As readers will recall, Miss Penelope Dreadful may be a woman of refined and respectable sensibility, however, she does not always exhibit what might be called “good common sense.” This quality, or lack thereof, has been the cause of many unintended adventures. Fortunately for Penny, her determined pluck and ingenuity has kept her from true harm.
Consider last spring’s frightening little episode, otherwise known as “The Incident of the Perishing Petrol,” an experience where proper prior planning would have gone a long way in calming jangled nerves.
In light of Miss Dreadful’s impending journey to attend the Family History Expo in the lonely desert country of St. George, Utah as Intrepid Independent Observer and Chronicler of genealogical and historical events, one cannot help but wonder what adventures await the fearless reporter . . .
The bedside clock jangled its harsh chime waking Penny from a deep slumber. Her bright green eyes looked round the room, making out dim shapes in the dawn’s early light. A sturdy valise stood open on a small table, articles of clothing neatly folded lay ready for final dispatch. A light split skirt, blouson, and jacket hung over the back of a chair with boots standing at the ready on the floor. The hooked handle of an umbrella was caught handily over the back of the same chair.
Next to the valise stood a small lumpy object, covered with gay red bandana scarf.
Penny smiled and thought, Lovely. I have planned for everything.
Little did the young woman know what Fate had in store for the hours ahead.
The sun shone with all the energy it could muster for the late February morning. Penny pulled her short jacket close and rubbed her gloved hands together. My, it was cold this morning.
She sat behind the wheel of her little roadster waiting for a woman who approached the auto carrying a leather suitcase and a wicker hamper.
“Good morning, Penny,” she chirped, “settling the luggage in the back seat and herself in the passenger’s seat. “It’s a wonderful day for a desert drive. Are we ready to go? Do we have enough gasoline? I’ve brought lunch.”
Penny laughed and bent to kiss the woman’s cheek. “Always worrying about the details, sister dear. But, never fear, I have everything under control.”
Penny engaged the engine and the small machine jumped to the road like a rabbit, streaking off toward the east.
The two women chatted amiably and the miles sped by quickly. Houses and businesses gave way to lonely farms, until the roadside was empty and lonely, broken only by scrubby bushes and tall telephone poles marching across the miles and miles of desolate desert.
“Mother will be so happy to see us,” Penny said. “I never let a word slip that we were planning this visit. It will be a delicious surprise.”
“Let’s hope so,” replied her sibling, a tone of skepticism in her voice.
Any further comments were cut short by Penny, however, who had spied a roadside mercantile ahead and was already slowing down to examine the prospects.
“I don’t think we should take the time. . .” began her companion. But her words disappeared in the air as Penny turned the wheel hard and directed the automobile to the front of the gaily painted store.
“Just a quick look,” Penny promised, jumping out of the car, stretching, and pulling her sister inside the shop.
An hour later, the women emerged back into the light, blinking at the bright noonday sun. Each carried a box wrapped in paper and twine and wore a gay new hat.
“Definitely worth the stop,” murmured Penny’s sister, with a pat to her hair.
“Definitely,” Penny agreed. “And since we are stopped, we may as well have our luncheon.”
What was a brief respite turned into a longer hiatus as the girls enjoyed a cold meal of ham sandwiches and potato salad, eaten from the hood of the auto.
Penny congratulated her sister on her cooking skills and expressed her delight when a thermos bottle of hot coffee appeared in the depths of the hamper.
“I feel positively refueled,” Penny remarked as the women cleaned up the remains of their meal and prepared to resume their journey.
“… speaking of refueling,” her sister suggested. “Perhaps we should refuel the auto at that filling station across the road.”
Penny obligingly looked at the fuel gauge, noting the needle at the halfway mark. “Oh not yet, I think. We still have plenty of petrol. We can wait until the next station.”
Woe to those who wait.
The two women stood beside the car, hot, tired, and as thirsty as their little auto. The weak winter sun was low in the sky. Miles of empty desert spread from them in all directions. The cry of a hawk pierced the air.
“No, we are most certainly NOT out of fuel,” Penny said. “At least, not yet.”
“Remind me then why we are pulled to the verge?” her sister replied quizzically, one eyebrow arched.
“We need more information before we go on. We need assurance that we are on the right road. . .”
Her companion rolled her eyes and returned to wait in the vehicle.
Penny’s good nature asserted itself and she smiled at her sister, thinking We only need one person to stop, only one source for more information.
Just then, Penny discerned the low rumble of an approaching vehicle. She stood tall beside her auto and raised her hands high. What good fortune! The distinctive black and white sedan pulled to the side of the road and a tall, rangy officer emerged to greet the travelers.
“Well hello, Miss. What seems to be the trouble?”
Penny composed herself and spoke confidently, “No trouble, Officer. I was hoping for some information, however.”
The young man removed his wide brimmed hat and rubbed his hair, “Information, Maam? Looks to me like you might need more than a library.”
Penny smiled. “A good atlas or map might do the trick,” she began. “We have come some way from our last stop, and will need petrol soon. The question is whether to go on, or to return for fuel in the town we passed some forty minutes back. Do you have a suggestion?”
Muttering something that sounded much like, “This is a good one…”, the officer scratched his hair again, trying unsuccessfully to smoothe the cowlick that sprung unbidden from his crown.
“Well, I am not exactly a gazetteer, Maam, but I think I am a pretty reliable source,” he smiled, “and I do know that the gasoline stations ’round here will be closing when it gets dark, even ole’ Mr. Tucker’s a mile or so up the road, so you had better go one way or the other pretty soon.”
“How dreadful,” murmured Penny. “I thought all we needed was more information, and then we would be able to solve the problem.”
“Maam,” the officer interrupted. “If you ask me, what you need is that new GPS. Why, two ladies like you would know right where you are if you followed it along.”
“Evidentally,” he added as he turned to his vehicle, “it might be time now for a little analysis and action.”
Read more from Penny’s Pen at Shades of the Departed Magazine.