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"Tom Betts' Dog" from St. Nicholas Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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    Tom Betts' Dog
  • St. Nicholas Magazine (April, 1933)   "Tom Betts' Dog"   A story. Illustrations by R. M. Brinkerhoff. "This is the story of a dog who was big enough, and strong enough, but who had a good deal of trouble with his tail." The name "Ellis Parker Butler" appears on the cover. p 286-88, 311-12.  [RGTPL]

from St. Nicholas Magazine
Tom Betts' Dog
by Ellis Parker Butler

Every boy should have a dog. No boy will deny this, for boys and dogs have been companions for hundreds of years and almost seem made for each other. In fact, I have known only one boy who never cared whether he had one or not. His name was George Washington Betts, and he was the brother of my chum Tom Betts who lived next door to me.

Tom Betts was about my age, but Wash Betts -- as we usually called him -- was a year or two older. He was much more serious minded than we were and was said to have a "mechanical turn of mind". His Uncle Joseph said that if he kept on he would probably be a great inventor some day and be as famous as Edison. Probably that is why he did not hanker for a dog. He was busy enough without one.

But Tom Betts did want a dog and he coaxed his mother until she was cross with him, but she would not let him have one. She said she detested dogs and that there were too many around the place already -- that the yard was always full of dogs.

This was true, too, because almost every boy in our town had a dog and some families had two or three, and the dogs wandered about considerably. The Betts' fence was a low picket fence that almost any dog could jump over, and a good many came into the yard to see what we boys were playing, or came in to see each other, or came in just to look around. They trampled on Mrs. Betts' garden and dug holes in it. She was constantly throwing something at a dog and hitting something else and shouting, "Go home! Go home!"

But Tom kept coaxing for a dog until suddenly, one day, his mother said he might have one. She practically ordered him to get one. She had spread out a number of tablecloths and napkins to bleach on the grass and six dogs came leaping and cavorting and trampled all over the linen with their muddy paws.

"Tom," his mother said, "I can stand this no longer. I want you to get a dog, and I want you to get a big strong dog that will chase all these other dogs out of the yard and keep them out. I am not going to be pestered by other folks' dogs!"

At that Tom whooped and turned six handsprings in a row and we began to look for a big strong dog immediately. We got Sam Sorridge, one of our chums, and started out, but two days later we had not found a big strong dog and we three were about to start out again when a man came to the low picket fence and called to us.

'I hear you want a big strong dog,' the man said.

"I hear you want to buy a dog," he said and we walked to the fence and Tom said he did. The man looked considerably like a tramp and he had a dog. A rope was tied around the dog's neck and the man held the end of the rope. The dog was certainly a big dog and he looked like a strong dog. He was a white dog with short hair, but he was so dirty that he looked almost black. When he stood up he was nearly as tall as the low picket fence but when the boys first saw him he was lying on his back with his paws in the air and his tail between his legs, as if he expected a whipping.

"I hear you want a big strong dog," the man said, "and that's just the kind of dog this is."

"He don't look very ferocious," I suggested.

"Ferocious? Why, son, that's his name -- Ferocious," said the man. "Just now he's a little tired; we've been walking so far. He's all tired out. Did you want a ferocious dog?"

"I want one that will chase the other dogs out of the yard," Tom explained. The man turned to look at Tom.

"Boy," he said, "if that's what you want this is the very dog you've been looking for. That's what he was trained for -- chasing dogs out of yards."

"What kind of dog is he?" asked Tom doubtfully. "I never saw just that kind of dog."

"He's a genuine Danish Bull Hound; ain't you, Terrible?" said the man, jerking at the rope.

"I thought you said his name was Ferocious," Sam Sorridge said.

"That's right," said the man. "Ferocious. And Terrible. I call him Ferocious for short but his full name is Terrible Ferocious. That's his pedigree kennel name. Yes, sir!"

Tom had climbed over the fence and had reached down to pat the dog, and the dog -- still on its back -- put up its head and licked Tom's face and that settled it. He asked the man how much he wanted for the dog and the fellow said five dollars but Tom offered him fifty cents and after haggling awhile he got the dog for a dollar. The man handed Tom the rope and got away from there in a hurry as soon as he had the dollar in his hand.

He had not fooled any of us. We knew the dog was not a Danish Bull Hound but some sort of crossbreed, and we did not believe that he had been trained to chase dogs or that his name was Ferocious, and Tom did not care. He had a big strong dog and that was what he wanted. That was what his mother had told him to get.

At first the dog did not want to get up and we decided that the man had been beating him -- which was probably so -- but we all patted the dog and talked to him, and finally he did get to his feet and uncurled his tail from between his legs and even wagged it a little. Tom led him around to the back yard and tied him to one of the clothes posts.

"What are you going to call him?" I asked Tom.

"Terror," said Tom, "because he's going to be a terror to any dog that comes in this yard. His name is Terror."

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," said Sam Sorridge who was always quoting maxims or sayings but not always getting them in at the right place.

"If you mean that he needs a bath," said Tom, "that is what good old Terror is going to have right away."

"Cleanliness is next to godliness," said Sam Sorridge, quoting again, but evidently good old Terror did not care for cleanliness, for the moment he saw the tub we brought from the cellar he put his tail between his legs and lay down on his back and whined for mercy.

We had a wet time giving him a bath and by the time we were through we were about as wet as Terror was.

"Never mind," Sam Sorridge said cheerfully. "The better the day the better the deed."

"The wetter the deed the better the day, you mean," Tom laughed. "Anyway, good old Terror looks like a real dog now. Why, Sam, he's a dandy dog. Look at him wag his old tail! And now you get fed, you good old Terror!"

