King of the Air

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    King of the Air

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    “My dear,” said Mrs. Greatorex, as she handed him his motor goggles, “are you sure you will not take Timothy? What if it breaks down?”

    “My love,” said Mr. Greatorex in his emphatic way, “I do not want Timothy. It will not break down. If it does, I flatter myself I am competent to make any necessary repairs. I shall be back at seven-thirty—in good time for dinner; and I hope and trust the soup will not be cold.”

    He gave a preliminary honk! honk! looking round with a smile that plainly said, “There! you see that everything is in order!” Then he steered the car accurately down the drive to the road.

    His house lying in the heart of the country, Mr. Greatorex did not fear to meet milestones in the shape of policemen with stop-watches, who would take his number and afterwards confront him in court. In a minute or two the car was whirling along the road at a rate which, it is to be feared, gravely exceeded the speed limit. All went merry as a marriage-bell, and Mr. Greatorex was at the height of exhilaration and satisfaction, when, just as he was mounting the acclivity of Five Oaks Bridge, without even a click in warning, the machine came to a dead stop. Mr. Greatorex put the engine out of gear, then tried to start it by turning the starting handle; but finding this of no avail he clapped on the brake, skipped out of the car, removed his goggles and his gloves, and set about making an examination.

    On the other side of the bridge, sitting on the bank of the stream, was a boy, gazing with round eyes at a float that hung from a line attached to a long home-made rod of yew. He had heard the clatter of the motor-car as it came 11 along the road; he was aware that the noise had suddenly ceased; but, being a lad of great concentration, he did not give a thought to what was happening out of sight at the further end of the bridge. He had come out for an afternoon’s fishing; two or three fat carp lay beside him on the bank; and noticing at this moment a slight movement of the float, he was soon oblivious of everything except the fish on his hook.

    Half an hour passed. Three more fish had rewarded his patience; then, satisfied with his catch, the boy rose, methodically wound up his line, and, leaving reel, rod and basket on the bank, walked up on to the bridge, to investigate the meaning of sundry strange noises he had heard, vaguely, in the intervals between the bites.

    As he gained the foot of the bridge, where a motor-car stood somewhat askew across the road, he caught sight of a pair of brown boots projecting from beneath the machine. Nothing but the boots was visible; but they moved, and it was clear that they shod the feet of some living person, for there came puffs and grunts and explosive monosyllables resembling those he had sometimes heard on the golf-links near his home.

    The boy leant against the parapet, stuck his hands into his pockets, and watched. By and by there was an ejaculation of peculiar vehemence; the boots moved out into the road, followed by a pair of grey-trousered legs, a soiled and rumpled motor-coat, and a very red and dirty face; the boy took especial note of a black patch in the very centre of a shiny skull.

    Puffing and blowing, Mr. Greatorex crawled from under his new car, and stood upon his feet—a rather disreputable-looking object—staring wrathfully at the offending car. He had not perceived the small spectator.

    “Wish I had brought Timothy!” he muttered. “Confound the brute!”

    He looked at his grimy hands, at his mud-stained clothes, up the road, down the road, and finally at the boy, who had at last made an impression on his retina.

    “Hi, boy!” he said.

    The boy approached with a shy smile. Mr. Greatorex scowled, conscious of his plight.

    “Boy, tell me, and don’t grin, is there a smith anywhere in this neighbourhood?”

    “In the village, sure, measter.”

    “Where is the village?”

    “About three miles away, over yonder.”

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