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 lunch.”
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 my dog.
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 a wobble.
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 all wrong.”
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 about them.
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 disappeared.
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 place again.
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 laughing.
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 the discovery.
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 to providence.”
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 its handles.
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 I sent him home.
National Council of Educational Research and Training (2007). Honeycomb. A Bicycle in Good Repair: Jerome K. Jerome (pp. 126-132). Published at the Publication Division by the Secretary, National Council of Educational Research and Training, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi.