A man I knew proposed one evening we
should go for a long bicycle ride
together on the following day, and I agreed. I got
up early, for me; I made an effort, and was pleased
with myself. He came half an hour late; I was
waiting for him in the garden. It was a lovely day.
He said, "That's a good-looking machine of yours.
How does it run?"
"Oh, like most of them!" I answered; "easily
enough in the morning; goes a little stiffly after
He caught hold of it by the front wheel and the
fork, and shook it violently.
I said, "Don't do that; you'll hurt it."
I did not see why he should shake it; it had
not done anything to him. Besides, if it wanted
shaking, I was the proper person to shake it. I felt
much as I should had he started whacking
He said, "This front wheel wobbles."
I said, "It doesn't if you don't wobble it." It didn't
wobble, as a matter of fact'nothing worth calling
He said, "This is dangerous; have you got a
hammer?" I ought to have been firm, but I thought
that perhaps he really did know something about
the business. I went to the tool shed to see what I
could find. When I came back he was sitting on
the ground with the front wheel between his legs.
He was playing with it, twiddling it round
between his fingers; the remnant of the machine
was lying on the gravel path beside him.
He said, "It looks to me as if the bearings were
I said, "Don't you trouble about it any more;
you will make yourself tired. Let us put it back
and get off."
He said, "We may as well see what is the matter
with it, now it is out." He talked as though it
had dropped out by accident.
Before I could stop him he had unscrewed
something somewhere, and out rolled all over the
path some dozen or so little balls.
"Catch 'em!" he shouted; "catch 'em! We
mustn't lose any of them." He was quite excited
We grovelled round for half an hour, and found
sixteen. He said he hoped we had got them all,
because, if not, it would make a serious difference
to the machine. I put them for safety in my
hat. It was not a sensible thing to do, I admit.
He then said that while he was about it he would
see to the chain for me, and at once began taking
off the gear-case. I did try to dissuade him from
that. I told him what an experienced friend of mine
once said to me solemnly: "If anything goes wrong
with your gear-case, sell the machine and buy a
new one; it comes cheaper."
He said, "People talk like that who understand
nothing about machines. Nothing is easier than
taking off a gear-case."
I had to confess he was right. In less than five
minutes he had the gear-case in two pieces, lying
on the path, and was grovelling for screws. He
said it was always a mystery to him the way screws
Common sense continued to whisper to me:
'Stop him, before he does any more mischief. You
have a right to protect your own property from
the ravages of a lunatic. Take him by the scruff of
the neck, and kick him out of the gate!'
But I am weak when it comes to hurting other
people's feelings, and I let him muddle on.
He gave up looking for the rest of the screws.
He said screws had a knack of turning up when
you least expected them, and that now he would
see to the chain. He tightened it till it would not
move; next he loosened it until it was twice as
loose as it was before. Then he said we had better
think about getting the front wheel back into its
I held the fork open, and he worried with the
wheel. At the end of ten minutes I suggested he
should hold the fork, and that I should handle
the wheel; and we changed places.
At length we did get the thing into position;
and the moment it was in position he burst out
I said, "What's the joke?"
He said, "Well, I am an ass!"
It was the first thing he had said that made me
respect him. I asked him what had led him to
He said, "We've forgotten the balls!" .
I looked for my hat; it was lying topsy-turvy in
the middle of the path.
He was of a cheerful disposition. He said, "Well,
we must put back all we can find, and trust
We found eleven. We fixed six on one side and
five on the other, and half an hour later the wheel
was in its place again. It need hardly be added
that it really did wobble now; a child might have
noticed it. He said it would do for the present.
I said, "Watching you do this is of real use to
me. It is not only your skill that fascinates me,
it is your cheery confidence in yourself, your
inexplicable hopefulness, that does me good."
Thus encouraged, he set to work to refix the
gear-case. He stood the bicycle against the house,
and worked from the off side. Then he stood it
against a tree, and worked from the on side. Then
I held it for him, while he lay on the ground with
his head between the wheels, and worked at it
from below, and dropped oil upon himself. Then
he took it away from me, and doubled himself
across it till he lost his balance and slid over on
to his head.
Then he lost his temper and tried bullying the
thing. The bicycle, I was glad to see, showed spirit;
and the subsequent proceedings degenerated into
little else than a rough-and-tumble fight
between him and the machine. One moment the
bicycle would be on the gravel path, and he on
top of it; the next, the position would be reversed -
he on the gravel path, the bicycle on him. Now he
would be standing flushed with victory, the bicycle
firmly fixed between his legs. But his triumph
would be short-lived. By a sudden, quick
movement it would free itself and, turning upon
him, hit him sharply over the head with one of
At a quarter to one dirty and dishevelled, cut
and bleeding, he said, "I think that will do", and
rose and wiped his brow.
The bicycle looked as if it also had had enough
of it. Which had received most punishment it
would have been difficult to say. 1 took him into
the back kitchen where, so far as was possible,
he cleaned himself. Then 1 sent him home.
I saw a snake and ran away...
Some snakes are dangerous, they say;
But mother says that kind is good,
And eats up insects for his food.
So when he wiggles in the grass
I'll stand aside and watch him pass,
And tell myself, "There's no mistake,
It's just a harmless garden snake!"
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