Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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When war priorities made this car a priceless
thing, it got a bad case of "swelled head"!
MR. BOTTLE was not the sort of man one could describe as a madcap driver. He was respectable, middle-aged, home loving and possessed of all the standard virtues that serve to make a man a substantial citizen.
Mr. Bottle worked in the city and kept a modest, well gardened home in the suburbs. He had an average sort of wife on whom he bestowed an average amount of affection. He had two standardly pleasant children away at school who wrote home regularly to make the usual requests for more money.
To be found in Mr. Bottle's life was the usual number of material possessions that similar men accumulate over a period of years to make living more convenient. Chief among these luxury items was Mr. Bottle's automobile, an aged sedan known as Pegasus.
When Pegasus first came into the Bottle household, some ten years previously, it was called, proudly, "the new car." But as time passed and the "new car" became more or less a member of the family, it came to be christened thus by one of the Bottle brats who was then under the influence of a text book on mythology.
Nobody, seemed to mind the name, least of all Pegasus itself, which by this time had settled down to the tired routine of an outdated, unstreamlined, five-passenger sedan.
Like all average owners of automobiles, Mr. Bottle turned an eye each year to the tempting advertisements featuring new motor cars. But like a great many of similarly situated citizens, Mr. Bottle quite invariably decided to put off the idea of a new machine until this note was met or that bill was paid.
And so Pegasus stayed on, scarcely gaining dignity with age, but nevertheless continuing to serve the utilitarian purpose of taking Mr. Bottle to and from his place of employment six days a week.
An average car; an average owner. And the relationship between car and owner might always have been an indifferent one had it not been for two factors. The first factor was the Changing Times and World Tumult. The second factor, really a result of the first, was the news-broadcast Mr. Bottle heard on the automobile radio while driving home from work in Pegasus that Friday afternoon...
Mr. Bottle had tuned in on his favorite station to get the early afternoon news summary with no idea at all of what a pronounced effect the day's grim tidings would have on him personally.
He listened to the commentary on the Balkan situation with his usual impersonal interest, nodded emphatically when hearing that certain statesmen had advised that the government take a stronger attitude toward Vichy, felt remotely shocked to learn that two thousand Chinese had been wiped out in a dastardly bombing of Chinshi, and smiled knowingly at the news that the White Sox looked forward to a pennant in the coming season. But through all this, Mr. Bottle's tranquility of spirit was undisturbed.
It was the closing news announcement that almost resulted in his driving Pegasus off the highway and into a ditch. It caught Mr. Bottle directly between the eyes.
"Automobile owners," the radio announcer's voice declared, "have been advised by the Office of Civilian Supply that they face a complete shut-down of motorcar assembly lines. Not only will there be no new machines made in this country for the duration of the war, but even such essential repair and supply parts as may be necessary to maintain the old ones will be strictly, yes rigidly, rationed. What few automobiles and parts as still remain on assembly lines have already been placed under rationing regulations. Motorcar owners are advised that their only chance of getting through this war on four wheels is to take extraordinarily good care of the automobiles they now own."
MR. BOTTLE scarcely realized that his hands still guided Pegasus' steering wheel. He was even less aware that the highway along which he was driving was narrowing and that he was in the outskirts of his own suburb.
The shock of the announcement left Mr. Bottle temporarily dazed. It wasn't until, automatically, he had turned up the pleasant little suburban side street where he had his modest home, that he began to come out of his shocked stupor.
And when he brought Pegasus to a halt at the curb in front of his house, Mr. Bottle snapped off the ignition switch and, making no move to get out, sat there staring dully ahead through the windshield.
Mr. Bottle was digesting the unsavory import of that news bulletin.
No more cars—and worse than that, no more parts for cars!
Mr. Bottle was trying to recall a comment made over the radio just the night before by some authority on military affairs. The authority had hinted darkly that this could well develop into a ten year war.
Sickly, Mr. Bottle thought of the slim chances poor Pegasus had of living another ten years. On sudden impulse, Mr. Bottle snapped the ignition switch back on and started the motor.
Pegasus roused to life, motor knocking merrily, front fenders rattling happily from the vibration.
Mr. Bottle listened to these familiar noises and shuddered. Then he snapped off the switch and sat back sickly. What would he do when Pegasus wore out? And, worse than that, how much longer dared he hope that Pegasus would last?
"Oh why, oh why didn't I get a new car last year?" Mr. Bottle berated himself mentally. But such questions, of course, were of scant comfort.
Mr. Bottle spent the next five minutes mentally wondering how in hell he would ever get to his place of gainful employment each day after Pegasus finally expired.
Finding no answer to this question, Mr. Bottle then proceeded to draw mental pictures in which he and his family slowly starved to death.
These grim portraits of the future left him a trifle frantic, and in the back of his brain there suddenly flashed a spirited, grim-jawed resolve.
"Pegasus will not die!" Mr. Bottle muttered savagely. "Pegasus shall not die!"
That was it—that was the only solution! And suddenly Mr. Bottle saw the picture as it stood. His own existence, the very food that went into his mouth and the mouths of his family, depended solely, now, on the survival of Pegasus for the duration.
The voice, loud and feminine, interrupted Mr. Bottle's mental deliberations. He looked up sharply to see Alice, his wife, standing on the porch of their home.
Alice was a plain, pleasant looking woman, thin and on the shortish side. She was, at the moment, standing with hands on hips and frowning with annoyance.
Grimly, Mr. Bottle climbed out of Pegasus and marched up the walk toward her. Women, he was thinking bitterly, are never aware of a crisis. He decided to withhold the bleak news from her until after dinner.
"What on earth were you sitting out there in Pegasus for?" Alice greeted Mr. Bottle.
"I was," said Mr. Bottle with lofty dignity, "thinking."
"What about, for goodness sakes?" Alice demanded.
"Things," said Mr. Bottle darkly. "Things."
Alice Bottle sighed and followed her husband in through the door. Eighteen years of married life with Harold had left her wise enough to recognize his "thinking" moments as little more than sporadic broodings over life and its complexities.
"Well, dinner will be cold if you don't get upstairs and wash right away," she told him.
Mr. Bottle glowered briefly at his wife and clumped up the stairs to the washroom. When he came down to dinner, some ten minutes later, he wore the tattered clothes in which he generally did garden puttering.
"My heavens, Harold," Alice observed in some alarm over the mashed potatoes. "This isn't Saturday afternoon, you know."
Mr. Bottle dug fiercely into his roast beef. He waited until he was busily masticating a huge hunk of it before he answered.
"I'm perfectly well aware of that," he snapped.
Alice Bottle looked at her husband curiously for an instant, then went back to eating in silence. Whatever was on his mind would soon pass by, she reasoned...
IT was while Alice busily washed the dishes that Mr. Bottle crashed about in the cellar grabbing rags and buckets. And then he stamped upstairs into the kitchen to fill the buckets noisily, seize the best bar of soap, and, without explanation, march grimly through the living room and out to the front curb.
Alice saw him out in front of the house some fifteen minutes later, savagely soaping and splashing and polishing the sides of old Pegasus. She saw and marvelled. For, aside from the twice yearly wash given Pegasus when Junior was home over the summer from school, this was an unknown occurrence.
She shook her head bewilderedly at this and went back to her nightly perusal of the Civilian Defense Handbook. Alice Bottle was extremely active these days in matters relating to the Conflict. There was the Red Cross, the U.S.O., and the newly organized suburban Civilian Defense Women's League. To all of these Alice devoted every second she could spare from her household duties. The last named, especially being her favorite organization.
