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One hot sultry afternoon in June, the population of the little town of San Rosario in the Peruvian Andes was struck with sudden amazement at the sight of a motor-bicycle clattering its way through the main street with some risk to the dogs, poultry, and small boys who had been lazily disporting themselves there. It was not the bicycle itself that evoked their wonder: that was an object familiar enough. Nor was it the youth seated in the saddle, and steering it deftly past all obstacles. It was a second figure, mounted uneasily on the carrier behind: a rotund and portly figure, which shook and quivered with the vibration of the machine as it jolted over the ill-paved road, maintaining its equilibrium with obvious difficulty. Children and women shrieked; the men leaning against the walls took their cigars from their lips and gasped; and the noise of the engine was almost smothered by the mingled din of barking dogs and screaming fowls. It was the figure of the gobernador himself: land-owner, chief magistrate, and father of a family.
The wondering populace might have supposed that the gentleman had taken leave of his senses–for surely no one of his mature years and serious responsibilities would have risked so much if he had been sane–had it not been plain to them that he was in desperate distress. His head was bare; his swarthy cheeks were shining with perspiration; his eyes rolled with fright; and his fat hands were clasped about the waist of the boy in the saddle with the convulsive grip of a man clinging for dear life. The face of the boy was, on the contrary, beaming with delight. His lips were parted in a wide smile; his blue eyes were dancing; and his mop of tow-coloured hair waved joyously in the breeze that the motion of the vehicle created.
The street filled, and soon there was a mingled crowd pouring in full cry behind the bicycle. There were young fellows in black coats and spotless collars–the well-to-do Peruvian is something of a dandy; men in white ducks and Panama hats; ladies in mantillas; Indians in bright-coloured ponchos; rough-clad muleteers; bare-legged Indian children. The rider waved his hand and grinned at a stripling who ran, pen in hand, from an office, to see the cause of the uproar, and smilingly watched the bicycle as it bowled along over the cobbles of the plaza, with much clamorous outcry from the hooter, finally coming to rest before a large house there. The perspiring passenger having descended from his uneasy perch, the rider dismounted and offered his arm as a support to the magistrate, whose legs, cramped by their unwonted strain, moved very stiffly as he approached his door.
Young Tim O’Hagan and his motor-bicycle had been for some time the talk of San Rosario. Tim was sixteen, but he was called “Young Tim” to distinguish him from his father, and also, perhaps, in the spirit of kindly tolerance with which elders sometimes regard their high-spirited juniors. Young Tim had always been what his father’s English friends called a “pickle,” and old Biddy Flanagan, the family maidservant, a “broth of a boy.” As a small boy he had been in frequent scrapes, and a cause of bewilderment and trouble to the grave householders of the town. More than once they had politely complained to Mr. O’Hagan of his escapades: scrambling over their roofs, hunting for lost balls in their gardens without much regard for their carefully tended flower-beds, and engaging in many other nimble exercises which are natural enough to an English–or Irish–boy, but are rare with the less active Latins. Thrashings and admonitions were equally ineffective; he would promise not to repeat a certain offence, and keep his word, but only to break out in a new direction. Mr. O’Hagan at last despaired of further correction, and yielded to his wife’s advice, to leave Tim to the sobering hand of time.
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