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As the boys run through the town, Charlie Woodman swears that he is taking them to a time machine. When they get to Colonel Freeleigh's house, Douglas is dubious, so Charlie tells him he does not have to come and walks in with John Huff. Inside the house is a very old man. The colonel recognizes Charlie, and with some prompting he tells the boys the story of Ching Ling Soo, the great magician who died onstage in Boston in 1910. Then he tells them of the time in 1875, when he and Pawnee Bill saw the buffalo charging across the prairie like a thunderstorm. Colonel Freeleigh describes what he remembers of the Civil War. He is no longer sure which side he fought on. He says that no one ever wins in war, and he still knows many of the songs that they sang. Charlie asks Douglas what he thinks and Douglas says that the colonel is a Time Machine. Colonel Freeleigh asks them what they said and they tell him. He seems amazed by this, and the boys leave. Outside he calls to them from the window and tells them that he thinks they are right: he is a Time Machine. Colonel Freeleigh tells them to come back anytime.
Tom wakes up late at night and finds his brother writing. He asks Douglas what he is writing about and Douglas describes what he is learning from the colonel. He points out that old people may never have been children but the colonel was around a long time ago. He is enthralled by the stories that such a "far-traveler" has and tells Tom that Colonel Freeleigh helps him realize that he must remember everything so that when he is old he can do the same for other young kids.
Miss Fern and Miss Roberta think that they have killed Mister Quartermain with their electric car, the Green Machine. The old ladies are very scared and worried and think back to William Tara, the salesman from Gumport Falls who sold them the car. They remember how enchanted they were with it and wish that they had never made the purchase. They loved the car, and often let Douglas or Tom or the other boys hitch a ride. Fifteen miles an hour was its top speed, and this afternoon they had hit Mister Quartermain. They remain hiding in the attic for several hours and then decide they must move on. They decide that they might not have been seen but, regardless, they should never again use the Green Machine. Their younger brother Frank, only fifty-six years old, comes home and says that Douglas told him to tell them that everything was all right. Fern refuses to tell Frank what that means, and Roberta honks the horn outside for the last time.
Memories have played an important role throughout Dandelion Wine so far, but Colonel Freeleigh's memories take on a whole new meaning. Because he remembers events so far back he really is a Time Machine. The colonel is the only person in the town who remembers some of the events that he describes, and so the very role of memory changes. It is not his version of a story that he describes but the very story itself, for there is no one else to tell the stories that he tells. Colonel Freeleigh blurs the lines between past and present. The memory of an old man is a vehicle of wonder for Charlie, John, and Douglas because they learn from the colonel about events that are a part of history that he lived through. The specific things that Colonel Freeleigh remembers are also important. His remembers that songs and the battles that he fought in during the Civil War, but he no longer knows which side he fought on. As far as he is concerned no one won the war—war is not about winning. The message that the old man conveys to the boys about war is not one of glorious fighting but of sadness.
Colonel Freeleigh has a large impact on each of the boys, and Douglas is transformed by the stories. In his discussion with Tom he suggests that he wishes to remember everything so that when he is old he can tell stories of his youth to young children. This shows that Douglas knows that he will be old one day, and he seems no longer sure about Tom's conclusion that old people were never children. Douglas is able to learn from the colonel not just the specific events that he is told about but also that older people can give things that no one else can give—they have memories of events that no one else has. The relationship between the boys and the colonel is mutually beneficial, as their presence seems to brighten his day and his stories enrich their lives. Although Douglas had been interested in the possibility of a Happiness Machine, he learns that everything that he could want he can find through some sort of interaction with people.
Miss Fern and Miss Roberta love the Green Machine, but the day that they hit Mister Quartermain they decide that they must never drive it again. It is a great sacrifice to them to give up the machine, but the women realize that it is nowhere near as important as the human life they already endangered with it. The relationship between people and nature is fraught with danger, yet there is also no guarantee that the machines that we build to help us deal with nature will be any less dangerous. Although it turns out that Mister Quartermain is all right, it is still clear that the machines we use can have bad effects. Beyond this, just because something happens through the use of a machine it does not change the fact that the responsibility for the action must fall eventually upon someone. In this case the women are ready to take the responsibility for their actions and make the wise judgment that they should not drive anymore.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dandelion Wine!