Mr. Bottle, red-faced and perspiring, clumped into the house with buckets full of dirty water and sopping, blackened rubbing rags, perhaps half an hour later.
His jaw had the grim set of a man who has performed a vital and significant mission creditably. After he had emptied the dirty buckets into the clean sink and returned to the living room, Alice looked up from her Handbook.
"Maybe, Harold, you can tell me what this is all about," Alice suggested.
"I cleaned the car," Mr. Bottle answered challengingly. "Anything wrong with that?"
Alice Bottle rose and looked out the window. She turned back to her husband.
"I haven't seen Pegasus gleaming so in at least eight years," she admitted. "But what prompts your sudden concern over the appearance of the poor thing?"
"I don't suppose," Mr. Bottle said acidly, "that you've heard the radio reports today?"
Alice Bottle admitted she hadn't, adding that she'd been too busy with her war work.
MR. BOTTLE bade his wife to sit down, then. And when she was seated he began to pace back and forth, giving to her in every last dreadful detail the news report he'd heard on the way home earlier that afternoon.
It may be said for Alice Bottle that she listened without any noticeable horror. And when Mr. Bottle had come to a dramatic conclusion, her answer was startling.
"Well, Harold," she observed, "that shouldn't be so terrible. It will affect everyone just as it will us. Lord knows, if you have to get up an hour earlier every morning to catch the city train, it won't kill you."
Mr. Bottle regarded his wife with open-mouthed amazement.
"Perhaps," he said bitterly, "you didn't catch the full import of my words. The city train doesn't stop within ten miles of my office in town. I could never get to work on time, even if I got up three hours earlier—which would be silly, for there're no trains then."
Alice shrugged. "There's no immediate worry, anyway, Harold. Pegasus isn't going to gasp and die for a while yet. And if the poor thing should, eventually, we'll work it out somehow."
Mr. Bottle's eyes gleamed like the last Christian at the stake. He threw one arm wide in a dramatic gesture.
"Even if you aren't aware of the terrible implications of this thing," he shouted, "I am. And I am smart enough to know that from now on Pegasus must take first place on any and all priorities as far as we're concerned. That car must be kept alive. Its life is our life!"
So saying, Mr. Bottle stormed out of the room and was heard a moment later clumping heavily up the stairs. He was a man weighted deep with the stern struggle for survival which had been so suddenly thrust upon him...
MORNING came to end a fitful night of sleep for Mr. Bottle. And when he came downstairs to find his wife preparing breakfast he was met with a coldly reproachful glare.
"Harold," Alice Bottle demanded without preamble, "what do you mean by covering Pegasus with our spare blankets during the night?"
Mr. Bottle met her glance with one of righteous indignation.
"Were you using those blankets?" he asked acidly.
Alice Bottle's lips went tight. "They are practically new!"
"There was a frost last night," Mr. Bottle said patiently cold. "Pegasus had no covering. What did you expect me to do?"
"Pegasus has stood outside the house in fair weather and foul for all of ten years," Alice Bottle said frigidly. "It has never caught cold as yet."
Mr. Bottle gave her a bitter glance and sat down to his bacon and eggs.
"I brought those blankets in the moment I saw them," Alice Bottle announced indignantly from the kitchen. "I didn't want the neighbors to think you'd suddenly gone insane."
"We will have to make room in the budget for a garage for Pegasus," Mr. Bottle growled through a mouth stuffed with toast.
"Why don't you fix up our guest room?" Alice asked acidly.
Mr. Bottle choked on the coffee he was in the process of swallowing. He rose, stiff with rage, tossed aside his napkin, reached for his hat and started for the door.
Alice followed him into the hall. "Get back in time to meet the train at three, won't you, Harold?" she asked.
"Train?" asked Mr. Bottle frostily. "What train?" He knew damned well what train.
"Just because you're angry there is no need to be irritating," Alice told him sharply. "You know very well what train. The one from New York on which Mrs. DuShong, the National Organizer for the Women's Civilian Defense League, is arriving."
"Oh yes," Mr. Bottle said nastily. "I remember. You invited her to stay over the weekend with us while she looks over your Civilian Defense Women's League. You hope by such toadying to have her name you President of the League, isn't that right?"
Alice Bottle flushed. Her husband had cut deep, and close to the truth. But she would not be left without the last word.
"Please try not to act the boor while Mrs. DuShong is with us," she snapped. "Her impression of the weekend with us will mean a great deal."
Mr. Bottle flushed. "Boor, eh? Boor, eh?"
He was still mumbling that when he stepped up to the running board of Pegasus. And then, quite suddenly, with the sight of the car, his quarrel with his wife vanished from his mind.
Mr. Bottle stood there a moment, proudly surveying the wash and rub job he'd done on the machine the night before. Pegasus looked years younger, he decided. Well, months, anyway.
He climbed in, conscious of the fact that his wife was probably watching him from the window. He frowned angrily. Damn women who didn't comprehend serious situations.
Mr. Bottle started the machine, gave the horn a defiant toot for the benefit of his wife, and was off.
It was Mr. Bottle's practice to stop each morning for gas at Joe's Service Station, an establishment on the edge of the suburb directly at the main highway fork. And not being a man to fly in the face of habit, Mr. Bottle headed Pegasus in that direction this morning.
Joe's Service Station had but one competitor, a lavish establishment on the other side of the highway fork which operated under the swanky name of Leon's Limousine Lounge. Leon's was patronized by the ultra wealthy members of the suburban community; and Mr. Bottle had often been heard to state that he'd be damned if he'd pay double for such foolish flim-flam.
And so when Mr. Bottle reached the highway fork he threw a contemptuous glance at Leon's Limousine Lounge, and whipped the steering wheel hard to the right, which should have brought him crunching up the gravel drive into Joe's Service Station.
But to his horror, the steering wheel seemed suddenly to have become a futile, liquid, whirlingly aimless thing in his hands, and Pegasus, instead, turned to the left and moved smoothly up in front of the luxurious Leon's Limousine Lounge. It then came to an abrupt stop!
FOUR attendants, looking like Admirals at a Washington Conference, had dashed out of Leon's Limousine Lounge to surround the startled Mr. Bottle's automobile before he realized what had happened.
"Tire manicure?" asked one, smiling pleasantly.
"Fender buff?'" asked a second.
"Ten or fifteen gallons, sir?" a third demanded, already detaching the gas hose from the side of the DeLuxe tank, marked, "30c per gal."
Mr. Bottle was far too shocked to answer. He shook his head hard from side to side, and the attendants seemed to interpret it as an affirmative gesture, for they were suddenly warming all over Pegasus.
Fenders were buffed.
Tires were manicured.
Oil was changed.
Gas, at thirty cents a gallon, gushed into the tank.
Windows were shined, door handles polished, headlights wiped.
Grease was squirted here and there in Pegasus' underquarters.
Hubcaps were removed, cleaned, replaced.
And finally a smiling young Admiral shoved a notated bill through the window at Mr. Bottle.
"That will be six-fifty, sir," he beamed. Sickly, Mr. Bottle paid off. And when he started up Pegasus the machine seemed almost buoyantly serene. And then Mr. Bottle remembered the useless steering wheel. He turned it sharply right and left. But no longer was it liquid. Pegasus now responded most perfectly to Bottle's slightest touch!
There was no possible explanation for the sudden cold presentiment that assailed Mr. Bottle. For the sensations accompanying the presentiment were impossibly ridiculous.
And yet, in spite of his sanity, Mr. Bottle had the very definite sensation that Pegasus was inordinately pleased. Pleased in a very human way. Pleased and smug over the trick it had played to get Mr. Bottle into Leon's Limousine Lounge.
