrongwiththebranchhouse.
Clairetriedtotempthimouttothelakes.Shefailed.Hisnerve-fuseburntoutthe
secondtime,withmuchfireworks.
Clairehadoftenmanagedhercircleofgirls,butithadneveroccurredtoherto
manage her executive father save by indirect and pretty teasing. Now, in
conspiracywiththedoctor,shebulliedherfather.Hesawgraydeathwaitingas
alternative, and he was meek. He agreed to everything. He consented to drive
withheracrosstwothousandmilesofplainsandmountainstoSeattle,todropin
foracallontheircousins,theEugeneGilsons.
Back East they had a chauffeur and two cars—the limousine, and the GomezDeperdussin roadster, Claire's beloved. It would, she believed, be more of a
change from everything that might whisper to Mr. Boltwood of the control of
men,nottotakeachauffeur.Herfatherneverdrove,butshecould,sheinsisted.
Hiseasyagreeingwaspathetic.Hewatchedherwithspanieleyes.Theyhadthe
GomezroadstershippedtothemfromNewYork.
OnaJulymorning,theystartedoutofMinneapolisinamist,andasithasbeen
hinted, they stopped sixty miles northward, in a rain, also in much gumbo.
ApparentlytheirnearestapproachtothePacificOceanwouldbethisoceanically
moistedgeofacornfield,betweenSchoenstromandGopherPrairie,Minnesota.
Clairerousedfromherdampdozeandsighed,"Well,Imustgetbusyandgetthe
caroutofthis."
"Don'tyouthinkyou'dbettergetsomebodytohelpus?"
"Butgetwho?"
"Whom!"
"No!It'sjust'who,'whenyou'reinthemud.No.Oneofthegoodthingsaboutan
adventurelikethisisthatImustdothingsformyself.I'vealwayshadpeopleto
do things for me. Maids and nice teachers and you, old darling! I suppose it's
mademesoft.Soft—Iwouldlikeasoftdavenportandanovelandapoundof
almond-brittle,andgetallsick,andnotfeelsobeastlyvirileasIdojustnow.But


——"
She turned up the collar of her gray tweed coat, painfully climbed out—the
musclesofher backracking—andexaminedthestate ofthe rearwheels.They
were buried to the axle; in front of them the mud bulked in solid, shiny
blackness.Shetookoutherjackandchains.Itwastoolate.Therewasnoroom
togetthejackundertheaxle.Sherememberedfromthenarrativesofmotoring
friendsthatbrushinmudgaveafirmersurfaceforthewheelstoclimbupon.
She also remembered how jolly and agreeably heroic the accounts of their
mishapshadsounded—aweekaftertheywereover.
Shewadeddowntheroadtowardanoldwood-lot.Atfirstshetriedtokeepdry,
butshegaveitup,andtherewaspleasureinbeingdefiantlydirty.Shetramped
straightthroughpuddles;shewallowedinmud.Inthewood-lotwaslonggrass
whichsoakedherstockingstillheranklesfeltitchy.Clairehadneverexpectedto
be so very intimate with a brush-pile. She became so. As though she were a
pioneerwomanwhohadbeentoilinghereforyears,shecametoknowthebrush
stickbystick—thelongvaluablebranchthatshecouldneverquitegetoutfrom
undertheothers;thethornyboughthatprickedherhandseverytimeshetriedto
reachthecuriousbundleofswitches.
Seven trips she made, carrying armfuls of twigs and solemnly dragging large
boughsbehindher.Shepattedthemdowninfrontofallfourwheels.Hercrisp
handslookedlikethepawsofathree-year-oldboymakingamudfort.Hernails
hurtfromthemud wedgedbeneaththem.Hermud-cakedshoeswereheavyto
lift.Itwaswithexquisiteself-approvalthatshesatontherunning-board,scraped
acar-loadofligniteoffhersoles,climbedbackintothecar,punchedthestarter.
Thecarstirred,creptforwardoneinch,andsettledback—oneinch.Thesecond
time it heaved encouragingly but did not make quite so much headway. Then
Clairedidsob.
Sherubbedhercheekagainstthecomfortable,rough,heather-smellingshoulder
ofherfather'scoat,whilehepattedherandsmiled,"Goodgirl!Ibettergetout
andhelp."
Shesatstraight,shookherhead."Nope.I'lldoit.AndI'mnotgoingtoinsiston
beingheroicanylonger.I'llgetafarmertopullusout."
Assheletherselfdownintotheooze,shereflectedthatallfarmershavehearts


