June 14, 1896
“Are you planning on getting up today or just going to skip this one?” Wilbur asked from the foot of my bed.
I yawned lazily. The summer heat was pouring in from my open window and the humidity made the sheets stick to my skin. I blinked my eyes to clear away the last remnants of blissful sleep.
“I’ll tell you in the morning.” I replied.
“Too late. Morning left about an hour ago.”
“I’m fairly certain there will be another one in a few hours.”
Wilbur laughed. I rolled over on my side and covered my head with a pillow. A moment later I felt his hand attempt to tickle the bottom of my foot. I was about eight years old the last time that worked but Wilbur has not stopped trying. It was obvious he wanted me for something and was not going to leave me alone until he got it.
I threw my pillow at him which ended up smacking him in the head. He looked at me with a stupid grin on his face as I sat up in bed.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Too bad. We’re siblings so it just wouldn’t be proper.” I teased.
Wilbur turned red as a tomato.
“That’s not what I meant. I’m bored. I thought we could do something together like we used to before you went away to school.”
“Well now that you’ve made sure I can’t sleep no more, I guess we could.”
Wilbur grinned even wider and I wondered how it was possible.
“But it better be damn good fun!” I added.
He threw my pillow back at me and I laid flat just in time for it to miss me. I giggled and rolled out of bed to find Wilbur had all ready run out of the room.
“I’ll get you back, I’ve got all day to figure out how.” I called after him.
He only laughed in response.
After a suitably long bath, interrupted not once, not twice, but three time by impatient knocking from Wilbur, I was ready to discover what sort of adventure he had in mind for the day.
I met him at the front door which he graciously opened for me with the exaggerated politeness of a southern gentleman. It is the little things like that, which I missed and never was quite able to explain to my peers at school. Mother arrived just as I was stepping outside with an overflowing picnic basket. Wilbur took it from her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
I looked around and saw no horses waiting for us. Then my eye spotted the automobile parked in the shade. I smiled.
“Looks like you made mother go to an awful lot of trouble just to have a picnic on the front lawn.” I teased.
“We’re not eating on the front lawn.”
“Oh, the back then.” I continued.
“We are going someplace you haven’t been in a long time.”
“I don’t see any horses.”
“We’re taking the automobile.”
“You’re not going to make me ride in that death trap again are you?” I did my best to sound scared.
Wilbur was busy putting the picnic basket in the backseat, but he stopped long enough to give me the look of a hurt puppy dog. I relented and gave him a smile with a little giggle.
“Why you, little brat. I oughta…” He shook his fist at me.
“You oughta what? I told you I’d get you back.”
“Get in.” He said holding open the door.
I settled into the automobile behind the controls with a confused look on my face. Wilbur slammed the door closed and ran around to the other side to jump in next to me. I looked at him sitting there with a grin on his face and did my best to hide the one creeping up on me.
“What do you think you are doing?” I asked.
“Me? I’m going to sit here and enjoy the ride while you drive me all over town.”
“Nice try, I don’t have any idea how to control this, this thing.” I gestured at the whole of the auto with my hands.
“I guess I’ll have to teach you then.” Wilbur replied.
I rolled my eyes.
“Don’t you think after a year away at school I’d want a break from being taught?”
Wilbur’s face suddenly turned all serious.
“Gee, sis. I didn’t think about that. If you don’t want to learn, I’ll drive. I just thought maybe you’d want to, you know.”
He started to get out. I grabbed his arm and he looked back at me. I smiled and blinked my eyelids in my best attempt at appearing innocent and sweet.
“I never said I didn’t want to. I was just pointing out you never asked.” I said.
Wilbur sat back down, shaking his head.
“Penelope, you are really asking for a good walloping so far today.”
“Who me? What did I do?”
“Where should I start?”
“The beginning is usually best.”
We both laughed.
“This here is the steering wheel.” Wilbur tapped the giant round wheel sitting in front of me.
“What’s it for?” I asked.
“Isn’t that for cows?”
Wilbur shook his head and tried not to laugh. He sort of succeeded but he did let out something of a snort which reminded me of a steer. Naturally, I was nearly doubled over laughing.
Wilbur waited patiently for the fit to pass. When I finally regained my composure, he continued.
“At your feet are three pedals.”
I looked down and sure enough there were three different pedals.
“Oh I got it. So if I push these outer two the thing goes? What is the middle one for?”
“Whoa, slow down there. You’re getting all ahead of me.”
“The one on the far left is called a clutch.”
“Okay. What’s a clutch?”
“I’ll get to it, just be patient.”
I rolled my eyes again but this time, hoped he did not noticed.
“The one on the right is the accelerator. That’s the one that controls the speed.”
“Okay, simple enough.”
“The middle one is the brake.”
“So when I want to slow down or stop I press it?”
“Right, only don’t press it too hard or we’ll be sitting on the hood.”
“What’s the hood?”
“Are you going to tell me what a clutch is now?”
“Yes, but first this hear is the gearshift.” He pointed toward a stick coming out to the side of the steering wheel.”
I grabbed hold of it and nodded.
“Okay, you’ve been on a bike with two gears right?”
“This is the same concept, only because an automobile moves so much faster it has a clutch to disengage the drive chain while you change gears. So when you need to change gears you press the clutch down and then move to the new gear and then let the clutch pedal back up, but you got to move the pedal back smoothly.”
“This sounds complicated.”
“No, it’s easy once you do it a couple of times.”
“If you say so.”
“Put your right foot on the brake and press it down. Now put your left foot on the clutch and press it down. Good. Now push this button here.” He pointed to a red button on the dash.
I pushed it in and the automobile roared to life in a cloud of smoke and then sputtered with an awful noise as it lurched forward and fell silent when I moved both my feet off the pedals.
