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Granddaddy's Horseless Carriage
Broken Saw, SD
June 7th, 1908
“What in Heaven’s name is this child doing here? Pickle relish! Well, this is a pretty can of worms!”
“I’m your granddaughter, Josephina,” I explained patiently, “come to spend the summer! I came on the twelve o’ clock Prairie Rose Express, ‘way from Chicago.”
“Harrumph! Well, you can get right back on that train and go back to your rich mama and daddy in Chicago. Why can’t they take care of you?”
“They can take care of me just fine, Grumsie. Only they got tired of me, you know, doing things—sliding down the banister, crashing into servants, climbing the chandelier, roller-skating in the parlor, and spilling teapots. Mama says I’m disgraceful for a young lady of thirteen.”
“Harrumph!” Grumsie said again. Grumsie is dreadfully fond of saying, “Harrumph!”, isn’t she?
“Anyhow, the train’s gone. I’d like to put away my things, if you know what I mean.”
“Pickle relish,” muttered Grumsie. Her face wrinkled like a prune. “Just look at the child. Velvet valise, peacock-feather hat, kid-leather boots. Unicycle! Canary in a cage! She won’t let that ridiculous bird fly free, not in my house she won’t!”
“Roger K. Maroony is a good bird,” I said, reproachful-like. “Here, Roger, say hello to Grumsie. Where are your manners? Roger will do tricks, Grumsie, but only if I feed him chocolate caramels.”
Grumsie asked me, “Just what kind of little girl are you? Where did you go to school?”
I said, “Oh, I’ve gone to the Young Ladies Academy on Forty-fourth Street ever so long. Mama makes me. I adore poetry and I’m trying to write my own plays for the theater. And I can hook pot-holders, and I can play seven songs on the piano, and I can even sing a little. I got a C in penmanship, which isn’t fair, because I write the most flowery compositions in the whole school! I can speak German and I only mispronounce two-thirds of the verbs. I’m not exactly a Sunday-School model little girl, but one can’t be everything in this world, can’t he?”
“Well, you’ll have to try. You’ll have to put your silly pampered little featherbrain to some good use. We have no servants, and you will do your share. You will tend the hogs and wash the dishes and straighten up the parlor good and proper.”
“I’ll do anything to preserve the Maroony family honor,” I vowed solemnly. “I would cut off my foot and cast it into the coal-heater for you, dearest Grumsie. I would scourge my bare shoulders with a riding-whip. I would drink kerosene.”
I’d hardly started upstairs when Grumsie hollered, “JOSIE-PHINE-A!”
“I should like to be called Joey, if you please. Josephina is so stuffy. Joey is a boy’s name, and I wish I was born a boy. Why was I born a girl?”
“What were Xavier and Charlotte thinking?” Grumsie said. “Didn’t write me or nothin’. Just send the kid over, sudden as a prairie tornado! I s’ppose they were too busy gadding in Europe to care. Dog-blasted rich folks, what do they know? The child’s a regular brat, that’s plain to see. ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child,’ I say. Time that child had a good dose of birch-rod medicine. If she was mine to raise, I’d take her over my knee and whack her till she yells for mercy! I’d scalp her like an Indian.”
And Grumsie stalked into the kitchen and pulled out the flask of headache whiskey which she used for trying situations. I thought Grumsie was for temperance, but we can’t be everything in this world, can’t we? I was fairly certain that she spit tobacco, too.
It took five trips to take everything upstairs to the spare-room, canary and unicycle and all. And I unpacked my things. How wonderful to sleep in a spare room! Hooked-lace curtains in the spare room windows give it such an air. There is a gigantic stuffed buffalo-head, and framed daguerreotypes of dead relatives. All the dead Maroony ancestors are ugly and unsmiling. I flopped down on the quilts, dusty boots and all, and buried my head in the straw ticking.
I said, “I believe I’m going to like it here. In fact, I don’t believe I’ll ever leave!”