For Mr. Bottle couldn't tell himself differently. It had been a deliberate maneuver by Pegasus that brought him into that sedan salon. There was no other way of accounting for it.
A cold sweat broke out on Mr. Bottle's brow....
BY the time Mr. Bottle had reached his office in town, he had succeeded in working himself into a state bordering on a nervous breakdown.
For during the hour-long drive other things had occurred to needle poor Bottle even further. Other things which might well have been the result of Mr. Bottle's state of mind—and, again, might have been actually what he suspected them to be.
There was, for example, the red light just coming into town. Stopping for it, Mr. Bottle observed that, off the sidewalk to his right, there was an enormous plate glass window which was so highly polished that it reflected Pegasus with remarkable clarity and sharpness of detail.
It might have been some temporary fault in the motor. Indeed, the carburetor might well have been slightly flooded. However so, when the red light changed to green, Pegasus refused to start up.
While cars behind tooted madly for them to move along, Pegasus and Mr. Bottle remained as they were until—so it seemed to the now distraught Bottle—the old sedan had taken a long and thoroughly admiring study of its reflection. Then and only then, did Pegasus react to Mr. Bottle's frantic efforts to set it into motion once more.
There were other things, smaller and less startling than the one just mentioned. Trifling circumstances which an unsuspicious Bottle would never have noticed.
But with the situation as frighteningly suggestive as it was, Mr. Bottle was stimulated to even greater frenzy of mind by such additional trivia.
And when Pegasus flatly refused to turn into the viaduct ramp where Mr. Bottle daily parked it free of charge, and, in spite of his frantically futile efforts to control the steering wheel, took him helplessly to a swank parking-garage service right next door to Mr. Bottle's office building, the owner of the arrogant sedan teetered for five precarious minutes on the brink of madness.
Finally, however, Mr. Bottle was temporarily rid of Pegasus, and clutching a garage-parking ticket in his trembling fist, he entered his office.
The switchboard girl, on seeing him, set the keynote for the rest of the remarks made to him during that day.
"What happened, Mr. Bottle?" she demanded. "You look whiter than a ghost."
Bottle didn't bother to answer. He made his way unsteadily through the stenographic enclosure and staggered into his small corner office. Mr. Bottle did little work that day. He tried, of course. Tried desperately, in the hope of burying himself so deep in honest toil as to escape the devilishly terrifying thoughts that plucked at the back of his brain.
But he had small success with this scheme. Wild, impossible ideas beat against his mind. His wife's words, for example, "why don't you fix up our guest room?" kept coming into his consciousness. And then he'd have hideous mental visions of Pegasus, four wheels and all, curled up snugly in bed in their spare room.
In the space of an hour he developed a terrible phobia which made him start with fright every time a visitor entered the outer office. Start with fright for fear the visitor might be Pegasus, who had somehow come up in the elevator.
And at last the short-shift Saturday dragged to an end.
Mr. Bottle lingered in his cubicle of an office, however, until the rest of the staff had gone. And then he made his departure in a far more frightened state than when he'd entered.
The thoughts of going down to that garage-parking place, presenting his ticket, paying his fee and redeeming Pegasus from among the many-floored and modern ramps was almost more than Mr. Bottle could bear.
He cringed at the thought of slipping behind the frighteningly mutinous steering wheel of Pegasus again. And as a consequence, he started for a walk on leaving the building. A walk in the opposite direction from the parking-garage location. A walk in which he planned to gather courage.
The walk went on and on for perhaps fifteen minutes before Mr. Bottle was finally forced to admit to himself that he would never stiffen his spirit this way.
Mr. Bottle came to this conclusion when, coincidentally enough, he happened to be passing a retail liquor store.
A saloon as a source for courage would never enter Bottle's head. For since his somewhat scandalous college days, Mr. Bottle had done little tippling, and that only in moderation in the proper surroundings of his own home.
But a retail liquor store, where one could purchase the stuff in a bottle and imbibe, say, in the quiet of his office, struck Mr. Bottle as being one hell of a nice convenience to the saloon-shy.
MR. BOTTLE stopped at the store long enough to purchase a quart of good bourbon. Then, retracing his steps, he took himself and his package back to the now deserted office.
In his own cubicle office, Mr. Bottle found a glass and set to work starching his soul.
It was a relatively simple matter. A matter of some five stiff shots.
"What a fool I am," Mr. Bottle told himself contemptuously after the second shot had burned its way down his gullet. "What a blasted, stupid fool!"
"A grown man!" Mr. Bottle snorted in self-denunciation, after his third drink. "A solid substantial citizen—letting myself believe in such fairy tales!"
"I must have been temporarily insane," Mr. Bottle decided after his fourth stiff one. "Thash it, temporarily inshane!"
"What'm I doing here, sopping myshelf up with thish lousy likker?" he wondered aloud after the fifth one. "Why, I'm hiding from Pegasush, thash what! I oughtta be 'shamed. Grown man. Damn childishnesh. To hell with the likker. To hell with Pegasush!"
And Mr. Bottle then weaved out of his cubicle a trifle unsteadily, not, however, before pausing to pick up and cork the liquor he had denounced a moment before and place it in his coat pocket...
WHEN they brought Pegasus down to Mr. Bottle from the ultra modern twenty-sixth story ramp, he favored it with a challenging sneer and, without a moment's hesitation, slipped in behind the wheel.
"I'm giving orders now, undershtand?" Mr. Bottle demanded of his automobile once they were out in the street again.
And there seemed not the slightest sensation of any disagreement on the part of Pegasus to this statement. In fact, there seemed to be nothing at all remaining to hint at the strange personification of the machine that had been so terrifyingly evident that morning.
It was approximately twelve-thirty, Mr. Bottle noted as he steered Pegasus along through the mid-day traffic. Twelve-thirty, and he didn't have to get back to meet the train and the DuShong woman until three. Plenty of time for another drink.
Mr. Bottle's face felt flushed, his head a trifle heavy, as he turned Pegasus off down a side street where, under a deserted "L" trestle, he halted the car and pulled forth his bottle.
"Heresh to Pegasush," Mr. Bottle toasted, lifting the bourbon to his lips and taking a mighty gulp.
"Heresh to Mrs. DuShong," he announced a minute later, repeating the process.
Mr. Bottle was having difficulty now in adjusting his vision to point where things lost their fuzzy blur. He lifted the bottle to his lips again and took another swig.
Mr. Bottle then corked the whisky and placed it carefully on the floor beside him. He leaned back, then, head swimming. An overpowering wave of fatigue was sweeping over him. The day, the shock, the worry and—exertion—the liquor.
In less than two minutes Mr. Bottle was snoring deeply...
THE first thing of which Mr. Bottle was conscious when he opened his eyes was the fact that he had a splitting headache. The next thing he noticed was the fact that his wrist watch said it was less than twenty minutes until three o'clock.
Horrified, Mr. Bottle sat bolt upright.
He must have passed out. He must have slept for close to two hours. Mrs. DuShong's train was arriving in the suburb at three o'clock. And he was still in town, with a good hour's drive ahead of him before he could get home.
Mr. Bottle forgot his splitting headache. Mr. Bottle forgot everything but the terrifying fact that he'd fail to meet that train in time. Mr. Bottle reached wildly for the ignition switch, and in so doing happened to glance through the car window on his right.
His mouth fell wide open and stayed that way. His eyes bugged out until they could have been knocked off with a stick.
Mr. Bottle was home, right out in front of his house!
The words came choking from Mr. Bottle's lips before he was aware that he had arrived at such a conclusion.
