Mr. Direck assented, and then, after a momentary hesitation, rewarded the station-master’s services.
“Ready?” asked Mr. Britling.
“That’s all right sir,” the station-master reverberated.
With a rather wide curve Mr. Britling steered his way out of the station into the highroad.
And now it seemed was the time for Mr. Direck to make his meditated speeches. But an unexpected complication was to defeat this intention. Mr. Direck perceived almost at once that Mr. Britling was probably driving an automobile for the first or second or at the extremest the third time in his life.
The thing became evident when he struggled to get into the high gear—an attempt that stopped the engine, and it was even more startlingly so when Mr. Britling narrowly missed a collision with a baker’s cart at a corner. “I pressed the accelerator,” he explained afterwards, “instead of the brake. One does at first. I missed him by less than a foot.” The estimate was a generous one. And after that Mr. Direck became too anxious not to distract his host’s thoughts to persist with his conversational openings. An attentive silence came upon both gentlemen that was broken presently by a sudden outcry from Mr. Britling and a great noise of tormented gears. “Damn!” cried Mr. Britling, and “How the devil?”
Mr. Direck perceived that his host was trying to turn the car into a very beautiful gateway, with gate-houses on either side. Then it was manifest that Mr. Britling had abandoned this idea, and then they came to a stop a dozen yards or so along the main road. “Missed it,” said Mr. Britling, and took his hands off the steering wheel and blew stormily, and then whistled some bars of a fretful air, and became still.
“Do we go through these ancient gates?” asked Mr. Direck.
Mr. Britling looked over his right shoulder and considered problems of curvature and distance. “I think,” he said, “I will go round outside the park. It will take us a little longer, but it will be simpler than backing and manoeuvring here now.... These electric starters are remarkably convenient things. Otherwise now I should have to get down and wind up the engine.”
After that came a corner, the rounding of which seemed to present few difficulties until suddenly Mr. Britling cried out, “Eh! eh! EH! Oh, damn!”
Then the two gentlemen were sitting side by side in a rather sloping car that had ascended the bank and buried its nose in a hedge of dog-rose and honeysuckle, from which two missel thrushes, a blackbird and a number of sparrows had made a hurried escape....
“Perhaps,” said Mr. Britling without assurance, and after a little peaceful pause, “I can reverse out of this.”