John Kendrick Bangs
The Bicyclers and Three Other Farces
MR. ROBERT YARDSLEY, an expert.
MR. JACK BARLOW, another.
MR. THADDEUS PERKINS, a beginner.
MR. EDWARD BRADLEY, a scoffer.
MRS. THADDEUS PERKINS, a resistant.
MRS. EDWARD BRADLEY, an enthusiast.
JENNIE, a maid.
The scene is laid in the drawing-room of Mr. and Mrs. Thaddeus Perkins, at No. – Gramercy Square. It is late October; the action begins at 8.30 o’clock on a moonlight evening. The curtain rising discloses Mr. and Mrs. Perkins sitting together. At right is large window facing on square. At rear is entrance to drawing-room. Leaning against doorway is a safety bicycle. Perkinsis clad in bicycle garb.
Perkins. Well, Bess, I’m in for it now, and no mistake. Bob and Jack are coming to-night to give me my first lesson in biking.
Mrs. Perkins. I’m very glad of it, Thaddeus. I think it will do you a world of good. You’ve been working too hard of late, and you need relaxation.
Perkins (doubtfully). I know that—but—from what I can gather, learning to ride a wheel isn’t the most restful thing in the world. There’s a good deal of lying down about it; but it comes with too great suddenness; that is, so Charlie Cheeseborough says. He learned up at the Academy, and he told me that he spent most of his time making dents in the floor with his head.
Mrs. Perkins. Well, I heard differently. Emma Bradley learned there at the same time he did, and she said he spent most of his time making dents in the floor with other people’s heads. Why, really, he drove all the ladies to wearing those odious Psyche knots. The time he ran into Emma, if she hadn’t worn her back hair that way she’d have fractured her skull.
Perkins. Ha, ha! They all tell the same story. Barlow said he always wore a beaver hat while Cheeseborough was on the floor, so that if Charlie ran into him and he took a header his brain wouldn’t suffer.
Mrs. Perkins. Nevertheless, Mr. Cheeseborough learned more quickly than any one else in the class.
Perkins. So Barlow said—because he wasn’t eternally in his own way, as he was in every one else’s. (A ring is heard at the front door.) Ah! I guess that’s Bob and Jack.
Jennie. Mr. Bradley, ma’am.
Perkins. Bradley? Wonder what the deuce he’s come for? He’ll guy the life out of me. (Enter Bradley. He wears a dinner coat.) Ah, Brad, old chap, how are you? Glad to see you.
Bradley. Good-evening, Mrs. Perkins. This your eldest? [With a nod at Perkins.
Mrs. Perkins. My eldest?
Bradley. Yes—judged from his togs it was your boy. What! Can it be? You! Thaddeus?
Perkins. That’s who I am.
Bradley. When did you go into short trousers?
Perkins (with a feeble laugh, glancing at his clothes). Oh, these—ha, ha! I’m taking up the bicycle. Even if it weren’t for the exhilaration of riding, it’s a luxury to wear these clothes. Old flannel shirt, old coat, old pair of trousers shortened to the knee, and golf stockings. I’ve had these golf stockings two years, and never had a chance to wear ’em till now.
Bradley. You’ve got it bad, haven’t you? How many lessons have you had?
Perkins. None yet. Fact is, just got my wheel—that’s it over there by the door—pneumatic tires, tool-chest, cyclometer, lamp—all for a hun.
Bradley (with a laugh). How about life-insurance? Do they throw in a policy for that? They ought to.
Perkins. No—but they would if I’d insisted. Competition between makers is so great, they’ll give you most anything to induce a bargain. The only thing they really gave me extra is the ki-yi gun.
Mrs. Perkins. The what?
Perkins. Ki-yi gun—it shoots dogs. Dog comes out, catches sight of your leg—
Bradley. Mistakes it for a bone and grabs—eh?
Perkins. Well—I fancy that’s about the size of it. You can’t very well get off, so you get out your ki-yi gun and shoot ammonia into the beast’s face. It doesn’t hurt the dog, but it gives him something to think of. I’ll show you how the thing works. (Gets the gun from tool-box.) This is the deadly weapon, and I’m the rider—see? (Sits on a chair, with face to back, and works imaginary pedals.) You’re the dog. I’m passing the farm-yard. Bow-wow! out you spring—grab me by the bone—I—ah—I mean the leg. Pouf! I shoot you with ammonia. [Suits action to the word.
Bradley (starting back). Hi, hold on! Don’t squirt that infernal stuff at me! My dear boy, get a grip on yourself. I’m not really a ki-yi, and while I don’t like bicyclists, their bones are safe from me. I won’t bite you.
Mrs. Perkins. Really—I think that’s a very ingenious arrangement; don’t you, Mr. Bradley?
Bradley. I do, indeed. But, as long as we’re talking about it, I must say I think what Thaddeus really needs is a motormangun, to squirt ammonia, or even beer, into the faces of these cable-car fellows. They’re more likely to interfere with him than dogs—don’t you think?
