from Red Cross Magazine
Billy Brad and Everybody Else
by Ellis Parker Butler
One day, when Billy Brad was six years old, he felt quite happy, because he had a big, round birthday dollar in the Savings Bank, and his school garden was growing nicely and his mother had said she would buy his vegetables as fast as they were ripe. She had already bought some. She had bought ten cents' worth of radishes, and five cents' worth of radishes, and eight cents' worth of radishes and six cents' worth of radishes, so Billy Brad had twenty-nine cents. As soon as he got seventy-one cents, he would have another dollar to put in the Savings Bank. That would be fine, too, because every dollar added to what he had would make it one dollar more, and when he had enough dollars he could buy a pony, or anything he wanted. Billy Brad was sitting on the lowest of the porch steps as he counted his money and thought how nice it would be to have enough dollars to buy a pony, or anything he might want, and he was quite happy because it was such a delightful thought to think.
As he sat thinking this delightful thought, another thought came into his head and it was so splendid and wonderful and impossible that it was like a fairy story. It was such a gorgeous and pleasing and overwhelming thought that it made Billy Brad's eyes grow big and made him say "Oo!" before he knew he was saying anything at all.
At the very moment when Billy Brad said "Oo!" his Uncle Peter Henry, who was quite bald and wore big spectacles with real tortoise-shell rims, and who looked as wise as an owl, came around the end of the porch.
"Well, Billy Brad," said Uncle Peter Henry, "what are you oo-ing about? You look like a little boy who has just seen a great, big enormous dish of ice cream, in a great, big saucer, with great, big, ripe strawberries all piled up around the edge of the saucer. What makes you so oo-ish this nice day?"
"Why -- why --" said Billy Brad, "for because wouldn't it be nice if there wasn't anybody else in the whole world but me? Oo! Then, I could have lots of dollars! I -- I could have all the dollars. And all the cents. And all the dimes. And all the money. I could, couldn't I, Uncle Peter Henry?"
"Yes, indeed!" said Uncle Peter Henry.
"Oo!" exclaimed Billy Brad lusciously. "And -- and I could have all the candy! And all the oranges! And all the ponies! And all the automobiles! And everything! For because there wouldn't be anybody else to have any."
"No, sir! not a soul!" agreed Uncle Peter Henry. "You would be the only one. It would all be yours. All the money. Billions of dollars."
"Oo!" cried Billy Brad rapturously, "and -- and I'd take my money, I would, and I'd go down town, I would, and I'd buy --"
"Yes? What would you buy?" asked Uncle Peter Henry.
"Lots of ice cream," said Billy Brad. "Oo! Big lots!"
"Just so!" agreed Uncle Peter Henry. "From whom?"
"Why, from --" Billy Brad began, and then he stopped.
Uncle Peter Henry smiled.
"There wouldn't be any ice cream man, would there, if you were the only person on earth?" he said. "And your money wouldn't be worth having, because there would be no one to sell you things. And you would not need to buy anything, because everything would be yours anyway. You could just go down town today and take all the ice cream you wanted, and you could go down town tomorrow and take all you wanted, and you could go down town the next day and take all you wanted."
"But -- but it would all be melted, Uncle Peter Henry," said Billy Brad.
"That's so!" said Uncle Peter Henry, as if he had never thought of that before. "Ice cream does melt, doesn't it? Everything melts or decays or rusts out, or gets to be useless in one way or another. There wouldn't be any ice cream in three or four days."
For a moment Billy Brad looked solemn; then he brightened.
"We -- we could let the ice cream man be alive, Uncle Peter Henry," he said eagerly.
"Why, so we could!" exclaimed Uncle Peter Henry.
"To buy ice cream from," said Billy Brad.
"Of course! We can't have the ice cream man off the earth when we need him," said Uncle Peter Henry. "That would never do. So that's all right. It would be a lovely world -- perfectly lovely -- with just you and the ice cream man in it. You could eat ice cream all day and all night. You could have breakfasts of ice cream, and dinners of ice cream, and suppers of ice cream."
"And bread," said Billy Brad. "And butter! And chopped meat balls."
"Where would you get them? asked Uncle Peter Henry.
"Why --" said Billy Brad. "Why --"
"There would not be any bakers, or butter makers, or butchers," said Uncle Peter Henry. "Unless," he added thoughtfully, "we left a few of them on earth."
"Yes, let's!" said Billy Brad eagerly. "Let's, Uncle Peter Henry! Shall we?"
"We might," Uncle Peter Henry said, but very doubtfully indeed. "We might try it but I'm rather doubtful. I'm not sure the butcher would sell you any chopped meat."
"Why wouldn't he, Uncle Peter Henry?" Billy Brad asked anxiously.
"Well, you see, Billy Brad," Uncle Peter Henry explained, "he would hardly have time to chop and cook enough meat balls for himself. He would have to spend most of his time feeding his cattle, and cutting hay for them, and milking the cows, and taking care of the calves, and cutting and storing ice to keep the meat from spoiling."
"Yes," said Billy Brad.
"And cooking his meals, and growing the wheat for his bread, and grinding the flour, and tanning the leather for his shoes, and digging in the hills for iron ore, and making nails for his shoes, and knives to cut the meat, and growing wool and cotton for his clothes, and spinning the yarn, and weaving the cloth, and making his clothes --"
"Oo!" said Billy Brad, but in quite another tone.