of gold, anatomical phenomena never found among the snobs and hirelingsof
New York. The nearest heart of gold was presumably beating warmly in the
houseaquarterofamileahead.
Shecameupamuddylanetoamuddyfarmyard,withamuddycuryappingat
herwetlegs,andgeesehissinginapoolofpurestmudserene.Thehousewas
small and rather old. It may have been painted once. The barn was large and
new.Ithadbeenpaintedverymuch,andinablindingredwithwhitetrimmings.
Therewasnobrassplateonthehouse,butonthebarn,inhugewhiteletters,was
thelegend,"AdolphZolzac,1913."
Sheclimbedbylogstepstoanarrowframebackporchlitteredwithpartsofa
broken cream-separator. She told herself that she was simple and friendly in
going to the back door instead of the front, and it was with gaiety that she
knockedontheill-jointedscreendoor,whichflappeddismallyinresponse.
"Ja?"fromwithin.
Sherappedagain.
"Hinein!"
Sheopenedthedooronakitchen,thehighlightofwhichwasatableheapedwith
dishes of dumplings and salt pork. A shirt-sleeved man, all covered with
mustacheandcalm,satbythetable,andhekeptrightonsittingasheinquired:
"Vell?"
"Mycar—myautomobile—hasbeenstuckinthemud.Abaddriver,I'mafraid!I
wonderifyouwouldbesogoodasto——"
"Iusuallygett'reedollars,butIdunnoasIvanttodoitforlessthanfour.Today
Iain'dfeelin'verygoot,"grumbledthegolden-hearted.
Claire was aware that a woman whom she had not noticed—so much smaller
than the dumplings, so much less vigorous than the salt pork was she—was
speaking:"Aber,papa,dot'sashameyoushargedepooryoungladydot,when
shedrivebyseiself.Votshet'inkofdeShermanpeople?"
The farmer merely grunted. To Claire, "Yuh, four dollars. Dot's what I usually
chargesometimes."
"Usually? Do you mean to say that you leave that hole there in the road right


along—that people keep on trying to avoid it and get stuck as I was? Oh! If I
wereanofficial——"
"Vell,Idunno,Idon'tguessIrunmyplacetosuityousmartalecks——"
"Papa!Howyoutalkontheyounglady!Makeshame!"
"—fromthecity.Ifyoudon'tlikeit,youstaybeiMineapolis!Ihaulyououtfor
t'reedollarsandahalf.Everybodypaydot.Lastmont'Imakeforty-fivedollars.
Theyvosallgladtopay.TheysayIhelpthemfine.Idon'tseevotyou'rekickin'
about!Oh,thesevimmins!"
"It's blackmail! I wouldn't pay it, if it weren'tformyfathersittingwaitingout
there.But—goahead.Hurry!"
She sat tapping her toe while Zolzac completed the stertorous task of hogging
thedumplings,thenstretched,yawned,scratched,andcoveredhismerelydirty
garmentswithoverallsthatwereapparentlywovenofprocessedmud.Whenhe
hadgonetothebarnforhisteam,hiswifecametoClaire.Onherdrainedface
weretheeasytearsoftheslavewomen.
"Oh,miss,Idon'tknowvotIshoulddo.Myboysgoonthepublicschool,and
theyspeakAmericanjustsogootasyou.Oh,IvantmanletsmeluffAmerica.
ButpapahesaysitisanUnsinn;yougotthemoney,hesays,nobodyshouldcare
ifyouareAmericanorOldCountrypeople.IshouldvishIcouldrideonceinan
automobile!But—Iamso'shamed,so'shamedthatImustsitandseemyMann
makethis.FortyyearsIbeenmarriedtohim,andprettysoonIdie——"
Claire patted her hand. There was nothing to say to tragedy that had outlived
hope.
Adolph Zolzac clumped out to the highroad behind his vast, rolling-flanked
horses—somuchcleanerandbetterfedthanhiswispofawife.Clairefollowed
him, and in her heart she committed murder and was glad of it. While Mr.
BoltwoodlookedoutwithmildwonderatClaire'snewfriend,Zolzachitchedhis
teamtotheaxle.Itdidnotseempossiblethattwohorsescouldpulloutthecar
whereseventyhorsepowerhadfainted.But,easily,yawningandthinkingabout
dinner,thehorsesdrewthewheelsuponthemud-bank,outoftheholeand——
Theharnessbroke,withaflyingmessofstrapsandrope,andthecarplumped
withperfectexactnessbackintoitsbed.



