“No! Outside lever! Outside! Outside!” contradicted the Little Girl.
“Shut your darned mouth!” screeched the White Linen Nurse, her hand on the throttle as she tried the self starter.
Bruised as he was, wretched, desperately endangered there under the car the Senior Surgeon could almost have grinned at the girl’s terse, unconscious mimicry of his own most venomous tones.
Then with all the forty-eight lusty, ebullient years of his life snatched from his lips like an untasted cup, and one single noxious, death-flavored second urged,—forced,—crammed down his choking throat, he felt the great car quicken and start.
“God!” said the Senior Surgeon. Just “God!” The God of mud, he meant! The God of brackish grass! The God of a man lying still hopeful under more than two tons’ weight of unaccountable mechanism, with a novice in full command.
Up in her crimson leather cushions, free-lunged, free-limbed, the White Linen Nurse heard the smothered cry. Clear above the whirr of wheels, the whizz of clogs, the one word sizzled like a red-hot poker across her chattering consciousness. Tingling through the grasp of her fingers on the vibrating wheel, stinging through the sole of her foot that hovered over the throbbing clutch, she sensed the agonized appeal. “Short lever—spark—long lever—gas!” she persisted resolutely. “It must be right! It must!”
Jerkily then, and blatantly unskilfully, with riotous puffs and spinning of wheels, the great car started,—faltered,—balked a bit,—then dragged crushingly across the Senior Surgeon’s flattened body, and with a great wanton burst of speed tore down the sloping meadow into the brook—rods away. Clamping down the brakes with a wrench and a racket like the smash of a machine-shop the White Linen Nurse jumped out into the brook, and with one wild terrified glance behind her staggered back up the long grassy slope to the Senior Surgeon.
Mechanically through her wooden-feeling lips she forced the greeting that sounded most cheerful to her. “It’s not much fun, sir,—running an auto,” she gasped. “I don’t believe I’d like it!”
Half propped up on one elbow,—still dizzy with mental chaos, still paralyzed with physical inertia,—the Senior Surgeon lay staring blankly all around him. Indifferently for an instant his stare included the White Linen Nurse. Then glowering suddenly at something way beyond her, his face went perfectly livid.
“Good God! The—the car’s on fire!” he mumbled.
“Yes, sir,” said the White Linen Nurse. “Why! Didn’t you know it, sir?”
Headlong the Senior Surgeon pitched over on the grass,—his last vestige of self-control stripped from him,—horror unspeakable racking him sobbingly from head to toe.
Whimperingly the Little Girl came crawling to him, and settling down close at his feet began with her tiny lace handkerchief to make futile dabs at the mud-stains on his gray silk stockings. “Never mind, Father,” she coaxed, “we’ll get you clean sometime.”