I’ve been a week here in Broken Saw. Things get stranger and stranger!
Just presently I’m stuck up in the spare-room. Of all the bad luck! It’s a sunshiny Sunday afternoon, and the world calls me to come and play! All I can do is sit here and daydream. Grumsie will bring up my supper-tray of bread and butter at six o’ clock. Oh deary me, it’s so romantic to think that I’m a princess locked in a dark tower. Although what happened this afternoon was not at all romantic. It wasn’t very ladylike, either.
I put on my best hat and nice polished boots and trotted off to Sunday School with my Catechism and Hymn-book. I was terribly good and didn’t fidget one bit during Mr. Waspwood’s sermon, “The Heathen in his Blindness.” Grumsie glared at me all very sternly—I suppose she thinks that I’m the heathen in his blindness. Anyhow, while I sat very still, my imagination ran riot. I thought the most delicious things.
Our neighbor, Mr. Harold Christy, has a sow named Veronica which just had piglets, and when I saw those teeny-weeny little things with their eyes shut fast, I thought, “Oh, you poor dears!” I said, “No, Joey, you will do no such thing!” But I did, before I could think. I just took the runt of the litter, because I couldn’t bear to have Mr. Christy’s dirty and stupid hired boy, Jenkins, kill it with an axe. I took it home under my dress and sneaked it into the stove.
Grumsie had the Ladies’ Mission Society over for tea. I made the layer cake and sandwiches. I said, “They’re onion-paste and dill. That’s my favorite.” The ladies looked rather aghast as I said, “The layer-cake dropped out of the oven, but I frosted over the gash.” I told them how Roger K. Maroony caught a rat and mauled its skeleton. They sipped tea and talked about the heathen in his blindness and the naked children in the Philippines and such things, and I felt very solemn in doing my duty. Grumsie said, “Would you please take that apple-bread out from cooling in the oven?” And I cracked open the door, and the little pig gave a terrific shriek and came tumbling out. Dear Mrs. Christy nearly fainted dead away as the pig crawled on her lap. I said, “For Heaven’s sake, you’re scaring the poor thing!” Mrs. Christy stood up and cried, “You wicked, wicked girl! You stole that pig!” And I said, “Your husband’s hired boy was going to kill it with an axe. How’d you like to be killed with an axe?”
Deary me, how hard it is to be good! There’s no feeling like the feeling of neglecting your duty. I believe I have disgraced the Maroony family honor. I am very bad indeed and I believe I must do penance for my crime.
Oh, what a day! What a day! I wouldn’t trade places with saints and angels, I’m so happy.
Granddaddy took me to the County Fair and Auto Show in Horseshoe while he picked up some seed and parcel of garden-rakes. Granddaddy asked me, what did I wanted to be when I grew up, a musician in Paris or a fine sculptor or painter? I said an outlaw like Jesse James. And Granddaddy just laughed, “Ho, ho, ho, hi, hi, hi!” Granddaddy is fat with a curled U of a mustache like Saint Nicholas and Grumsie said he’s perfectly ridiculous. I say he’s perfectly lovely. As Granddaddy hitched Bessy to the surrey and took the whip, he said, “Pretty soon Bessy will be out of a job, Chickabidee. They’re making carriages run by gas motors, without horses or anything. They’re making ‘em so cheap every farmer in America can have one!”
“How does a gas motor work, Granddaddy?” I asked. And he began explaining about throttles, gear-levers, gaskets, steering power, and such exciting things. I said, “Gee, I wish I had a horseless carriage. If I asked Daddy, he’d get it for me right away—he gets me everything. I just have to start yelling!”
Granddaddy’s laugher nearly shook the surrey off the dirt road. It’s so nice to have a kindred heart! We had a very nice time. At the Auto Show, the screaming people pressed three layers thick.