CHAPTERIII
AYOUNGMANINARAINCOAT

"H

UH!Suchanauto!Look,itbreakmyharnessa'ready!Twodollarthat
costyoutomendit.Deautoisstooheavy!"stormedZolzac.
"All right! All right! Only for heaven's sake—go get another harness!" Claire
shrieked.
"Fife-fiftydotwillbe,inall."Zolzacgrinned.
Claire was standing in front of him. She was thinking of other drivers, poor
people,inoldcars,whohadbeenatthemercyofthisgolden-heartedone.She
staredpasthim,inthedirectionfromwhichshehadcome.Anothermotorwasin
sight.
Itwasatinbeetleofacar;thatagile,cheerful,rut-jumpingmodelknownasa
"bug";withahome-tacked,home-paintedtincowlandtailcoveringthestripped
chassisofalittlecheapTealcar.Thelonedriverworeanoldblackraincoatwith
anatrociouscorduroycollar,andanewplaidcapintheHarryLaudertartan.The
bugskippedthroughmudwheretheBoltwoods'Gomezhadsloggedandrolled.
Itspilotdroveupbehindhercar,andleapedout.HetrottedforwardtoClaireand
Zolzac. His eyesweretwenty-sevenoreight,buthispinkcheeksweretwenty,
and when he smiled—shyly, radiantly—he was no age at all, but eternal boy.
Clairehadablurredimpressionthatshehadseenhimbefore,someplacealong
theroad.
"Stuck?" he inquired, not very intelligently. "How much is Adolph charging
you?"
"Hewantsthree-fifty,andhisharnessbroke,andhewantstwodollars——"
"Oh! So he's still working that old gag! I've heard all about Adolph. He keeps
thatharnessforpullingoutcars,anditalwaysbusts.Thelasttime,though,he
onlychargedsixbitstogetitmended.Nowletmereasonwithhim."


Theyoungmanturnedwithviciousquickness,andforthefirsttimeClaireheard
pidgin German—German as it is spoken between Americans who have never
learnedit,andGermanswhohaveforgottenit:
"Schon sex hundred times Ich höre all about the way you been doing autos,
Zolzac,youverfluchterSchweinhund,andI'llsetthesheriffonyou——"
"Dot ain'd true, maybe einmal die Woche kommt somebody and Ich muss die
ArbeitimmerlassenundindieRegenausgehen,undseh'malhowdiebootssint
mitmudcovered,twodollarsitdon'tpayfordieboots——"
"Nowthat'senough-plentyoutofyou,seiendiebootsverdammt,andmach'dass
du fort gehst—muddy boots, hell!—put mal ein egg in die boots and beat it,
verleicht maybe I'll by golly arrest you myself, weiss du! I'm a special deputy
sheriff."
Theyoungmanstoodstockily.Heseemedtoswellashissomewhatmuddyhand
wasshakendirectlyat,under,andaboutthecircumferenceof,AdolphZolzac's
hairynose.Thefarmerwasstronger,butheretreated.Hetookupthereins.He
whined,"Don'tIgetnothingIbreakdeharness?"
"Sure.Yougetten—years!Andyougetout!"
Fromthirtyyardsuptheroad,Zolzacflungback,"Yout'inkyou'reprettydamn
smart!"Thatwashislastseriousreprisal.
Clumsily,asonenotusedtoit,theyoungmanliftedhiscaptoClaire,showing
straight, wiry, rope-colored hair, brushed straight back from a rather fine
forehead. "Gee, I was sorry to have to swear and holler like that, but it's all
Adolphunderstands.Pleasedon'tthinkthere'smanyofthefolksaroundherelike
him.Theysayhe'sthemeanestmaninthecounty."
"I'm immensely grateful to you, but—do you know much about motors? How
canIgetoutofthismud?"
She was surprised to see the youngster blush. His clear skin flooded. His
engagingsmilecameagain,andhehesitated,"Letmepullyouout."
Shelookedfromherhulkingcartohismechanicalflea.
He answered the look: "I can do it all right. I'm used to the gumbo—regular
mud-hen.Justaddmypowertoyours.Haveyouatow-rope?"