"Pegasus brought me home!"
Mr. Bottle sat there stupefied. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry or scream. Pegasus had brought him home from town while he lay sound asleep in the front seat.
It was impossible, absolutely insane. Yet how else could this have happened? How else could he, having passed out under a metropolitan "L" structure, wake up to find himself parked in front of his suburban house?
It then occurred to Mr. Bottle to wonder how long he had been here. It also occurred to him to wonder whether or not any of the neighbors had noticed his decidedly unique arrival.
Guiltily, Mr. Bottle reached down and picked up the quart of bourbon which still reposed upright on the floor. Supposing Alice should come out to see what he was doing lingering in Pegasus again? The thought chilled Mr. Bottle to the marrow. Alice did not disapprove of his having an occasional drink in his home, but lying in an automobile, swilling from a quart bottle, would be something else again.
Whitely, concealing the bottle under his coat, Mr. Bottle climbed out of Pegasus and moved cautiously around to the back of the machine. He held the keys to the trunk in his trembling hand, and his intention was to hide the damning evidence in there until he could find some other way of disposing of it.
Mr. Bottle wasted a precious two minutes fumbling with the key in the lock. Somehow he couldn't find the right key. He was sorting through the key ring, looking frantically for another one, when he heard Alice's voice coming from the front porch.
Mr. Bottle was a man berserk with terror. Looking wildly right and left he saw no possible concealment for the damning bottle. And then his eye fell upon the gas tank aperture. Quickly, scarcely realizing what he was doing, Mr. Bottle took the cap from the gas tank, uncorked the bottle, and emptied the contents of the bottle into the tank. Swiftly, then, he replaced the cap, dropped the empty bottle to the curb, and kicked a little dirt over it.
Fighting for composure, Mr. Bottle stepped around the car and into the view of Alice standing on the porch.
"Yes, dear?" Mr. Bottle shouted.
"Hurry over to the depot or you'll miss the three o'clock train," Alice told him. "You certainly took your time getting home. I thought you were through at noon today."
"I worked late," Mr. Bottle lied at the top of his lungs. He felt a little bit relieved. Pegasus had evidently just rolled up with him before the house when he'd emerged from his alcoholic nap. Probably no one had noticed anything.
"Well please hurry, Harold," Alice told him. "It's almost a quarter to three. It takes a good ten minutes to get over to the depot."
Mr. Bottle nodded and started back to the door of the car. Then he remembered the strange antics of Pegasus, especially this last incredible demonstration of the car's weird animation. He went pale once more, hesitating with his hand on Pegasus' door knob.
"Supposing I walk?" Mr. Bottle shouted to his wife. "It's a wonderful day, and, and, ah, Mrs. DuShong could see the village better."
From the, porch, Alice glared at him. "If you're thinking of saving tires, or of conserving Pegasus' parts, you aren't being subtle about it. Please get into that car at once and meet Mrs. DuShong."
Mr. Bottle sighed tremulously. There seemed to be nothing he could do. He couldn't very well explain to Alice that he didn't want to ride in Pegasus because he believed it was alive.
"But, dear—" Mr. Bottle tried one last game effort.
"Please hurry!" Alice snapped. There was an ominous tightness at the corners of her mouth.
Mr. Bottle gave up the battle. Like a man stepping into the jaws of a carnivorous whale, Mr. Bottle climbed in behind Pegasus' wheel. His hands were shaking as he switched on the ignition and kicked the starter.
Pegasus awoke, roaring mightily as its fenders shook and its parts rattled. Mr. Bottle threw the machine into gear and turned out into the street.
It was then that Pegasus unleashed a deafening salvo of backfire. Thunderous snorts rent the air like tremendous explosions, and the car moved jerkily forward.
Alarmed, Mr. Bottle threw the gears into second. But the din of the exhaust bangings only grew louder.
In third gear, the backfire modified somewhat, but continued an intermittent barrage as Mr. Bottle drove through the sleepy suburban business section toward the station. And five minutes later, with many grave misgivings, Mr. Bottle pulled up and parked at the curb in front of the small suburban depot.
The train arrived at precisely 3.03, and Mr. Bottle, waiting on the platform, had no trouble in identifying Mrs. DuShong from the fifteen or twenty passengers who got off.
She was a tall, gray-haired, severe woman. She wore pince-nez glasses, a chalk stripe business suit of gray worsted, and carried a briefcase under her arm. Two redcaps followed respectfully with her luggage.
Mr. Bottle advanced toward her, identified himself, mumbled some standard banalities, and directed the redcaps to Pegasus, where they piled her luggage in the trunk.
On getting into the car, Mrs. DuShong asked Mr. Bottle, "What line are you in?" She used the same tone in which a man might ask another, "Have a cigar?"
Starting up the car, Mr. Bottle began to explain what line he was in, and was immediately drowned out by the shattering backfire blasts let loose by Pegasus.
Mrs. DuShong looked at Mr. Bottle rather sharply, but didn't try to shout above the din as they rolled out into the street. It was then that Mr. Bottle really began to encounter difficulty. Pegasus providing said difficulty, of course.
It was the steering wheel again. Liquid, twirling aimlessly in Mr. Bottle's hands as he tried futilely to direct the machine.
Pegasus was going where it wanted to go. Going with a constant and deafening accompaniment of backfire explosions. And following its chosen course none too steadily.
Pegasus was weaving.
Not weaving wildly, or dangerously. Just definitely skeetering from side to side enough so that it was noticeable.
CLINGING to the futile steering wheel, Mr. Bottle endeavored to keep a smile on his mouth and an expression of calm on his face. Both efforts were taut, and the expression on the face of Mrs. DuShong was one of growing annoyance.
Mr. Bottle was wondering where in the hell they would end up and what in the hell he should do about the situation. He couldn't turn to Mrs. DuShong and tell her to leap for her life because the car was alive. He couldn't clamber out himself and leap, leaving the woman alone in the mad machine. It was at this point in Mr. Bottle's wildly hysterical musings, that Mrs. DuShong managed to shout above the din of a backfire blast.
"Are you driving to your home by the shortest route, Mr. Bottle?" the woman demanded.
"Thought you'd want to see the town," Mr. Bottle shouted in the middle of what, unfortunately, happened to be a second of silence.
"I am rather tired," Mrs. DuShong told him sharply. "I would prefer seeing your little suburb tomorrow. Please drive directly to your home."
And Pegasus, at that instant, chose to come to an abrupt stop.
Frantically, Mr. Bottle kicked the starter. There was absolutely no response. And then, looking past Mrs. DuShong's disapproving face, Mr. Bottle saw the store in front of which Pegasus had decided to stop.
"ROYAL LIQUOR COMPANY. BONDED RYES AND BOURBONS" was the sign across the front window of the store. And piled high in the window were innumerable exhibits of bottled delights.
Mrs. DuShong's voice came to Mr. Bottle icily.
"Have you any particular purpose in stopping here, Mr. Bottle?"
Mr. Bottle, giving up his efforts to rouse Pegasus to life again, swallowed hard. He turned a strained face to Mrs. DuShong.
"I, ah, just remembered a very important call I forgot to make. I, ah, hope you don't mind my running in there to put it through. It, aaahhh, was the nearest place with a phone booth that I could think of."
Mrs. DuShong didn't answer, but the look she gave Bottle was sufficient. Redly, Mr. Bottle clambered out of Pegasus and went around to the sidewalk. By now he felt quite certain why Pegasus had taken him here, and why the automobile had weaved and backfired so. It was that damned bourbon he'd poured into Pegasus in front of his house.
The stuff had made Pegasus tight!
