As soon as motor cars came in Chuck had the raciest possible. With it he managed to frighten a good many people half out of their wits. He had no accidents, partly because he was a very good heady driver, and partly because those whom he encountered were quick witted. One day while touring in the south he came down grade around a bend squarely upon a car ascending. Chuck’s car was going too fast to be stopped. He tried desperately to wrench it from the road, but perceived at once that this was impossible without a fatal skid. Fortunately the only turnout for a half mile happened to be just at that spot. The other man managed to jump his car out on this little side ledge and to jam on his brakes at the very brink, just as Chuck flashed by. His mud guards slipped under those at the rear of the other car.
“Close,” observed Chuck to Joe Merrill his companion, “I was going a little too fast,” and thought no more of it.
But the other man, being angry, turned around and followed him into town. At the garage he sought Chuck out.
“Didn’t you pass me on the grade five miles back?” he inquired.
“I may have done so,” replied Chuck, courteously.
“Don’t you realize that you were going altogether too fast for a mountain grade? that you were completely out of control?”
“I’m afraid I’ll have to admit that that is so.”
“Well,” said the other man, with difficulty suppressing his anger. “What do you suppose would have happened if I hadn’t just been able to pull out?”
“Why,” replied Chuck, blandly, “I suppose I’d have had to pay heavily; that’s all.”
“Pay!” cried the man, then checked himself with an effort, “so you imagine you are privileged to the road, do whatever damage you please—and pay! I’ll just take your number.”
“That is unnecessary. My name is Charles Gates,” replied Chuck, “of San Francisco.”
The man appeared never to have heard of this potent cognomen. A month later the trial came off. It was most inconvenient. Chuck was in Oregon, hunting. He had to travel many hundreds of miles, to pay an expensive lawyer. In the end he was fined. The whole affair disgusted him, but he went through with it well, testified without attempt at evasion. It was a pity; but evidently the other man was no gentleman.
“I acknowledged I was wrong,” he told Joe Merrill. He honestly felt that this would have been sufficient had the cases been reversed. In answer to a question as to whether he considered it fair to place the burden of safety on the other man, he replied:
“Among motorists it is customary to exchange the courtesies of the road—and sometimes the discourtesies,” he added with a faint scorn.
The earthquake and fire of 1906 caught him in town. During three days and nights he ran his car for the benefit of the sufferers; going practically without food or sleep, exercising the utmost audacity and ingenuity in getting supplies, running fearlessly many dangers.