Granddaddy said, “Granger Rockefeller’s Pierce Arrow is racing Jenkins’ Oldsmobile. That Jenkins is one stuck-up hired boy for Mr. Harold Christy. He claims that he’ll send rockets to the moon before long. He says, ‘A car? What’s a car? I’ll invent a flying car! I’ve got the parts in the barn, all ready. And you’ll be stuck on the ground in your cars, and I’ll be soaring high above the clouds!’”
A cloud of choking dust exploded, and a horrid smell, and then I saw a very dirty boy driving the Oldsmobile. Jenkins cried, “Take your dog-blasted Pierce Arrow and go to the devil, you Rockefeller trash! I’m goin’ home to build my flying car!”
“I haven’t seen the last of you, high-falutin’ turkey-boy,” Mr. Rockefeller said. “I’ll see you at the 1909 Grand Prix, and I’ll blast you from here to Transylvania.”
Granddaddy asked, “What is your favorite flavor of ice-cream? I’m partial to ice-cream myself.” I said, “I like chocolate, strawberry, pineapple, root beer, New York cherry, and Tutti-Frutti, please.” My ice-cream cone had all those flavors. I got pretzels, peanuts, licorice sticks, gumdrops, Coca-Cola, and candy apples. And I came home and got fearfully sick and Grumsie had to give me hot-water bottles and Mexican tea, which is the nastiest stuff, and a scolding besides.
Oh, but what a day! What a beau-ti-ful, marvelous, spectacular, shining day! Granddaddy told me his GREAT SECRET over the ice-cream—he got me the ice-cream so I wouldn’t tell Grumsie his GREAT SECRET.
Granddaddy said, “I’ve sent in a loan to buy us a horseless carriage—the very finest horseless carriage in America—a Pierce Arrow. Grumsie can’t know. She says that cars are the Devil’s own invention, but we’ll change her mind, won’t we, Chickabidee?”
“How will you pay for it, Granddaddy?” I asked.
“We’ll wait and see. We can’t get drought and tornadoes two years in a row—this year’s crops will work. I’m gambling on it. It’s the Maroony family honor.”
All the way home, I couldn’t say anything except, “Won’t Grumsie be surprised? Won’t Grumsie be surprised?”
Grumsie was surprised, all right.
She was more than surprised. She called Granddaddy a lot of names, like rascal and devil. But the Pierce Arrow is ours—our very own! We’re rich folks! I begged Granddaddy, “Teach me to drive! Please, please, please, please!”
Granddaddy said, “Chickabidee, first I must learn to drive myself.”
We went driving this afternoon down Granger Rockefeller’s dirt road. Please note that I use the word “driving” loosely. It was the most exciting day of my life!
Granddaddy got the Pierce Arrow down at Jennings’ Garage and said, “Chickabidee, what do you say we name it?” I suggested One Little Pig. I suggested Sweet Lizzie and Dune Cruiser and Dirt Devil and Blind Heathen. Granddaddy said, “Let’s name it Blind Heathen.” I don’t think that’s a nice name, and Grumsie doesn’t approve, but Granddaddy’s made up his mind. We got the Pierce Arrow, and said, “It’s perfectly wonderful. Really swell! Sweet! Spectacular! Marvelous! Greatest car that ever was!”
Granddaddy got into the seat—he was so fat that he took up half the car—and grabbed the crank. He said, “There’s a right and wrong way to pull a crank, Chickabidee.” And he grabbed and grabbed. And nothing happened! “Blasted thing’s no good,” Granddaddy muttered, wiping his forehead. He scowled and cursed, and I said, “Crank has more than one definition, Granddaddy.” Just then, with no warning, Blind Heathen heaved, chug-chug-chugging. I screamed, “We’re off, Granddaddy!”
We’d forgotten only one thing—dusters. Dust flew up under us, got in our eyes, made us gasp and choke. My clothes were disgraceful in five minutes. Granger Rockefeller was hauling pig’s potatoes and hollered, “So you’ve joined, Sebastian? Thought you were too leather-headed to drive horses. You tried to drive cows back in them day.”