And now the car had hauled him here to the biggest liquor store in the village and stopped, refusing to budge an inch until Mr. Bottle filled it up with another quart of bourbon!
Mr. Bottle teetered weakly into the liquor store, made his purchase. The clerk began to swathe the bottle in paper.
"Don't bother to wrap it," Mr. Bottle said. And then, at the clerk's surprised expression, Mr. Bottle added unthinkingly, "I intend to drink it outside.
The clerk handed him the unwrapped bottle with a long and wondrously appraising stare. Mr. Bottle took it, hid it under his coat, and with a deep breath stepped back out onto the sidewalk.
DELIBERATELY skirting around the back of Pegasus, keeping the bulge beneath his coat from the eyes of Mrs. DuShong, Mr. Bottle paused before the gas-tank cap and furtively unscrewed it. Then he brought forth the bottle of bourbon, removed the cork, and began to pour the contents into the tank.
Looking up, Mr. Bottle saw the clerk of the liquor store peering over the display stalls in the window at him. The clerk's jaw was agape, his eyes bulging.
Mr. Bottle forced a pleasant smile and nodded greeting. The pale face of the clerk vanished hastily from sight. When Mr. Bottle, after disposing of the empty bourbon quart, climbed back in behind the wheel of Pegasus, Mrs. DuShong met him with a frostily puzzled stare.
"Have you been drinking, Mr. Bottle?" she demanded.
Mr. Bottle summoned up a passable counterfeit of reproach in his expression.
"Why, Mrs. DuShong!" he exclaimed.
"I just thought I'd ask," Mrs. DuShong declared with no noticeable thaw in her voice.
Pegasus came to life again, just as Mr. Bottle had expected it would. Came to life with a surprising cessation of backfiring and an almost happily submissive regard to Mr. Bottle's wishes concerning choice of direction.
The steering wheel was once more of use, and, although Pegasus lurched badly once or twice in turns, there was no further evidence of the machine's intoxication as Mr. Bottle drove the rest of the way home.
But this merely partially reassured Mr. Bottle. Pegasus was being nice because he'd acceded to the car's wish for a drink. Mr. Bottle was fully aware that he'd be foolish to count on absolute obedience from Pegasus under all circumstances. And as soon as he stopped plying the machine with liquor, he knew he could expect more trouble.
Nevertheless, it was with a deep sigh of relief that Mr. Bottle drew up before his home and helped Mrs. DuShong and luggage up to the porch.
ALICE had been waiting, and, she took her visitor in tow, giving Mr. Bottle a chance to clump upstairs to his bedroom for a session of grim brooding.
Pacing the floor restlessly, Mr. Bottle grappled with the problems presented by Pegasus. And as he waged the bitter mental conflict, Mr. Bottle managed, somehow, to keep a firm grip on his sanity. For deciding what to do about an old and trusted sedan which has suddenly come alive on you, takes no little skill in mental tightrope walking.
Some twenty minutes passed, however, with Mr. Bottle still no better off in regard to any sensible solution of the utterly impossible situation. And another hour passed in much the same manner.
Alice called up the stairs to him, then, informing Mr. Bottle that dinner was ready and asking him to please hurry down.
Throughout the meal, Mr. Bottle had plenty of time to continue his brain acrobatics, for Alice and the DuShong woman carried on a two-way running discussion of the problems of women in civilian defense. There would have been little opportunity for Mr. Bottle to enter into the conversation even had he desired to do so.
And when the meal ended, with Alice and Mrs. DuShong repairing to the living room, Mr. Bottle glumly removed the dinnerware from the dining room table to the kitchen sink, turned the faucets on the mess, and went out into the back yard to continue his meditations.
Mr. Bottle felt certain that he wouldn't be missed for quite a little while. Kicking up turf in the backyard added nothing to Mr. Bottle's efforts to solve his problem, so at last he decided to take a turn around to the front of the house and have a look at Pegasus.
For perhaps fully a minute Mr. Bottle stood there at the front of the house staring sickly at the curb where Pegasus should have been.
"My God," he gasped hoarsely, then. "The damned thing's gone off on a bender!"
FRANTICALLY, Mr. Bottle looked up and down the street, hoping, praying, for some sign of the vagrant vehicle. But there was none. Pegasus was definitely gone, positively among the missing.
Mr. Bottle thought of running into the house to announce this fact to Alice. Then he decided against it. After all, Alice didn't know the whole story. Hell, she didn't know any of the story. Now, in front of the frigid Mrs. DuShong, would definitely be no time to try to tell Alice about it.
Taking a deep breath and mentally flipping a coin for directional guidance, Mr. Bottle started down the street to the right It was all he could do to keep from breaking into a dead run. All he could do to saunter along at a moderate pace which would not arouse the alarm of his neighbors.
At last, however, when he had left his own residential district, Mr. Bottle was able to give the pursuit the necessary hysteria of pace it demanded. Up and down sideways and alleys Mr. Bottle sped. Breathlessly, he turned street corners at full speed, hoping to come unexpectedly on some sign, any sign of Pegasus.
It occurred to Mr. Bottle that he might telephone the police. He could report Pegasus as missing, probably stolen. They would then be able to aid him in his search.
But Bottle discarded that idea as soon as it was born. For he couldn't tell the police the story, either. And if they found Pegasus, driverless and wheeling along some boulevard, a nasty situation would evolve which would in no way enrich police opinion of Mr. Bottle himself.
So it was that Mr. Bottle was forced to carry on his desperate search alone. And after some thirty minutes of it, Mr. Bottle was just beginning to realize what a none too small community his suburb was after all.
Legs weary, wind spent, mind anguished, Mr. Bottle finally gained the suburban business district with still no trace of Pegasus to show for his searching.
It was in a gesture of heartsick despair that Mr. Bottle chose to enter the first saloon he encountered. And there he ordered a double slug of bourbon.
Downing the drink in a gulp, Mr. Bottle clung coughingly to the bar for temporary support, nodded once to the bartender and staggered out of the place. Mr. Bottle's stagger was due to a burning sensation in his chest and the worries on his mind. He was by no means intoxicated.
But when he emerged from the tavern he wished he were.
For it was then that Pegasus, horn tooting gaily, and chassis skittering wildly from one side of the street to the other, rocketed past the astonished Mr. Bottle.
Pegasus whipped around the nearest corner on two wheels in the next instant, and was lost once more from sight. But the shrilly challenging tooting of the horn kept up until it faded away some two minutes later.
Mr. Bottle clapped one hand to his brow and turned around, staggering weakly back into the saloon.
"Another double bourbon," Mr. Bottle croaked feebly.
The barkeep mixed it. Bottle downed it.
And then, through the open door of the saloon, there came the rising, unmistakable, shrill tooting of Pegasus' horn once more.
Mr. Bottle dashed to the door, arriving just in time to see Pegasus, now rocketing in the opposite direction, come once again down the street in mad, pell-mell fashion.
Pop-eyed in terror, Mr. Bottle watched his inebriated automobile take another corner on two wheels with much screeching protest from the tires.
Mr. Bottle was turning sickly to reenter the saloon when he heard the shrill sirens of Pegasus' pursuers.
The police motorcycles, three of them, came hell-bent around the corner and down the street in the direction Pegasus had taken less than forty seconds before.
"Oh God," groaned Mr. Bottle. "Oh Godohgod!"
In no time at all the motorcycle policemen would overtake the pie-eyed Pegasus. And then there would be hell to pay. Mr. Bottle shuddered at the thought, and turned back into the saloon to order another double bourbon.