"No.Ineverthoughtofbringingone."
"I'llgetmine."
She walked with him back toward his bug. It lacked not only top and sidecurtains,butevenwindshieldandrunning-board.Itwasatoy—acard-boardbox
on toothpick axles. Strapped to the bulging back was a wicker suitcase partly
coveredbytarpaulin.Fromtheseatpeeredalittlefurryface.
"Acat?"sheexclaimed,ashecameupwithawirerope,extractedfromthetin
back.
"Yes.She'sthecaptainoftheboat.I'mjusttheengineer."
"Whatishername?"
Beforeheanswered theyoungman strode aheadto thefrontofhercar,Claire
obedientlytrottingafterhim.Hestoopedtolookatherfrontaxle.Heraisedhis
head,glancedather,andhewasblushingagain.
"Her name is Vere de Vere!" he confessed. Then he fled back to his bug. He
droveitinfrontoftheGomez-Dep.Theholeintheroaditselfwasasdeepasthe
oneontheedgeofthecornfield,whereshewasstuck,buthechargedit.Shewas
fascinatedbyhisskill.Whereshewouldforatenthofasecondhavehesitated
while choosingthebestcourse, he hurled the bug straight at the hole, plunged
throughwithsheetsofglassyblackwaterarchingoneitherside,thenviciously
twisted the car to the right, to the left, and straight again, as he followed the
trackswiththesolidestbottoms.
Strappedabovethetinyangle-ironstepwhichreplacedhisrunning-boardwasan
old spade. He dug channels in front of the four wheels of her car, so that they
mightgoupinclines,insteadofpushingagainstthestraightwallsofmudthey
hadthrownup.Ontheseinclineshestrewedthebrushshehadbrought,halting
to ask, with head alertly lifted from his stooped huddle in the mud, "Did you
havetogetthisbrushyourself?"
"Yes.Horridwet!"
Hemerelyshookhisheadincommiseration.
Hefastenedthetow-ropetotherearaxleofhiscar,tothefrontofhers."Now
willyoubereadytoputonallyourpowerasIbegintopull?"hesaidcasually,


