“Some day you say, I shall be able to drive without thinking?”
“Sure! You won’t have to use your bean any more’n when you walk.”
At nights, when no one knew, Mr. Todd would steal into the barn and, after performing the motions of winding me up, would sit at the wheel and make believe to drive.
“I advance the spark,” he would mutter, “I release the brake, I set the gear, and ever so gently I let in the clutch. Ha! We move, we are off! As we gather speed I pull the gear-lever back, then over, then forward. Now, was that right? At any rate we are going north, let us say, in Witherspoon Street. I observe a limousine approaching from the east in a course perpendicular to mine. It has the right of way, Willie says, so I slip the clutch out, at the same time checking the flow of gasoline....”
Thus in imagination he would drive; get out, crank, get in again, and roll away in fancy, earnestly practising by the hour in the dark and silent barn.
“I’m getting it,” he would declare. “I really believe I’m getting it!”
And he got it. In his driving examination he stalled only once, stopping dead across a trolley track in deference to a push-cart. But he was out and in and off again in ten seconds, upbraiding me like an old-timer.
Said the inspector, stepping out at last and surely offering a prayer of thanks to his patron saint: “You’re pretty reckless yet on corners, my friend.” But he scribbled his O.K.
The written examination in the City Hall Mr. Todd passed with high honours. Willie, who was with us on the fateful morning, exclaimed in admiration: “One hundred! Well, Mr. Todd, you’re alive, after all—from the neck up, at least.”
In gratitude for the compliment, the glowing graduate pressed a bonus of two dollars into the panegyrist’s palm. “Willie,” he exulted, “did you hear the inspector call me reckless?”
I can scarcely think of the Todd of the succeeding weeks as the same Todd who bought me. He changed even in looks. He would always be a second, of course, but his frame had rigidity now, his lamps sparkled, he gripped the wheel with purposeful hands and trampled the pedals in the way an engine likes. In his new assurance he reminded me strongly of a man who drove me for a too brief while in my younger days—a rare fellow, now doing time, I believe, in the penitentiary.
No longer Todd and I needed the traffic cop’s “Get on out of there, you corn-sheller!” to push us past the busy intersection of Broad and Main streets. We conquered our tendency to scamper panic-stricken for the sidewalk at the raucous bark of a jitney bus. In the winding roads of the park we learned to turn corners on two wheels and rest the other pair for the reverse curve.
One remembered day we went for a run in the country. On a ten-mile piece of new macadam he gave me all the gas I craved. It was the final test, the consummation, and little old Mr. Todd was all there. I felt so good I could have blown my radiator cap off to him.