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Kipling-Steam_Tactics

THE S117'URDAT EVENING POST 3 " Where to?" " The nearest water-tank," was the reply. " An' Sussex is a dry county." " She ought to 'ave drag-ropes—little pipe-clayed ones," said Pyecroft. We got out and pushed under the hot sun for half a mile till we came to a cottage, sparsely inhabited by one child who wept. "All out haymakin', o' course," said Pyecroft, thrusting his head into the parlor for an instant. " What's the evolution now?" " Skirmish till we find a well," I said. " Hmm! But they wouldn't 'ave left that kid without a chaperon, so to say . . . I thought so! Where's a stick? " A bluish and silent beast of the true old sheep-dog breed glided from behind an outhouse and without words fell to work. Pyecroft kept him at bay with a rake-handle while our party, in rallying-square, retired along the box-bordered brick-path to the car. At the garden gate the dumb devil halted, looked back on the child, and sat down to scratch. "That's 'is three-mile limit, thank Heaven ! " said Pyecroft " Fall in, push-party, and proceed with land-transport of pinnace. I'll protect your flanks in case this sniffin' flea-bag is tempted beyond 'is strength." We pushed off in silence. The car weighs 1200 lbs., and even on ball-bearings is a powerful sudorific. From somewhere behind a hedge we heard a gross rustic laugh. " Those are the beggars we lie awake for, patrollin' the high seas. There ain't a port in China where we wouldn't be better treated. Yes, a Boxer 'ud be ashamed of it." A cloud of fine dust boomed down the road. " Some 'appy craft with a well-found engine-room! 'Ow different!" panted Hinchcliff, bent over the starboard mudguard. It was a claret-coloured petrol car, and it stopped courteously, as good cars will at sight of trouble. " Water, only water," I answered in reply to offers of help. " There's a lodge at the end of these oak palings. They'll give you all you want. Say I sent you. Gregory—Michael Gregory. Good-bye!" " Ought to 'ave been in the Service. Prob'ly is," was Pyecroft's comment. At that thrice-blessed lodge our water-tank was filled (I dare not quote Mr. Hinchcliff's remarks when he saw the collapsible rubber bucket with which we did it) and we re-embarked. It seemed that Sir Michael Gregory owned many acres, and that his park ran for miles. " No objection to your going through it," said the lodgekeeper. " It'll save you a goodish bit to Instead Wick." But we needed petrol, which could be purchased at Pigginfold, a few miles further up, and so we held to the main road, as our fate had decreed. " We've come seven miles in fiftyfour minutes, so far," said Hinchcliff (he was driv- ing with greater freedom and less responsibility), " and now we 'ave to fill our hunkers. A pair of stilts would be quicker—my way of thinkin'." At Pigginsfold, after ten minutes, we refilled our petrol tank and lavishly oiled our engines. Mr. Hinchcliff wished to discharge our engineer on the grounds that he (Mr. Hinchcliff) was now entirely abreast of his work. To this I demurred, for I knew my car. She had, in the language of the road, held up for a day and a half, and by most bitter experience I suspected that her time was very near. Therefore, three miles short of Linghurst I was less surprised than any one, excepting always my engineer, when the engines set up a most bitter clamour and, spasmodically kicking, refused to rotate. " Gawd forgive me all the 'arsh things I may 'ave said about destroyers in my sinful time! " wailed Hinchcliff, snapping back the throttle. " What's worryin' Ada now?" " The forward eccentric-strap screw's dropped off," said the engineer, investigating. " That all? I thought it was a propeller-blade." " We must go and look for it. There isn't another." " Not me," said Pyecroft from his seat. " Out pinnace, Hinch, an' creep for it. It won't be more than five miles back." The two men, with bowed heads, mooned up the road. " Look like etymologists, don't they? Does she decant her innards often, so to speak?" Pyecroft asked. I told him the true tale of a race-full of ball bearings, strewn four miles along a Hampshire road, and by me recovered in detail. He was profoundly touched. " Poor Hinch! Poor—poor Hinch!" he said. " And that's only one of her little games, is it? He'll be 'omesick for the Navy by night." When the search-party doubled back with the missing screw, it was Hinchcliff who replaced it in less than five minutes, while my engineer looked on admiringly. " Your boiler's only seated on four little paper-clips like," he said, crawling from beneath her. " She's a wicker, willow lunch-basket below. She's a runnin' miracle! 