ratherrespectfully.
Whenthestrugglingbughadpulledthewireropetaut,sheopenedthethrottle.
Theropetrembled.Hercarseemedtodrawsullenlyback.Thenitcameout—out
—reallyout,whichisthemostjoyoussensationanymotoristshalleverknow.In
excitementoveractually movingagain,asfastasanyhealthyyoungsnail,she
droveon,on,theyoungmanaheadgrinningbackather.Nordidshestop,nor
he,tillbothcarsweresafeonmerelythickmud,aquarterofamileaway.
She switched off the power—and suddenly she was in a whirlwind of dizzy
sickeningtiredness.Eveninherabandonmenttoexhaustionshenoticedthatthe
youngmandidnot stare atherbut,keepinghisbacktoher,removedthe towrope, and stowed it away in his bug. She wondered whether it was tact or
yokelishindifference.
Her father spoke for the first time since the Galahad of the tin bug had come:
"Howmuchdoyouthinkweoughttogivethisfellow?"
Now of all the cosmic problems yet unsolved, not cancer nor the future of
povertyaretheflusteringquestions,butthesetwain:Whichisworse,nottowear
eveningclothesatapartyatwhichyoufindeveryoneelsedressed,ortocome
ineveningclothestoahousewhere,itproves,theyareneverworn?And:Which
is worse, not to tip when a tip has been expected; or to tip, when the tip is an
insult?
IndiscomfortofspiritandwetnessofanklesClaireshuddered,"Ohdear,Idon't
believeheexpectsustopayhim.Heseemslikeanawfullyindependentperson.
Maybewe'doffendhimifweoffered——"
"The only reasonable thing to be offended at in this vale of tears is not being
offeredmoney!"
"Just the same—— Oh dear, I'm so tired. But good little Claire will climb out
andbediplomatic."
She pinched her forehead, to hold in her cracking brain, and wabbled out into
new scenes of mud and wetness, but she came up to the young man with the
most rain-washed and careless of smiles. "Won't you come back and meet my
father?He'sterriblygratefultoyou—asIam.Andmaywe——You'veworked
so hard, and about saved our lives. May I pay you for that labor? We're really
muchindebted——"


"Oh,itwasn'tanything.TickledtodeathifIcouldhelpyou."
He heartily shook hands with her father, and he droned, "Pleased to meet you,
Mr.Uh."
"Boltwood."
"Mr. Boltwood. My name is Milt—Milton Daggett. See you have a New York
licenseonyourcar.Wedon'tseebutmightyfewofthosethroughhere.GladI
couldhelpyou."
"Ahyes,Mr.Daggett."Mr.Boltwoodwasuninterestedlyfumblinginhismoney
pocket.BehindMiltDaggett,Claireshookherheadwildly,rattlingherhandsas
though she were playing castanets. Mr. Boltwood shrugged. He did not
understand. His relations with young men in cheap raincoats were entirely
monetary.Theydidsomethingforyou,andyoupaidthem—preferablynottoo
much—and they ceased to be. Whereas Milt Daggett respectfully but stolidly
continuedtobe,andMr.HenryBoltwood'sowndaughterwashaltingthemarch
ofaffairsbyaskingirrelevantquestions:
"Didn'tweseeyoubackin—whatwasthatvillagewecamethroughbackabout
twelvemiles?"
"Schoenstrom?"suggestedMilt.
"Yes, I think that was it. Didn't we pass you or something? We stopped at a
garagethere,tochangeatire."
"Idon'tthinkso.Iwasintown,though,thismorning.Say,uh,didyouandyour
fathergrabanyeats——"
"A——"
"Imean,didyougetdinnerthere?"
"No.Iwishwehad!"
"Well say, I didn't either, and—I'd be awfully glad if you folks would have
somethingtoeatwithmenow."
Clairetriedtogivehimasmile,butthebestshecoulddowastolendhimone.
She could not associate interesting food with Milt and his mud-slobbered, tincovered, dun-painted Teal bug. He seemed satisfied with her dubious grimace.