Perkins. It’s a first-rate idea, Brad. I’ll suggest it to my agent.
Bradley. Your what?
Perkins (apologetically). Well, I call him my agent, although really I’ve only bought this one wheel from him. He represents the Czar Manufacturing Company.
Bradley. They make Czars, do they?
Perkins (with dignity). They make wheels. The man who owns the company is named Czar. I refer to him as my agent, because from the moment he learned I thought of buying a wheel he came and lived with me. I couldn’t get rid of him, and finally in self-defence I bought this wheel. It was the only way I could get rid of him.
Bradley. Aha! That’s the milk in the cocoanut. eh? Hadn’t force of mind to get rid of the agent. Couldn’t say no. Humph! I wondered why you, a man of sense, a man of dignity, a gentleman, should take up with this—
Perkins (angrily). See here, Brad, I like you very much, but I must say—
Mrs. Perkins (foreseeing a quarrel). Thaddeus! ’Sh! Ah, by-the-way, Mr. Bradley, where is Emma this evening? I never knew you to be separated before.
Bradley (sorrowfully). This is the first time, Mrs. Perkins. Fact is, we’d intended calling on you to-night, and I dressed as you see me. Emma was in proper garb too, but when she saw what a beautiful night it was, she told me to go ahead, and she—By Jove! it almost makes me weep!
Perkins. She wasn’t taken ill?
Bradley. No—worse. She said: “You go down on the ‘ L.’ I’ll bike. It’s such a splendid night.” Fine piece of business this! To have a bicycle come between man and wife is a pretty hard fate, I think—for the one who doesn’t ride.
Mrs. Perkins. Then Emma is coming here?
Bradley. That’s the idea, on her wheel—coming down the Boulevard, across Seventy-second Street, through the Park, down Madison, across Twenty-third, down Fourth to Twenty-first, then here.
Perkins. Bully ride that.
Mrs. Perkins. Alone?
Bradley (sadly). I hope so—but these bicyclists have a way of flocking together. For all I know, my beloved Emma may now be coasting down Murray Hill escorted by some bicycle club from Jersey City.
Mrs. Perkins. Oh dear—Mr. Bradley!
Bradley. Oh, it’s all right, I assure you, Mrs. Perkins. Perfectly right and proper. It’s merely part of the exercise, don’t you know. There’s a hail-fellow-well-metness about enthusiastic bicyclists, and Emma is intensely enthusiastic. It gives her a chance, you know, and Emma has always wanted a chance. Independence is a thing she’s been after ever since she got her freedom, and now, thanks to the wheel, she’s got it again, and even I must admit it’s harmless. Funny she doesn’t get here though (looking at his watch); she’s had time to come down twice.
[Bicycle bells are heard ringing without.
Mrs. Perkins. Maybe that is she now. Go and see, will you, Thaddeus? [Exit Perkins.
Perkins (without), That you, Mrs. Bradley?
[Mrs. Perkins and Bradley listen intently.
Two Male Voices. No; it’s us, Perk. Got your wheel?
Bradley and Mrs. Perkins. Where can she be?
Enter Perkins with Barlow and Yardsley.
They both greet Mrs. Perkins.
Yardsley. Hullo, Brad! You going to have a lesson too?
Barlow. Dressed for it, aren’t you, by Jove! Nothing like a dinner coat for a bicycle ride. Your coat-tails don’t catch in the gear.
Bradley (severely). I haven’t taken it up—fact is, I don’t care for fads. Have you seen my wife?
Yardsley. Yes—saw her the other night at the academy. Rides mighty well, too, Brad. Don’t wonder you don’t take it up. Contrast, you know—eh, Perk? Fearful thing for a man to have the world see how much smarter his wife is than he is.
Perkins (turning to his wheel). Bradley’s a little worried about the non-arrival of Mrs. Bradley. She was coming here on her wheel, and started about the same time he did.
Barlow. Oh, that’s all right, Ned. She knows her wheel as well as you know your business. Can’t come down quite as fast as the “L,” particularly these nights just before election. She may have fallen in with some political parade, and is waiting to get across the street.
Bradley (aside). Well, I like that!
Mrs. Perkins (aside). Why—it’s awful!
Yardsley. Or she may possibly have punctured her tire—that would delay her fifteen or twenty minutes. Don’t worry, my dear boy. I showed her how to fix a punctured tire all right. It’s simple enough—you take the rubber thing they give you and fasten it in that metal thingumbob, glue it up, poke it in, pull it out, pump her up, and there you are.
Bradley (scornfully). You told her that, did you?
Yardsley. I did.
Bradley (with a mock sigh of relief). You don’t know what a load you’ve taken off my mind.
Barlow (looking at his watch). H’m! Thaddeus, it’s nine o’clock. I move we go out and have the lesson. Eh? The moon is just right.
Yardsley. Yes—we can’t begin too soon. Wheel all right?