I just hollered back, “Blind Heathen! Blind Heathen! Blind Heathen!” It felt so good to be naughty!
“This is life, Chickabidee,” Granddaddy said. “You just lean back at the steering wheel, stare at the sky, and watch the world. Not a care!” And he began to sing, “Come and ride with me, Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile.”
Just then I smelled a horrible burning and hollered, “Granddaddy, the engine’s afire!” He had to stop right away, but he couldn’t—he just spun in circles in Granger Rockefeller’s fields. “Granddaddy, look out for that fence!”
When Granddaddy finally stopped, I dashed to the wells to water the engine, which was pouring smoke. Mr. Rockefeller said, “You gonna drive that thing home, or do I need to haul it?”
“We’re fine. We’re just dandy,” Granddaddy said, but he looked bewildered. “It was simply beautiful, riding this road. All downhill.”
“Well, I don’t pity you, Sebastian Maroony. Now you’ve got to go uphill. Serves you right for ruining my fence! I swear, you’ll pay me, or else I’ll—”
This Pierce Arrow business is getting out of hand. Granddaddy can’t eat or sleep. All he does is fix Blind Heathen. And he keeps rambling about her machinery, his eyes glazed and unseeing. Grumsie said, “Pickle relish, it’s a jinx. That man’s bewitched! If I put gears on his supper-plate and gasoline in his coffee, he wouldn’t notice!”
PSSST…I have a DELICIOUS secret. Tomorrow is the Glorious Fourth in Broken Saw, and I will be there. I will be stuffing my face with popcorn balls and gumdrops. And I will race Granddaddy’s Pierce Arrow with Jenkins!!! Did you ever hear of such a thing? Of course, Granddaddy’s just teaching me to drive. Jenkins stopped by our place while Granddaddy crawled underneath Blind Heathen, and he gave me a terrible black look. He had a pet pig with him, dressed in doll clothes. My heart just broke for that poor pig. Jenkins is the Evil King of Pigs—he sets them drunk on sour apples and chases them with butcher knives.
He put the evil on me. I’m afraid he’s planning something awful…to burn our barns, kidnap Bessy, or worse yet, steal Blind Heathen! I must save the Maroony family honor. That hired boy will never defeat us!
It was everything you’d except from the Fourth of July—and MORE.
Granddaddy took me into Broken Saw in Blind Heathen, while Grumsie stayed home to make us supper. “Pickle relish! Such nonsense goings-on,” she said. Granddaddy told me, “Look at that flag, that grand old flag! Chickabidee, there’s nothing prouder than being American.”
I recited glibly, “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator will certain inalienable rights, namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ The pursuit of happiness—that’s my philosophy. I do whatever I want and get as much fun as I can.”
Granddaddy looked me sternly in the eye. “Whoa, there,” he said, like I was Bessy, which made me mad. But not for long.
In front of Pigstew’s General Store, about fifteen automobiles were lined up, but none of them were so fine as Blind Heathen, I was happy to note. The summer sun flashed off her red paint, and she shone like a red-hot cinnamon drop. Surely Blind Heathen was the very horselessest of horseless carriages!
Jenkins was busy polishing his Oldsmobile with spit on his undershirt. He gave me a very black look and whispered, “You pig-stealing little thief—you little idiot! Your granddaddy’s got the finest car, doesn’t he? Well, it can’t fly. You’ll never beat that!” And he stalked away.
All through the Mayor’s speech, which was very long and dull, I thought mean thoughts about Jenkins and his Oldsmobile. And then General Burns hobbled up to tell about his experiences in the Mexican War. I thought this might be interesting, as General Burns was rumored to be one hundred ten years old and had a sawed-off arm that was just a greasy blackened stump. Anyhow, I was hot and my feet were asleep and my eardrums were clean worn out and General Burns wanted to talk until he was one thousand years old. As General Burns attempted to bow and his daughter led him offstage, I got up quietly in the hubbub and slipped away to Blind Heathen.