"So, really," said Uncle Peter Henry, "it will hardly be worth your while
to leave the butcher on earth unless you leave quite a few other people to do things for him so he will have time to chop more meat than he needs for himself.
"Yes, let's!" said Billy Brad eagerly. "Let's do. Let's leave them."
"I'm willing," said Uncle Peter Henry. "I do think, myself, that it may be just as well, because the ice cream man will be very much like the butcher. He will need shoes and clothes and food and a house --"
"And a delivery automobile," said Billy Brad.
"Of course! And tires and gasoline and --"
"And saucers when we go down town to eat our ice cream at the ice cream man's," said Billy Brad.
"Certainly, saucers," said Uncle Peter Henry. "But that means having potters and woodcutters and coal miners --"
"And everybody!" exclaimed Billy Brad.
"I may say," said Uncle Peter Henry gravely, but with an eye-twinkle Billy Brad could not see, "I may say that, to keep on living comfortably as you are now living, Billy Brad, your world will need practically everybody that is now in it. I see you have some money there; how much is it?"
"Twenty-nine cents; it's mine, for because --"
"Ah! you say it is yours," said Uncle Peter Henry, "but where did you get it?"
"My mamma gave it to me, for radishes," said Billy Brad.
"Well, we must have your mother in this fine world of yours, Billy Brad, if she buys radishes from you," said Uncle Peter Henry; "but where did you get the radishes?"
"I growed them," said Billy Brad ungrammatically.
"Grew them," Uncle Peter Henry corrected. "I see we need a school teacher or two in our world, too. And where did your mother get the money?"
"From my papa."
"And where did he get it?"
"Why, my papa works," said Billy Brad.
"For himself?" asked Uncle Peter Henry. "Does he work for himself and pay himself the money he gives your mother to buy radishes with?"
Even Billy Brad could see this was nonsense.
"He works for Mr. Bo'mum," said Billy Brad.
"That's it!" said Uncle Peter Henry. "Now we've got it, Billy Brad! Your father does something Mr. Bowman needs to have done and gets paid for doing it. So we say he is working for Mr. Bowman, but he is really working for himself and for you and for your mother and for everyone who buys or uses the things Mr. Bowman makes or sells or handles in any way. And when you grow your radishes we say you are working for yourself, but you are really working for yourself and for your father and for your mother and for everyone who will eat your radishes. Do you understand that?"
"Yes, Uncle Peter Henry," said Billy Brad.
"I really believe you do," said Uncle Peter Henry, who was very proud of Billy Brad. "And do you see that your ice cream man could not make ice cream for you unless other people made his shoes and hats and clothes and did innumerable things for him?"
"Yes, Uncle Peter Henry." said Billy Brad.
"Fine!" said Uncle Peter Henry, "and that's the way the world is, Billy Brad. No one can live in the world alone. No one can shut himself up and act as if he was in the world alone. "Every turn and move we make, and everything we do, is tied up with the lives of everyone else. What are you doing now?"
Billy Brad looked up at Uncle Peter Henry questioningly. He did not know he was doing anything. He thought he was doing nothing at all.
"With, your heel?" said Uncle Peter Henry.
"I'm kicking the old walk, I am," said Billy Brad.
It was a cement walk and a small piece had broken out close by the step on which Billy Brad sat, and he had been hitting the edge of the hole with the heel of his shoe.
"You are just a small boy sitting on a step, doing as nearly nothing as a small boy can," said wise old Uncle Peter Henry, who wore tortoise-shell rimmed spectacles and was bald and looked as wise as an owl. "And one might say, thoughtlessly, that at this moment you, at least, were not tied up with the people of the whole world, but you are. When you kick the edge of that hole in the cement you are wearing out your shoe, and men in Minnesota are growing wheat to make the bread to feed the Iowa farmers who are growing the corn to feed the Texas cattle that will furnish the hides to make the leather from which the shoemakers will make the shoes that a railroad will bring to the dealer who will sell the shoes to your mother for you."
"Oo!" exclaimed Billy Brad.
"Yes," said Uncle Peter Henry, "and a cent of the money your mother pays for the shoes will go to a man in Japan who weaves the straw matting for the bedroom floor of the engineer of the train that brings your shoes to market. And a cent will go to California to pay for the beans the Texas cowboy eats at noon while he watches the cattle that will furnish the hides for your shoes. Each cent will go on from one man who is doing a useful, needed thing to another man who is doing a useful, needed thing, until all the same cents, or other cents just like them, come back to Mr. Bowman for the useful, needed thing he is doing, and Mr. Bowman gives them again to your father for the useful, needed thing he is doing for Mr. Bowman, and they buy you still another pair of shoes. No one can act alone; every turn and move in the life of every human being is bound up with the lives of everyone else."
"Yes, Uncle Peter Henry," said Billy Brad meekly.
"Are you sure you understand?" asked Uncle Peter Henry.
"Yes, sir," said Billy Brad.
"Well, what is it you understand?" Uncle Peter Henry asked.
"Why -- why --" said Billy Brad. "I don't not want to have not anybody else in the world but me, for because if you tooked me down town to buy me some ice cream there wouldn't be any ice cream man."
"That's just about, pretty nearly, very closely, almost precisely the idea!" said Uncle Peter Henry. "That hits it exactly, Billy Brad."
"Yes," said Billy Brad, and then he looked up at Uncle Peter Henry shyly. "But there is an ice cream man down town today, Uncle Peter Henry!" he said.