Mr. Bottle left the saloon ten minutes and four bourbons later. But he still was not intoxicated. Mr. Bottle was discovering that a good, terrible fear was an extremely sobering factor, and that a man scared half out of his wits needs three times the ordinary amount of liquor to get tight.
It was getting dark out, now, and Mr. Bottle wandered with a sick sort of indecision along a side street of the business district, his ears figuratively cringing in anticipation of any further shrill clamor that would indicate Pegasus was still racing around the village at large.
But such sounds were not forthcoming, and as minutes passed, Mr. Bottle began to dread the very absence of them. Now he feared that the very tranquility of the atmosphere indicated that Pegasus had been trapped.
Mr. Bottle was in the peculiar position of not knowing what in hell he wanted. He couldn't decide which would be the lesser of two evils: Pegasus' capture by police, or the car's continued tear throughout the community.
So deep was Mr. Bottle in this none too pleasant debate that he almost failed to see the coy radiator snout of Pegasus peering out at him from an alley.
And when he did chance to see it, he almost fainted.
Pegasus—it could be no other! Pegasus silent and unmoving. Pegasus wonderfully tranquil.
"Perhaps Pegasus is sleeping it off, like I did," Mr. Bottle thought eagerly. "And perhaps I'll .be able to repay the favor it did me, by bringing it home during its snooze."
With this in mind, Mr. Bottle tiptoed eagerly down the alley, approaching Pegasus from the side. And the instant he laid his hand on Pegasus' door knob, he sensed that he had been correct in his guess. The car had tired of its toot. It was, indeed, sleeping off the wages of its sin.
Mr. Bottle opened the door and was stepping in behind the wheel when the voice sounded behind him.
"You own that car, buddy?"
Mr. Bottle wheeled to face three red-necked motorcycle policemen whose expressions indicated something deeper than mere annoyance.
Before he had time to check himself, Mr. Bottle replied.
"Yes," he told them. "Yes, of course."
"That, brother," said one of the policemen, "is all we wanta know!"
Mr. Bottle felt a pair of handcuffs snap over his wrists, and then he was seized roughly and hustled along at a rapid pace...
THE Night Court Session for which Mr. Bottle was being held, started at nine p.m. Consequently, this left him no little time in which to pace the stone floor of his cell and reflect on his woes.
From the very callousness of the motorcycle policemen's disregard for his protestations, Mr. Bottle had decided in advance that he was due for rough and highly unsympathetic treatment in the courts.
Mr. Bottle thought only once of calling Alice, and then he discarded the idea completely and for good. That was all the poor woman needed to show Mrs. DuShong what stuff her husband was made of, Mr. Bottle decided bitterly. The appointment as President to the Defense Civilian Women's League, or whatever it was, was something Alice had her heart set on. And in spite of his sarcastic comments about it that morning, Mr. Bottle was sincerely pulling for his wife's appointment to the post if it would make her happy.
No, he couldn't call Alice. To do so would be to run the risk of the frosty Mrs. DuShong learning of his plight. What then would the woman think about assigning Alice to a post of such importance when her husband was a bum? No. Obviously Mrs. DuShong's opinion of Mr. Bottle was none too solid as it was. Better to be a martyr than to jeopardize his wife's happiness.
So Mr. Bottle sighed and resigned himself to scheming over ways and means to keep his good wife out of this and Mrs. DuShong unaware of it.
Mr. Bottle had encountered no one so far who had recognized him. In fact, he had the definite impression that, although they had checked his license plates, the police thought him nothing more than an automobile thief who became tight while working at his trade.
"As long as they don't know I'm Bottle," he reflected, "there will be no chance of Alice learning of this."
Thus having made up his mind on the course of action he was set to take, Mr. Bottle waited nervously for them to take him. It was less than fifteen minutes later when the turnkey opened his cell door and led him across the street to the Night Police Court.
The Police Magistrate proved to be a gruff, bull-doggish individual with a voice like slag sliding down a tin chute. He had the most baleful glare to his gaze that Mr. Bottle had ever seen.
"Well," said the Magistrate, "you Bottle?"
Mr. Bottle cleared his throat and spoke his lie.
"No, sir. I am Lightfingered Lifoosky."
The Magistrate turned to his Clerk. "The license on that car showed that it belonged to one Harold Bottle, didn't it?"
The clerk said it did. The Magistrate turned back to Bottle.
"Then what were you doing with Bottle's car?"
Again Mr. Bottle cleared his throat.
"I-I, stole it, Your Honor."
The Magistrate leaned forward. "What?"
Mr. Bottle repeated.
The Magistrate turned to the Clerk. "Add larceny to that charge of drunken driving, speeding, and resistance of officers."
Mr. Bottle gulped. "Resistance of officers?" he asked.
"Of course," the Magistrate growled. "You refused to stop when the motorcycle police went after you. That's resisting officers."
Mr. Bottle nodded. "I guess so," he admitted weakly.
The Magistrate cleared his throat. "Am I to understand that you plead guilty to the charges just read?" he asked. It took all of Mr. Bottle's Spartan courage to nod yes.
"Good," said the Magistrate. "Let's get down to business, then. This court can handle only the drunken driving, speeding, and resistance to officers counts. The higher courts handle larceny, for which offense you will undoubtedly be given five years in the State Penitentiary."
MR. BOTTLE blinked in horror. He hadn't realized that small fact until this moment. Penitentiary—that was too high a price for any man to pay for his wife's appointment as President of the Women's Whateveritwas!
"Just a moment, your Honor," Bottle stammered. "I plead not guilty, on all charges. I'm not a thief. That's my own car. I am Harold Bottle!"
The Police Magistrate purpled. "What is this?" he demanded. "Whose leg do you think you're pulling, anyway?"
"But I am Harold Bottle. It is my car!"
"Soooooooo," glared the Police Magistrate, "perjury, eh?"
"I wasn't sworn in under oath," protested Mr. Bottle, who was not totally ignorant of the law.
"Contempt of Court, then," the Magistrate said promptly. "I hereby fine you twenty-five dollars for contempt of Court."
Mr. Bottle's shoulders slumped weakly. "Put it on the bill," he said.
"Well, now, Bottle," said the Magistrate, leaning forward, "Now that we've snatched away the veil and know you for what you are, how do you plead to the charges of drunken driving?"
Mr. Bottle cleared his throat. "Not guilty," he said. "I was not drunk and I was not driving. That takes care of the other two charges as well."
"Not drunk, eh?" sneered the Magistrate. He beckoned to one of the three motorcycle policemen who'd arrested Mr. Bottle. The policeman approached the bench.
"Did you arrest this man, officer?" the Magistrate asked.
The policeman nodded. "Yessir."
"Was there alcohol on his breath at that time?" the Police Magistrate asked.
"You said it!" the policeman declared.
"Thank you, officer," said the Magistrate. He leered at Bottle. "What do you say to that, eh? Not drunk, eh? Hah!"
Mr. Bottle quailed. "But I wasn't drunk! I'd had a few drinks, yes, but I was cold sober when—"
The Magistrate cut him off. "That's what they all say," he growled. Then: "And what was that second bit of nonsense you tried to hand me—that guff about not driving?"
Mr. Bottle spread his palms wide and put on his most supplicating expression.
"I wasn't driving, Your Honor. I swear I wasn't driving. The car was driving itself. It was drunk, dead drunk!"
The Magistrate donned his most sarcastic expression. "Ahhhh," he sneered, "I see. You weren't driving. You just sat in the back seat while the car drove itself, eh?"
There were "tears in Mr. Bottle's eyes as he begged for justice and belief.
"No," he said. "No one was in the car at all."