'Ave you 'ad this combustible spirit-lamp long?" I told him. " And yet you was afraid to come into the Nightmare's engine-room when we was runnin' trials!" " It's all a matter of taste," Pyecroft volunteered. " But will say for you, Hinch, you've certainly got the hang of her steamin' gadgets in quick time." He was driving her very sweetly, but with a worried look in his eye and a tremor in his arm. " She don't seem to answer her 'elm, somehow," he said. " There's a lot of play to the steering-gear," said my engineer. " We generally tighten it up every few miles." " Like me to stop now? We've run as much as one mile and a half without incident," he replied tartly. " Then you're lucky," said my engineer, bristling in turn. " They'll wreck the whole turret out o' nasty professional spite in a minute," said Pyecroft. " That's the worst o' machinery. Man dead ahead, Hindi —semaphorin' like the flagship in a fit!" " Oh, 'Eavens! " said Hinchcliff. " Shall I stop, or shall I cut 'im down?" He stopped, for full in the centre of the Linghurst Road stood a person in pepper-and-salt raiment (ready made) with a brown telegraph envelope in his hands. " Twenty-three and a half miles an hour," he began, weighing a small beam-engine of a Waterbury in one red paw. " From the top of the hill over our measured quarter-miletwenty three and a half." " You manurial gardener —" Hinchcliff began. I prodded him warningly from behind, and laid the other hand on Pyecroft's stiffening knee. " Also—on information received—drunk and disorderly in charge of a motor-car—to the common danger —two men like sailors in appearance," the man went on. " ' Like sailors '! . . . That's Agg. No wonder he smiled at us," said Pyecroft. " I've been waiting for you some time," the man concluded, folding up the telegram. " Who's the owner?" I indicated myself. " Then I want you as well as the two seafaring men. Drunk and disorderly can be treated summary. You come on." My relations with the Sussex constabulary have, so far, been of the best, but I could not love this person. " Of course you have your authority to show? " I hinted. I< I'll show it you at Linghurst," he retorted hotly —" all the authority you want." " I only want the badge, or warrant, or whatever it is a plain-clothes man has to show." He made as though to produce it, but checked himself, repeating less politely the invitation to Linghurst. The action and the tone confirmed my manytimes tested theory that the bulk of English shore-going institutions are based on conformable strata of absolutely impervious inaccuracy. I reflected and became aware of a drumming on the back of the front seat that Pyecroft, bowed forward and relaxed, was tapping with his knuckles. The hardly checked fury on Hinchcliff 's brow had given place to a greasy imbecility, and he nodded over the steering-bar. In longs and shorts, as laid down by the pious and immortal Mr. Morse, Pyecroft tapped out: " Sham drunk. Get hint in the car." " I can't stay here all day," said the constable. Pyecroft raised his head. Then was seen with what majesty the British sailor-man envisages a new situation. " Met gennelman heavy sheeway," said he. " Do' tell me. British gelman can't give 'ole Brish Navy lif ' own blighted ste' cart. Have another drink!" " I didn't know they were as drunk as all that when they stopped me," I explained. " You can say all that at Linghurst," was the answer. " Come on." " Quite right," I said. " But the question is, if you take these two out on the road they'll fall down or start killing you." " Then I'd call on you to assist me in the execution o' my duty." " But I'd see you further first. You'd better come with us in the car. I'll turn this passenger out." (This was my engineer, sitting quite silent.) " You don't want him, and, anyhow, he'd only be a witness for the defence." " That's true," said the constable. " But it wouldn't make any odds—at Linghurst, you see." My engineer skipped into the bracken like a rabbit. I bade him cut across Sir Michael Gregory's park, and if he caught my friend, to tell him I should probably be leather late for lunch. " I ain't going to be driven by kim." Our destined prey pointed at Hinchcliff with apprehension. " Of course not. You take my seat and keep the big sailor in order. He's too drunk to do much. I'll change places with the other one. Only be quick; I want to pay my fine and get it over." " That's the way to look at it," he said, dropping into the left rear seat. " We're making quite a lot out o' you motor gentry." He folded his arms judicially as the car gathered way under Hinchcliff 's stealthy hand. " But you aren't driving!" he cried, half rising. " No.. He ain't," said Pyecroft, and embraced him with one anaconda-like left arm. " Don't kill him," said Hinchcliff briefly. " I want to show him what twenty-three and a quarter is." We were going a fair twelve, which is about her limit. The passenger said something and then groaned. " Hush, darling!" said Pyecroft, " or I'll 'ave to 'ug you." The main road, white under the noon sun, lay broad before us, running north to Linghurst. We slowed and looked anxiously for a side track. " And now," said I, " I want to see your authority." " The badge of your ratin'? " Pyecroft added. " I'm a constable," he said, and kicked. Indeed, his boots would have bewrayed him across half a county's plough ; but boots are not legal evidence. " I want your authority," I repeated coldly. " Some evidence that you are not a common, drunken tramp." It was as I had expected. He had forgotten or mislaid his badge. He had neglected to learn the outlines of the work for which he received money and consideration; and he expected me, the taxpayer, to go to infinite trouble to supplement his deficiencies. " If you don't believe me, come to Linghurst," was the burden of his almost national anthem. " But I can't run all over Sussex every time a blackmailer jumps up and says he is a policeman." " Why, it's quite close," he persisted. " 'Twon't be—soon," said Hinchcliff. " None of the other people ever made any trouble. To be sure, they was gentlemen," he cried. " All I can say is, it may be very funny, but it ain't fair." I labored with him in this


Kipling-Steam_Tactics
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