“No, no, no. You’ve got to keep the pedals pushed in.”
“How I’m supposed to accelerate then? I only have two feet, Wilbur!”
“Calm down. Just take it slowly and wait for me to tell you when and how to let up on the pedals.”
I glared at him for a moment and then exhaled heavily. I pushed the clutch and brake pedals in again. Pressed the button and the automobile roared to life again. I held onto the steering wheel to keep from bouncing around and look over at Wilbur for further instructions. If I could have, I would have been tapping my foot with impatience.
“Good. Now let’s put the gearshift in first.” He said.
He reached over and moved my right hand to the gearshift and then guided me into pushing it into the first gear. There was a little resistance but it went into place with a soft grinding sound.
“Good. Now let up on the brake pedal and move your foot to the accelerator.”
The engine roared but we went nowhere.
“Don’t push it down yet.”
“You could have said that before.”
“It’s more fun this way though.” He laughed.
I shook my head at him indicating it was not more fun for me.
“Okay, slowly let up on the clutch but at the same time slowly press the accelerator down until the auto starts moving forward. When it does, you can let up on the clutch completely and add acceleration in small amounts as long as you are comfortable with the speed.”
I did my best to follow his instructions. Much to my surprise it worked too. Wilbur was gloating beside me but for once I decided it was much deserved and besides I was having too much fun to care.
Miraculously, I managed to avoid hitting anything. The wheel was rather simple to use in controlling the direction and it took me only a few moments to become comfortable with it. Consistency on acceleration was another matter entirely. It took me several minutes to smooth out the forward movement from a repetitious lurching which had Wilbur and I rocking back and forth on the bench and laughing like a couple of kids in a fun house.
Once satisfied I had the basics of starting, stopping, and turning down, Wilbur pointed me down a road. It had not existed the last time I was home so I had no idea where we were headed at first. Wilbur liked it that way and refused to tell me. I suppose I could have stopped the automobile and wrangled it out of him but you have to let boys have their fun from time to time.
I recognized the area soon enough anyway. At the end of the road was our old playground at the lake. The tired old rope we used to swing into the lake from still hung from the even older tree at the shore. I stopped just off the side of the road and smiled at Wilbur.
He grabbed the picnic basket and a blanket from the back and headed toward the shade of the tree. He laid out the blanket in the shade and offered me the seat to lean up against the tree. I graciously accepted.
“This was a good idea.” I said.
Wilbur nodded and opened the basket up.
“Hungry?” He asked.
“Sure. What have we got?”
“I’ll have the ham.”
Wilbur tossed a fried chicken leg at me. I caught it neatly and after a moment’s scolding look we both laughed. Minding our manners we had lunch without much conversation until it was gone.
“So, tell me about this Remington.” Wilbur asked, wiping his hands on the blanket.
“What’s to tell?”
“Is he good to you?”
Wilbur looked at me as though he expected I was teasing him.
“I thought you were dating him?” Wilbur asked.
“Not really. It’s a little complicated.”
“I’d like to hear it, unless you don’t want to talk about it.”
I nodded and sighed. Perhaps it would do me some good to confess.
“Will you promise to keep this just between us?” I asked.
“Of course. I just want to help, if I can.”
There are some people who would just say that to win my trust, but not Wilbur. He means it and always has.
“You remember I didn’t want to go to Primrose at all last summer right?”
“Yes, you cried half the summer away in temper tantrums. How could I forget?”
I blushed a little, embarrassed by the memory of my pathetic behavior.
“Well it wasn’t what I expected. It took me all of two days to really appreciate being there. It’s not just a bunch of young women in search of the perfect husband, we really are learning there. And it’s not just the mundane of how to be a proper lady and wife but important things about how the world works. I never expected it, but I got addicted to the learning. So, much so I completely ignored the reason father sent me.”
Wilbur just nodded and listened.
“It became clear that was going to be a problem after a couple of months when two of my roommates were being solidly courted by some of the best Brown had to offer. Father was going to suspect something was up if I wasn’t pulling as well. I just knew he was keeping tabs on me.” I continued.
“He wouldn’t be father if he wasn’t meddling in everything.” Wilbur added supportively.
“So, I invented Remington.”
Wilbur looked at me in disbelief.
“I happen to no for a fact, Remington Drake exists.” Wilbur said.
“Remington Drake does indeed, but if you notice, I never referred to him by his surname. I invented a Remington, knowing there would be at least one boy by that name in Brown and hoping there would be plenty more. The idea was to give everyone the impression I was doing what I was supposed to be doing while not having any of the pressure and thus being free to pursue my studies in peace.”
“I think I understand. I take it something happened to involve Remington Drake?”
“Yes, exactly. Lucy and Jenny, two of my roommates, encountered Remington Drake and naturally assumed he was ‘my’ Remington. For some reason, he played along. I guess I miscalculated on the number of young men named Remington. He felt safe in the charade because there was only one other young man in all Brown named Remington and he was quite certain he had no connection to me.”
“The man has no honor. If I ever meet him…” Wilbur trailed off in anger.
“You can’t, Wilbur. Nobody can know the truth. Father would never let me go back to Primrose if he did and I can’t bear the though of that. I’ll find someway to deal with Remington Drake, but just know he has not been of any interest to me, ever.”
“He misrepresented himself to father and undoubtedly countless others. You can’t expect me to ignore it?”
“Yes, I do. Trust me, I will take care of Remington Drake.”
Wilbur and I shared a look in which I think we both recalled the numerous times I had arranged for him and James to land in serious trouble with our father. After a moment he nodded his head in acceptance.
“Okay, sis. I have a feeling I’d like to be there when it all falls down on him.” He said with a twinkle in his eye.
“I think we might be able to arrange that. Who knows, maybe you can even play a part.” I replied with my best look of innocence.