Jenkins was waiting beside his Oldsmobile. He was shirtless. He was still spitting and polishing. He looked up at me, like he’d been expecting me.
“Good,” he said. “Leave that old rat to squeak on by himself. Let’s get down to business.”
“What kind of business?” I swallowed hard.
“Try this—if you can’t beat this princess here, I’ll stop by your granddaddy’s house with a butcher-knife tonight.”
I hoped he wasn’t serious. It isn’t nice to joke about such things! So I said, “I’m not letting any hired-boy kill us!”
“Wanna try?” Jenkins said. He hopped into the driver’s seat of his Oldsmobile.
“You bet,” I said. But I didn’t feel so brave.
Grab the crank…grab the crank…grab the crank! Never did a crank seem so stubborn. “Please, Blind Heathen,” I cried, “Don’t let me down now! Please behave yourself…”
Suddenly I was blasting down the road with dust-devils whirling up all around me. The engine’s chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-BOOM! roared in my ears. Sweat trickled down my forehead and mixed with the dust to make me a regular mudslide. I didn’t care about my looks at a time like this, for Jenkins was gaining on me.
“JENKINS!” I hollered, “CAN YOU HEAR ME? I’ll take the high road, and you’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Horseshoe afore ya!
“Sure,” Jenkins yelled back, and he swerved onto Higginson Road.
Now, with that devil out of sight, I needed to think up a plan, for this was getting desperate. And I wasn’t entirely sure how to use the brakes. Why is this car shaking? Does it have the heaves?
Chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-BOOM! My eardrums were splitting open! “Go away, infernal racket! I can’t hear myself think!” I shouted. And then—oh, how dreadful! —a hill loomed above me. I pushed on the gas with everything in me, but Blind Heathen had given up. I sat there helpless and thought of defeat…
After ten minutes, I had to go ask a farmer for help. Gritting my teeth, I left Blind Heathen quivering in the road. The farmer stood on the porch, spitting tobacco without a care in the world. His backyard swarmed with wild turkeys.
“Out of here, you gasoline-stinkin’ scum!” roared the farmer. “I put nails on this road! Get out with that beast of yours, or I’ll shoot!”
“But it’s an emergency! I’m in a race with a hired boy—and this hired boy threatened to stab my grandparents to death in their sleep! You wouldn’t want that dark cloud of remorse haunting you all your days, for killing a little orphan’s grandparents because you wouldn’t push a horseless—”
“Go home and stitch hankies, little girl. You got no business fooling around with that newfangled son-of-a-devil. Run along, go home, I say!” And I saw the rifle in his scarred, weather-worn hands.
“I can shoot, too,” I burst out. “I can shoot good.”
“What’s a little girl like you want with a rifle?” He laughed a mean, choking laugh.
I scowled. “I can too shoot. They call me the Wild West Legend Sharpshooter. Besides, I’m a suffragette. I will shoot the heads off five wild roosters in your backyard if you push my horseless carriage uphill.”
“I’d like to see you try.” He grinned a sour rotten-toothed grin and didn’t move.
“Give me the rifle,” I said. And I grabbed it in my sweaty palms and marched out back. “Blasted wild turkeys, you git!” I shrieked with all the ferocity of my heart. “You’ll meet your fate now, yes you will! Don’t look smug at me!”
Pow! Pow! Pow! I had never fired a rifle before in my life, but now I did…I was Joey the Wild West Legend Sharpshooter. Blood spattered around the yard. Poor turkeys tore about in headless despair.
Grunting and spitting, Mr. Farmer grudgingly pushed Blind Heathen uphill. I said, “Thanks a million. You have saved our lives and our family honor. I am forever indebted to your gracious generosity. If I knew a leprechaun, I’d give you ten million pots of gold. I would—”
“Go on now, Missy. And don’t show your face on my property again!”
And so Blind Heathen chugged away, snorting and spitting oil, shaking harder and faster every minute. “I can’t win against Jenkins, not now!” I wailed. “When I get to Horseshoe, ‘twill be all over. It’s been a good life, Blind Heathen. I shall miss you dearly—the greatest car that ever was in all the United States!”
The sign said, WELCOME TO HORSESHOE, SOUTH DAKOTA, POP. 800, INCLUDING ONE DROOLING IDIOT. “Who’s the drooling idiot now?” I demanded. “It’s got to be Jenkins!”
And as I passed the Horseshoe Township Post Office, Blind Heathen gave up the ghost. The left-front wheel went flying…flying across town, into the fields and sky. And it shook so bad that I could hardly hold the steering wheel.
Who are all these people? What are they doing here? Why are they cheering? It can’t be for me. I’m dead.
And then everything happened in a blur. Granddaddy pounded me and shouted like a little boy: “Atta-girl! Look at her, ain’t she lovely as day? Yessiree, my very own girl!” I wasn’t sure if he meant Blind Heathen or me. I said, “Oh, Granddaddy, it was so terrible! I very nearly got shot, and Jenkins was chasing me, and—”
“Quick! Get water! That’s car’s overheated. That car’s about to burn up!”
Suddenly, very dirty Oldsmobile chugged into Horseshoe. It looked like it had driven through a swamp. Jenkins was all splattered with mud, and he shot me an evil eye. And he was madder than a hornet-hive. I soon saw why. At least one thousand escaped hogs ran behind him. Well, not exactly one thousand—perhaps two dozen.
And I just stood there grinning and grinning till my face nearly stretched in two.
Everyone knows how Jenkins is the Evil King of Pigs. Jenkins abuses pigs, which is funny, because that’s hurting his own species! I remembered Jenkin’s pet pig stuffed in doll clothes. And that poor runt I’d rescued—he hated me because he’d wanted it, for the pleasure of killing with an axe! No wonder all the Hogs of Broken Saw County revolted and chased him down! He’d driven straight into a farmer’s mudhole, full of bathing hogs.
This started a terrible scene that hasn’t ended, I’m sorry to say. All the hog-farmers and hog-butchers started rioting in Horseshoe. And the Sheriff of Horseshoe County was called out, and five saloon-windows got busted, and the Morning-Glory Hotel set afire. The police raided Jenkins’ barn and found he had no flying car—just a lot of suffering, diseased, neglected pet hogs. And now Jenkins has been dragged off, kicking and screaming, to the Broken Saw County Penitentiary.
All the while the people shouted, “Hang Jenkins! Hang Jenkins! Hang Jenkins!”
This is all terribly disgraceful! I said, “Joey Maroony, I fear I haven’t been ladylike.” When I told Grumsie, she only said, “Harrumph! A little snip of a girl like you taught a lesson to that rat of a hired-boy, Jenkins— that’s got to amount for something.”
I think Grumsie likes me after all.
Summer ends! I thought it had just got started. It was just getting exciting!
Well, Mother and Daddy sent word that I’m to return to Chicago on the Prairie Rose Express. I think they got bored and started missing me. And deary me, how I hate to leave! Chicago seems sooo dull…
Granddaddy drove me to the Broken Saw station in Blind Heathen, with my valise and unicycle and Roger K. Maroony in his cage piled on top. Granddaddy said, “Come again next summer, Chickabidee!” Even Grumsie sniffed, though she said, “Pickle relish! I must’ve caught cold.” And I cried, “Goodbye, Grumsie and Granddaddy. Goodbye, Blind Heathen! Goodbye to every soul in the Extraordinary Town of Broken Saw…yes, even to Jenkins. Tell him goodbye and have a nice time in the penitentiary!”
I thought of what Granddaddy said, that this is a new century hardly gotten started. A horseless carriage? What’s next? Flying machines! Moon-rockets! Impossibilities of all kinds! While I’m on the train, I shall be stuffing my mouth with chocolate caramels and starting a new play—the great and fantastic drama GRANDADDY’S HORSELESS CARRIAGE.