Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/568

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



around a blade of grass, and the great preponderance of accidents have resulted from bicycles encountering horses in the road. In large towns with thronged sidewalks, it is obvious that, whether bicycles are to be allowed in the road or not, they are in the way on the sidewalk, and ought not to be permitted there. A rule adapted to the compact English villages is not necessarily the best guide for ours. But it is not true that bicycles are not permitted on their sidewalks by any such general rule as the professor states. There, as here, the rule depends on the size of the village, and on the question whether such permission would or not be practically inconvenient. When the controversy in Stockbridge was going on, and rival posters were daily going up, considerable evidence was collected to this effect. In some villages, as in "Henley on-Thames," the postmen travel altogether on bicycles, going freely on the sidewalks. In Massachusetts towns of about the size of Stockbridge, such as the neighboring villages of Lee and Barrington (which, by-the-way, are considerably larger than Stockbridge), and where there are no college professors, or, if there are, they reserve their perambulatory meditations for their return to their Poccile, bicycles are generally permitted on the sidewalks. In much more populous towns, like Pittsfield and Springfield, they arc doubtless excluded. Now, who is to decide when the permission to go on the sidewalk becomes a nuisance? Certainly, in this country, the people themselves, through their authorities. In New England these are the selectmen. New England almost if not quite alone retains the system of town self-government which for so many centuries preserved liberty and fostered civilization in Europe. The selectmen of a Berkshire village, charged with the supervision of the lives and property of the inhabitants, certainly have better means of judging and a stronger motive to judge rightly in what parts and places bicycles should be permitted within their jurisdiction, than a newspaper in Hampden County, or a magazine in New York City, acting on the ex parte statements of even a distinguished individual, who, having undertaken to have the question settled to suit himself, is indignant because the selectmen, in accordance with the expressed wish of a majority of those interested, have decided differently.

The writer is one of the professor's many admirers, and would be the last to impugn his good faith; but, once enlisted in a campaign, whether in behalf of science, charity, or some idiosyncrasy, he goes on with a persistency which is always indomitable and sometimes headlong; and he is apt to assume that his cause has but one side, which, in cases coming under the third of the above categories, at least, is not invariably true. In this instance, he threw aside the sketch-book with which it had been his wont to exercise his charming artistic talent during his vacation, and devoted his time to scouring and ransacking the by-ways and corners of the village for rumors and reports of accidents from bicycles, the existence of which, before they were seen or heard of by any one else, he was as satisfied of as Leverrier was of the existence of the planet Neptune before he saw it. He posted up from day to day notices of incidents more or less founded on fact, which he apotheosized into catastrophes. He went back over a period of four years, to the first introduction of the bicycle into the neighborhood, and the only genuine "accident" worth mentioning, it is believed, if his collection were dispassionately interpreted, was the result of the fall, on a baby carriage, of a bicycle unskillfully mounted by a learner at this early day. People saw with wonder lists of tragedies posted in front of the post-office which no one had heard of, and which were the more mysterious as they were generally without date, and the sufferers were commonly designated as Mr., Mrs., or Miss Blank, or the infant child of Mr. and Mrs. Blank. Why had no one heard of these terrible things? Why were not half of us in mourning or in tears? What right had we to walk erect on unbroken legs while so many were mangled? It seemed as if a wholesale slaughter had been going on in the midst of us without our knowledge. Fortunately, a little inquiry into the facts soon dissipated our apprehensions.

Let me illustrate: the writer, while looking at the list of casualties with feelings fortunately for him not quite akin to those with which we used to devour the returns from the Chickahominy, read somewhat as follows (the number and the precise words are not remembered, but the substance of the bulletins is correctly given): "No. 16. The infant child of Mrs. Blank run over and badly injured by a bicycle. For particulars refer to J. 0. R., Esq." Looking further the writer read as follows: "No. 21, J. O. R., Esq., run into and hurt by a bicycle." (J. O. R. was the same person referred to in No. 16.) It so happened that the writer observed at the moment in the post-office J. O. R., Esq., himself, and improved this opportunity by inquiring of him the particulars of the two calamities, calling his attention to the alarming record before us. "Well," said he at last, "that isn't exactly right. I didn't see anything happen to any child, and I haven't been run into myself, but I understood that old Mr. J. G. had been run into and hurt." Soon after this conversation, the writer chanced to meet the wife of the old gentleman in