CHAPTER FIVE. ON TO BUFFALO
From Painesville three roads led east, - the North Ridge, Middle Ridge, and South Ridge. We followed the middle road, which is said to be by far the best; it certainly is as good a gravel road as one could ask. Some miles out a turn is made to the South Ridge for Ashtabula.
There is said to be a good road out of Ashtabula; possibly there is, but we missed it at one of the numerous cross roads, and soon found ourselves wallowing through corn-fields, climbing hills, and threading valleys in the vain effort to find Girard, - a point quite out of our way, as we afterwards learned.
The Professor's bump of locality is a depression. As a passenger without serious occupation, it fell to his lot to inquire the way. This he would do very minutely, with great suavity and becoming gravity, and then with no sign of hesitation indicate invariably the wrong road. Once, after crossing a field where there were no fences to mark the highway, descending a hill we could not have mounted, and finding a stream that seemed impassable, the Professor quietly remarked, -
"That old man must have been mistaken regarding the road; yet he had lived on that corner forty years. Strange how little some people know about their surroundings!"
"But are you sure he said the first turn to the left?"
"He said the first turn, but whether to the left or right I cannot now say. It must have been to the right."
"But, my dear Professor, you said to the left."
"Well, we were going pretty fast when we came to the four corners, and something had to be said, and said quickly. I notice that on an automobile decision is more important than accuracy. After being hauled over the country for three days, I have made up my mind that automobiles are driven upon the hypothesis that it is better to lose the road, lose life, lose anything than lose time, therefore, when you ask me which way to turn, you will get an immediate, if not an accurate, response; besides, there is a bridge ahead, a little village across the stream, so the road leads somewhere."
Now and then the Professor would jump out to assist some female in distress with her horse; at first it was a matter of gallantry, then a duty, then a burden. Towards the last it used to delight him to see people frantically turning into lanes, fields, anywhere to get out of the way.
The horse is a factor to be considered - and placated. He is in possession and cannot be forcibly ejected, - a sort of terre-tenant; such title as he has must be respected.
After wrestling with an unusually notional beast, to the great disorder of clothing and temper, the Professor said, -
"The brain of the horse is small; it is an animal of little sense and great timidity, but it knows more than most people who attempt to drive."
In reality horses are seldom driven; they generally go as they please, with now and then a hint as to which corner to turn. Nine times out of ten it is the driven horse that makes trouble for owners of automobiles. The drunken driver never has any trouble; his horses do not stop, turn about, or shy into the ditch; the man asleep on the box is perfectly safe; his horse ambles on, minding its own business, giving a full half of the road to the approaching machine. It is the man, who, on catching sight of the automobile, nervously gathers up his reins, grabs his whip, and pulls and jerks, who makes his own troubles; he is searching for trouble, expects it, and is disappointed if he gets by without it. Nine times out of ten it is the driver who really frightens the horse. A country plug, jogging quietly along, quite unterrified, may be roused to unwonted capers by the person behind.
Some take the antics of their horses quite philosophically. One old farmer, whose wheezy nag tried to climb the fence, called out, -
"Gee whiz! I wish you fellers would come this way every day; the old hoss hasn't showed so much ginger for ten year."
Another, carrying just a little more of the wine of the country than his legs could bear, stood up unsteadily in his wagon and shouted, -
"If you (hic) come around these pa-arts again with that thres-in' ma-a-chine, I'll have the law on you, - d'ye hear?"
The personal equation is everything on the road, as elsewhere.
It is quite idle to expect skill, courage, or common sense from the great majority of drivers. They get along very well so long as nothing happens, but in emergencies they are helpless, because they have never had experience in emergencies. The man who has driven horses all his life is frequently as helpless under unusual conditions as the novice. Few drivers know when and how to use the whip to prevent a runaway or a smash-up.
With the exception of professional and a few amateur whips, no one is ever taught how to drive. Most persons who ride - even country boys - are given many useful hints, lessons, and demonstrations; but it seems to be assumed that driving is a natural acquirement.
As a matter of fact, it is much more important to be taught how to drive than how to ride. A horse in front of a vehicle can do all the mean things a horse under a saddle can do, and more; and it is far more difficult to handle an animal in shafts by means of long reins and a whip.
If people knew half as much about horses as they think they do, there would be no mishaps; if horses were half as nervous as they are supposed to be, the accidents would be innumerable.
The truth is, the horse does very well if managed with a little common sense, skill, and coolness.