Byhissuggestiontheydroveaheadtoaspotwherethecarscouldbeparkedon
firmgrassbeneathoaks.Ontheway,Mr.Boltwoodliftedhis voiceindismay.
Histouchofnervousprostrationhadnotmadehimqueerorviolent;heretained
atouchingfaithingoodfood.
"We might find some good little hotel and have some chops and just some
mushroomsandpeas,"insistedthemanfromBrooklynHeights.
"Oh, I don't suppose the country hotels are really so awfully good," she
speculated."Andlook—thatnicefunnyboy.Wecouldn'thurthisfeelings.He's
havingsomuchfunoutofbeingaGoodSamaritan."
FromthemysteriousroundedbackofhiscarMiltDaggettdrewatinystove,to
be heated by a can of solidified alcohol, a frying pan that was rather large for
dollsbutrathersmallforsquare-fingeredhands,ajarofbacon,eggsinabag,a
coffeepot,acanofcondensedmilk,andalitterofunsortedtinplatesandchina
cups.While,byhisrequest,Clairescouredtheplatesandcups,hemadebacon
and eggs and coffee, the little stove in the bottom of his car sheltered by the
cook'sbendingoverit.ThesmelloffoodmadeClaireforgivingtowardthefact
thatshewaswetthrough;thattheraincontinuedtodrizzledownherneck.
Heliftedhishandanddemanded,"Takeyourshoesoff!"
"Uh?"
Hegulped.Hestammered,"Imean—Imeanyourshoesaresoakedthrough.If
you'llsitinthecar,I'llputyourshoesupbytheengine.It'sprettywellheated
fromracingitinthemud.Youcangetyourstockingsdryunderthecowl."
Shewasamusedbytheelaboratenesswithwhichhe didn'tglanceatherwhile
shetookoffherlowshoesandslippedherquitetoothinblackstockingsunder
theprotectingtincowl.Shereflected,"Hehassuchanice,awkwardgentleness.
Butsuchbadtaste!They'rereallyquitegoodankles.Apparentlyanklesarenot
done,inTealbugcircles.Hissistersdon'tevenhavelimbs.Butdofairieshave
sisters?Heisafairy.WhenI'moutofthemudhe'llturnhisraincoatintoapair
oflordlywhitewings,andvanish.Butwhatwillbecomeofthecat?"
Thushertiredbrain,likeasquirrelinarevolvingcage,whileshesatprimlyand
scraped at a clot of rust on a tin plate and watched him put on the bacon and
eggs.WonderingifcatswereusedforthispurposeintheDaggettfamily,sheput
soaked,unhappyVeredeVereonherfeet,toherowngreatcomfortandthecat's


delight. It was an open car, and the rain still rained, and a strange young man
wasafootfromhertendingthenotverycracklyfire,butrarelyhadClairefeltso
domestic.
Miltwasapparentlystrugglingtosaysomething.Afterseveralbobsofhishead
heventured,"You'resowet!I'dlikeforyoutotakemyraincoat."
"No!Really!I'malreadysoakedthrough.Youkeepdry."
He was unhappy about it. He plucked at a button of the coat. She turned him
fromthesubject."IhopeLadyVeredeVereisgettingwarm,too."
"Seemstobe.She'skindofdemanding.Shewantedalittlecarofherown,butI
didn'tthinkshecouldkeepupwithme,notonalonghike."
"Alittlecar?Withherpawsonthetinywheel?Oh—sweet!Areyougoingfar,
Mr.Daggett?"
"Yes,quiteaways.ToSeattle,Washington."
"Oh,really?Extraordinary.We'regoingthere,too."
"Honest?Youdrivingalltheway?Oh,no,ofcourseyourfather——"
"No,hedoesn'tdrive.Bytheway,Ihopeheisn'ttoomiserablebackthere."
"I'llbedarned.BothofusgoingtoSeattle.That'swhattheycallacoincidence,
isn'tit!HopeI'llseeyouontheroad,sometime.ButIdon'tsupposeIwill.Once
you'reoutofthemud,yourGomezwillsimplylosemyTeal."
"Notnecessarily.You'rethebetterdriver.AndIshalltakeiteasy.Areyougoing
tostaylonginSeattle?"Itwasnotmerelyapolitedinner-paymentquestion.She
wondered;shecouldnotplacethisfresh-cheeked,unworldlyyoungmansofar
fromhishome.
"Why,Ikindofhope——Governmentrailroad,Alaska.I'mgoingtotrytoget
in on that, somehow. I've never been out of Minnesota in my life, but there's
couplemountainsandoceansandthingsIthoughtI'dliketosee,soIjustputmy
suitcaseandVeredeVereinthemachine,andstartedout.Iburndistillateinstead
ofgas,soitdoesn'tcostmuch.IfIeverhappentohavefivewholedollars,why,I
mightgoontoJapan!"
"Thatwouldbejolly."


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