Perkins. Guess so—I’m ready.
Bradley. I’ll go out to the corner and see if there’s any sign of Mrs. Bradley. [Exit.
Mrs. Perkins (who has been gazing out of window for some moments). I do wish Emma would come. I can’t understand how women can do these things. Riding down here all alone at night! It is perfectly ridiculous!
Yardsley (rolling Perkins’s wheel into middle of room). Czar wheel, eh?
Perkins (meekly). Yes—best going—they tell me.
Barlow. Can’t compare with the Alberta. Has a way of going to pieces like the “one-hoss shay”—eh, Bob?
Yardsley. Exactly—when you least expect it, too—though the Alberta isn’t much better. You get coasting on either of ’em, and half-way down, bang! the front wheel collapses, hind wheel flies up and hits you in the neck, handle-bar turns just in time to stab you in the chest; and there you are, miles from home, a physical, moral, bicycle wreck. But the Arena wheel is different. In fact, I may say that the only safe wheel is the Arena. That’s the one I ride. However, at fifty dollars this one isn’t extravagant.
Perkins. I paid a hundred.
Yardsley. A wha—a—at?
Barlow. Well you are a—a—good fellow. It’s a pretty wheel, anyhow. Eh, Bob?
Yardsley. Simple beauty. Is she pumped up?
Perkins. Beg your pardon?
Yardsley. Pumped up, tires full and tight—ready for action—support an elephant?
Perkins. Guess so—my—I mean, the agent said it was perfect.
Yardsley. Extra nuts?
Yardsley. Extra nuts—nuts extra. Suppose you lose a nut, and your pedal comes off; what you going to do—get a tow?
Barlow. Guess Perkins thinks this is like going to sleep.
Perkins. I don’t know anything about it. What I’m after is information; only, I give you warning, I will not ride so as to get round shoulders.
Yardsley. Then where’s your wrench? Screw up your bar, hoist your handles, elevate your saddle, and you’re O.K. What saddle have you?
Perkins (tapping it). This.
Barlow. Humph! Not very good—but we’ll try it. Come on. It’s getting late.
[They go out. Perkins reluctantly. In a moment he returns alone, and, rushing to Mrs. Perkins, kisses her affectionately.
Perkins. Good-bye, dearest.
Mrs. Perkins. Good-bye. Don’t hurt yourself, Thaddeus. [Exit Perkins.
Mrs. Perkins (leaving window and looking at clock on mantel). Ten minutes past nine and Emma not here yet. It does seem too bad that she should worry Ed so much just for independence’ sake. I am quite sure I should never want to ride a wheel anyhow, and even if I did—
Enter Yardsley hurriedly, with a piece of flannel in his hand.
Yardsley. I beg pardon, Mrs. Perkins, but have you a shawl-strap in the house?
Mrs. Perkins (tragically). What is that you have in your hand, Mr. Yardsley?
Yardsley (with a glance at the piece of flannel). That? Oh—ha-ha—that—that’s a—ah—a piece of flannel.
Mrs. Perkins (snatching the flannel from Yardsley’s hand). But Teddy—isn’t that a piece of Teddy’s—Teddy’s shirt?
Yardsley. More than that, Mrs. Perkins. It’s the greater part of Teddy’s shirt. That’s why we want the shawl-strap. When we started him off, you know, he took his coat off. Jack held on to the wheel, and I took Teddy in the fulness of his shirt. One—two—three! Teddy put on steam—Barlow let go—Teddy went off—I held on—this is what remained. It ruined the shirt, but Teddy is safe. (Aside.) Barring about sixty or seventy bruises.
Mrs. Perkins (with a faint smile). And the shawl-strap?
Yardsley. I want to fasten it around Teddy’s waist, grab hold of the handle, and so hold him up. He’s all right, so don’t you worry. (Exit Mrs. Perkins in search of shawl-strap.) Guess I’d better not say anything about the Pond’s Extract he told me to bring—doesn’t need it, anyhow. Man’s got to get used to leaving pieces of his ankle-bone on the curb-stone if he wants to learn to ride a wheel. Only worry her if I asked her for it—won’t hurt him to suffer a week.
Bradley. Has she come yet?
Yardsley. No—just gone up-stairs for a shawl-strap.
Bradley. Shawl-strap? Who?
Perkins (outside). Hurry up with that Pond’s Extract, will you?
Yardsley. All right—coming. Who? Who what?
Bradley. Who has gone up-stairs after shawl-strap—my wife?
Yardsley. No, no, no. Hasn’t she got here yet? It’s Mrs. Perkins. Perk fell off just now and broke in two. We want to fasten him together.
Barlow (outside). Bring out that pump. His wheel’s flabby.
Enter Mrs. Perkins with shawl-strap.
Mrs. Perkins. Here it is. What did I hear about Pond’s Extract? Didn’t somebody call for it?
YardsleyYardsley. No—oh no—not a bit of it! What you heard was shawl-strap—sounds