THE few loungers in the Night Court snickered. Glaring, the Magistrate banged his gavel heavily down for order. He leaned forward again to glare at Bottle.
"I have had enough of this, this buffoonery. I hereby fine you twenty-five dollars for drunken driving, twenty-five more for speeding while intoxicated, ten dollars more for resisting the officers who demanded you stop—and," he paused "for breath, "an additional twenty-five dollars for contempt of Court!"
"Eighty-five dollars in fines," intoned the Clerk.
"Plus three dollars costs," added the Magistrate.
"Total, eighty-eight dollars due from defendant Harold Bottle," the Clerk said sing-song fashion.
Mr. Bottle groaned. "I haven't got it," he said.
The Magistrate grinned cunningly. "I'll send an officer with you to your home, Bottle. Have your wife give you the money for the fines."
Mr. Bottle shuddered in horror at the thought of such a spectacle.
"No," he declared firmly. "I won't bring my wife into this. I can bring you the money Monday."
"Certainly," the Magistrate agreed. "But in the meantime, you'll sit in the jailhouse over the weekend." He banged his gavel hard. "Take the prisoner to the lockup," he shouted.
Hands closed on Mr. Bottle's arms and he was turned around and led out of the courtroom by two police jailers who walked on either side of him.
The fresh night air hit Mr. Bottle's fevered cheeks as he and his guards paused a moment at the top of the courthouse steps. Gazing at the jailhouse just across the street, Mr. Bottle shuddered at the prospects of spending forty-eight hours behind bars there. But lifting his chin and squaring his shoulders, Bottle started down the steps with firm tread and clear conscience, realizing that this grim sacrifice was made solely on behalf of his wife's right to happiness.
"It is a far better thing I do than I have ever done before," mused Mr. Bottle in the heroic words of Sidney Carton going to the guillotine.
"Huh, what's that?" the guard on his right asked.
"Nothing," said Mr. Bottle loftily. "I was but thinking aloud. Incidentally," he paused to smile cunningly and extend a folded five dollar bill to his guard, "do you think you could send a telegram for me if I told you what to say?"
The guard plucked the bill from Mr. Bottle's hand before the other guard could see it. "Sure," he said swiftly. "Whatcha want sent, and to who?"
Mr. Bottle, pausing there on the sidewalk, gave his guard his home address and his wife's name.
"In the telegram," said Bottle, "say merely, 'Called unexpectedly back to city. Urgent work. See you Monday. Signed: Harold.' "
The guard nodded. "I'll send it right now," he promised. To his companion he said: "You take care of him, Joe. I'll run down to the telegraph office right away."
Mr. Bottle's remaining guard grumbled something under his breath, held tighter to his captive's arm, and started to steer Mr. Bottle across the street to the jailhouse.
Mr. Bottle scarcely noticed that he was walking, so noble did he feel and so clever at inventing the ingenious ruse which would keep his wife from worrying and explain his absence to the frosty Mrs. DuShong.
Least of all, did Mr. Bottle realize he was crossing the street. And his complete unawareness of the automobile headlights bearing down on him and his guard at breakneck speed was the most conclusive evidence of the trance he was in.
"LoooookOUT!" Mr. Bottle's guard screamed shrilly, dropping his captive's arm, and racing madly for the curb.
MR. BOTTLE came out of the fog in time to turn and see the headlights rushing through the darkness at him from a distance of less than ten feet. He opened his mouth to scream, but no words came. He bent his knocking knees to leap aside, but he was frozen to the spot.
Mr. Bottle closed his eyes and covered his head with his arms.
There was a mad squealing of brakes and burning of tires as the automobile shaved Bottle by inches and came to a stop directly beside him.
Mr. Bottle opened his eyes to see that the door of the machine was open, that there was no one in the car or behind the wheel, and that the vehicle was Pegasus!
The next instant was one controlled by Mr. Bottle's sheer instinctive reactions. His guards were no longer beside him. He was a prisoner on his way to jail. Escape beckoned temptingly.
Mr. Bottle didn't pause to think. He leaped in behind Pegasus' steering wheel and the door slammed automatically behind him, while the motor snarled angrily and the car shot off down the street in high gear.
His hands were on the steering wheel, and Mr. Bottle was going through all the motions of driving Pegasus as the machine shot along at breakneck speed. But of course the wheel was once again quite futilely liquid, and Pegasus was racing where it pleased.
For the first three or four blocks of wild flight, Mr. Bottle's heart hammered in excitement and he felt the giddy flush of madcap adventure.
And then, as Pegasus took a turn on two wheels at sixty-five miles an hour, Mr. Bottle's reason began to return.
"Ohmygod!" groaned Mr. Bottle suddenly. "What have I done? What ever have I done?"
And cold sanity, of course, told him exactly what he'd done. He had fled the grip of the Law. He had accomplished a madly spectacular jailbreak!
Cold sweat beaded Bottle's brow, and his heart fluttered butterfly fashion around in his stomach.
He was an escaped convict, nothing less!
Being confined to a suburban jail for various offenses ranging from drunken driving to resisting officers was one thing. Dashing madly off in what must certainly have seemed to be a cleverly executed jailbreak was quite another. It lifted his crimes quite definitely from the misdemeanor status into that of felony, or something equally horrible.
Mr. Bottle wondered sickly what they did to escaped convicts. In his mind there flashed grim scenes recalled from movies, wherein baying bloodhounds tracked frantic felons through swampland wastes. He visioned, too, the chains, lashes and sweatboxes that waited for the hapless fugitives when they were at last recaptured.
Mr. Bottle groaned aloud and was seized by an uncontrollable fit of trembling. He buried his hands in his face.
"Oh, Pegasus, Pegasus, look what you've made me do!" he moaned.
It came to Mr. Bottle after a few more blocks and an attempt to get a grip on himself, that there was only one thing for him to do.
"I must go back. Now. Before it is too late," Mr. Bottle decided. "I must throw myself on the mercy of the jailers. Perhaps I can tell them I only went to get a package of cigarettes—or something."
THUS resolved, Mr. Bottle felt a little better. His hands grabbed the steering wheel again, and in a loud, clear voice he tried to regain mastery of the car.
"Pegasus," said Mr. Bottle firmly. "Enough of this nonsense. I want to go back. I want you to take me right back where you picked me up, understand?"
But if Pegasus understood, it wasn't having any. The car continued to race madly onward while the speedometer flickered around seventy-five miles an hour.
Mr. Bottle tried turning the steering wheel this way and that. But of course it was no use. The thing was still liquid in his hands. He might as well not have tried.
"Pegasus!" Mr. Bottle shouted more shrilly. "Pegasus, stop this instant. If you won't take me back I'm getting out right now!"
As if in answer, the speedometer inched up to eighty miles an hour. Mr. Bottle went pale.
"Pegasus!" he shrilled.
And before Mr. Bottle's horrified eyes, the speedometer went all the way up to ninety miles an hour—something it hadn't seemed able to do since the first year Mr. Bottle had owned it!
Pegasus had left the business district, now, and was taking a route which Mr. Bottle knew led to the main highway. The terrain was flying past them now, as the machine thundered along the streets.
Mr. Bottle had to reach his grim decision in a hurry. There was little time to dally, at the rate Pegasus was flying.
"I'll have to leap," Mr. Bottle groaned. "It's my only chance."
Several times Mr. Bottle reached for the door handle, and each time a flashing vision of houses and light-poles flicking past them made him hesitate in terror. Leaping from a machine thundering along at ninety miles an hour is something to give any man pause.
But courage came at last to Mr. Bottle, and closing his eyes he seized hard on the door handle and gave it a vicious twist downward.
The twist almost broke Mr. Bottle's wrist. And the door handle didn't give an inch. Frantically, Mr. Bottle tried again, this time with both hands. There was the same result.
Wildly, Mr. Bottle threw himself across the car seat and grabbed for the opposite door handle. With almost inhuman strength, born of his desperation, Mr. Bottle tried to force that handle down.
It was useless. Sobbing, Mr. Bottle clambered back behind the steering wheel. He was trapped. Pegasus was deliberately refusing to let him out. Those handles had never been stuck before. He knew that it would be foolish even to try the handles of the rear doors.
Pegasus had obviously made up its mind that Mr. Bottle wasn't leaving.
They reached the highway fork now, and unhesitatingly Pegasus rocketed through a red light, narrowly avoided collision with a huge truck that had the right of way, and thundered on along the broad concrete stretch.
Pegasus was heading toward the bright lights of the city.
FORTUNATELY there were few cars on the road for Pegasus to play tag with. There were few cars, that is, until Pegasus reached another highway crossing and a long, sleek, black sedan, obviously in a hell of a hurry and traveling at a right angle to them, made a sharp, screeching, two-wheeled turn onto their stretch of highway, and thundered along some two hundred yards ahead of them in the same direction.
A red flag might as well have been waved under the nose of a bull. Pegasus thundered angrily at the sight of the other machine now racing onward ahead of them. Thundered angrily and picked up speed.
Mr. Bottle blanched. The speedometer was crawling up to a hundred miles an hour! It was impossible for a car of Pegasus' years to attain such a speed. Utterly impossible. But the needle flickered steadily upward.
Pegasus' intention was obvious. The car ahead provided a challenge, and Pegasus was accepting it sportively. It was going to be a race!
Mr. Bottle cringed down behind the dashboard, expecting each instant to hear the terrible rending of one of Pegasus' worn tires, or the snapping of a vital part.
When he peered up through the windshield again two minutes later, they had gained almost a hundred yards on the car ahead!
And then, fearing to look at the speedometer, Mr. Bottle turned his head away and caught his first glimpse of the speeding automobile behind them.
It, too, was a long black, fast limousine. And it was some two hundred yards back of them, falling behind a little each second as Pegasus picked up speed.
And when Mr. Bottle turned back to look through the front windshield again, they were less than fifty yards behind the car ahead of them.
It was then that Mr. Bottle noticed that there seemed to be five or six men in that car, and that several of them were peering intently through the rear window at Pegasus' approach.
Mr. Bottle was wondering about this when one of the men opened the rear window and the second one stuck out a stick and pointed it at them.
In less than two seconds later, Mr, Bottle was aware that the stick was spitting flame through the darkness at them, and that the stick was not a stick, but a gun of some sort. Mr. Bottle digested this in open-mouthed amazement.
The crashing of the first shots through Pegasus windshield brought home to Mr. Bottle the awful fact that he was the target of the fire.
Mr. Bottle then acted on sheer instinct. He clambered over the seat and into the back of the car, where he lay trembling on the floor.
The shots were louder and more frequent, now, and Mr. Bottle realized that Pegasus must be almost within a few feet of the other machine.
Curiosity is also an instinct, and it prompted Mr. Bottle to raise his head ever so cautiously to the window level of the car.
And then Mr. Bottle saw that they were directly behind the other machine, and moving up in an effort to run side by side with it. He saw, from close range, the face of the man holding the gun.
It was an ugly face, a frightening face, hard and foreign in cast. But it was also a face that was considerably frightened.
The face turned away and shouted something up to the men in the front seat. And then Pegasus, in a neat spurt, drew around and up alongside the other machine.
Mr. Bottle had forgotten to duck down again, and so he saw the whole panorama.
There were six men in the car, and they all had the same hard, frightening casts to their features as the one with the gun. And like the first one Bottle had seen, they, too, were white with fright.
All of them were staring open mouthed in terror at Pegasus. Five of them had guns which they held foolishly in their hands, making no effort to fire them.
AND then Mr. Bottle realized the reason for their terrified alarm. It was Pegasus and himself, of course. The fact that Pegasus was speeding along merrily with absolutely no visible hand in the front seat to guide it while its sole passenger crouched in the back peering out the window at them. Enough to terrify the hardest of individuals.
What happened then happened swiftly.
The car alongside of them went apparently out of control as its driver looked too long at Pegasus and not long enough at the road ahead
Mr. Bottle saw it start to veer wildly off into the ditch beside the road, saw the frantic efforts of the others in the car, trying all at once to grab the wheel and right the machine. Efforts which only served to speed its course into the ditch.
And even as the other car crashed off the road into the ditch and started the sickening roll over and over through the weeds toward a telephone post, Pegasus blew a tire!
Pegasus, then, in the next split second, was skeetering toward the ditch some ten yards in front of the machine that had already plunged into it.
Mr. Bottle shouted wildly, grabbing instinctively for the rear door handle. And then there was a bouncing, jarring, twisting chaos, and Mr. Bottle was releasing his hold on the handle of the open rear door and flying through the air toward a clump of thorn bushes.
The thorn bushes and Mr. Bottle's nether extremities cushioned his fall—a most unhappy combination. Dazed, yowling wildly, Mr. Bottle scrambled from the bushes and slid down into the ditch.
Standing there, Mr. Bottle looked around in horror. Pegasus lay in a twisted mass of wreckage against a telephone pole some fifty yards ahead. The limousine which had gone off into the ditch before Pegasus had found a closer pole, and lay smoulderingly twined around it. Its occupants were evidently trapped inside.
And then the car which Mr. Bottle had seen racing along behind them came screeching to a stop on the highway directly beside Mr. Bottle. Doors opened and men piled out. Grim, resolute, clean-cut young men carrying submachine guns in their arms. They swarmed around Bottle.
"Great work, old man! Tremendously courageous stuff. We saw it all. We'd never have caught these devils if you hadn't come along. They were pulling away from us all the time!"
Mr. Bottle didn't know what it was all about, but he pointed a frightened finger at the twisted wreckage of the sleek sedan.
"They're still in there," he said.
Some of the grim young men set about the task of pulling the occupants of the wrecked limousine forth from the remains of their car.
"You've done the F.B.I. a turn that won't be forgotten," one of the young men told Bottle.
"F.B.I.?" choked Mr. Bottle. "G-Men?"
The young man nodded. "Of course. That bunch you overtook and ran off the road is the nastiest band of saboteurs operating in this part of the country."
"Saboteurs?" Mr. Bottle gasped.
The young man nodded. "That's right," he said. "For this you'll be something of a hero."
Mr. Bottle collapsed in a heap...
THE young F.B.I, man was correct. Mr. Bottle did, indeed, become something of a hero. The suburban paper ran a Sunday extra featuring his picture above the tale of his exploit. Alice, of course, floated on a cloud of sheer ecstasy.
Even Mrs. DuShong was impressed, and her attitude toward Mr. Bottle changed to one of respectful awe. Naturally Alice got the Presidency of the Women's Civilian Whatchamacallit.
Pegasus was carted off to the junk heap, which Mr. Bottle visited stealthily at night in order to place a small wreath atop the shattered remains.
And the matter of Mr. Bottle's being without a car was quite handsomely rectified. The Government presented him with a sleek, new 1942 super-deluxe sedan, after ordering the priorities people to place him number one on their local list.
And this new car Mr. Bottle determined to treat kindly, but without pampering. For he was far too well aware of the danger involved in allowing a mere automobile the attention deserved only by humans. Such treatment made them only too apt to get out of hand.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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