Good old Terror was still tied to the clothes post but he seemed a lot happier, and Tom went in the house for a plate of scraps and a bone. Mrs. Betts came out to look at the new dog. She said she hoped he would keep the other dogs out of the yard, and she scolded Tom a little for getting himself wet, and then she went in.

'Terror dropped the bone and backed as far as the rope would let him.

Terror gobbled the scraps as if he was half starved -- as he probably was -- and then he began on the bone. While he was gnawing at the bone Shiner Gray's little brown dog came around the house and stood a minute watching Terror. Then he barked. The instant the little brown dog barked at him Terror dropped the bone and backed as far as the rope would let him back. He put his tail between his legs and jerked at the rope, trying to get away, and the little brown dog bounced toward him, jumping around and barking.

Terror gave one or two more jerks and the rope broke. Tom made a grab for the end of the rope but he missed it and Terror made three jumps and went under the shed in which Wash Betts was working on some sort of invention or another. He went so far under that he bumped against the wall at the far end.

Tom and I crawled under and pulled him out again and tied him with a stronger rope and closed up the hole under the shed. Sam Sorridge chased Shiner Gray's dog out of the yard.

"Tom," I said, "I don't believe this dog is a dog chaser."

"He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day," said Sam Sorridge. "Dis-discretion is the better part of valor."

"But that won't help me keep the dog if he's going to act like this," Tom said, and then we saw Wash Betts coming out of the shed. He came to where we were standing looking at Terror and he asked what was the matter and we told him.

"Yes," Wash said, "I saw that, looking out of the shed window. That is a fine looking dog, and he is big and strong, and there is just one of two things the matter with him -- either he does not feel at home yet or he is a coward. If he does not feel at home, Tom, he will soon get over it, and if he is a coward I think I can do something about it."

"What can you do, Wash?" I asked him. "Nobody can do anything with a coward dog but let him be a coward, can he?"

"I don't say that anybody could cure a dog of being a coward," Wash said, "but I have been thinking quite a lot about coward dogs the last couple of minutes and I think I can cure one. I haven't planned it all out yet but I've got a start at it and all I need is time to work out the plan I have in mind."

"Please do," Tom begged. "I'll give you a dollar if you will."

"I don't want your dollar," Wash said grandly. "If I can work out my scheme I'll make enough money. There must be hundreds and even thousands of men who would pay as high as ten dollars each to have their coward dogs cured and made brave, and I'll make enough that way."

"Well, will you get at it right away?" asked Tom.

"Yes, I will," Wash said, and that cheered Tom up a lot.

Wash went back into the shed and we decided that we had better go downtown and get a collar and chain for Terror, because being such a big dog he might break any rope after he had chewed it awhile, so Tom went in and got some money and we untied Terror and started downtown with him, but if anything was needed to prove that the big white dog was a coward it was just that. Whenever Terror saw a dog he crowded close to us and clamped his tail between his legs again and shivered. Even a loud noise frightened him.

For the next two or three days Tom kept pestering Wash to know if his coward cure was ready, and Wash said he was working on it but that he hadn't got it simple enough yet but that he was making progress.

"Hurry it up," Tom said. "Mother will make me get rid of my dog if you don't cure him soon. There are more dogs in the yard than ever -- they used to come in half a dozen at a time and now they come by tens."

"I'll have my plan all worked out by tomorrow," Wash said. "I worked out two or three but they were too complicated, it seemed to me. A plan has to be simple if you are going to use it on a dog."

"Sometimes the longest way 'round is the shortest way home," said Sam Sorridge, quoting again, but not much to the point, I thought.

The next day Sam Sorridge and I were at Tom's as soon as we had gobbled down our breakfasts, and Tom was in the yard, but Wash was still in the shed where he had gone as soon as he had eaten. Tom called to him impatiently, but Wash wouldn't be hurried.

"In a minute," he answered, and sure enough in about a minute he came out with half a dozen large sheets of paper in his hand.

"Lands!" exclaimed Tom. "Does it need all those plans?"

"The more the merrier," suggested Sam Sorridge.

"No," said Wash. "I just wanted to show you I had not been wasting time. As a matter of fact, the final plan came to me like a flash out of the blue sky last night just before I fell asleep."

"The sky wasn't blue when you fell asleep last night, Wash," I said. "It was black. But never mind that. Show us the plan."

"I just wanted to show you first," Wash said seriously, "that I worked on this as any inventor would. I tried the lever and the cantilever and the suspension-bridge principle and all these others --" and he spread out his drawings for us to see. I could not make head or tail of them, and I could see that Tom and Sam were no wiser than I. Wash had drawn all sorts of riggings on the papers.

"Before I show you the final plan," Wash said, "I want to explain the principle I worked on," and he shouted, "Wowp!" suddenly. Instantly Terror put his tail between his legs and looked frightened.

"You scared him," Tom said.

"Yes," said Wash, "and what did he do? He put his tail between his legs. The instant I yelled he did it. Now this is what I have discovered by studying dogs -- a cowardly dog's tail always goes between his legs when he is afraid. A brave dog never puts his tail between his legs."

"That's so," I agreed. "I've noticed that, too."

"Very well," said Wash. "That's the difference between a brave dog and a cowardly dog -- brave dog, tail up; cowardly dog, tail between his legs. So how can you turn a cowardly dog into a brave dog? Keep its tail up!"

"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Sam Sorridge, for once too astounded to utter a maxim. "You hit it, Wash! You're right!"

"I am quite sure I'm right," said Wash quietly. "I used my brains in thinking it out. All we have to do with this dog of yours, Tom, is to see that he can't put his tail between his legs. At first we will have to use my invention but after awhile he will grow used to keeping his tail up bravely, and we can use smaller and smaller balloons --"

"Balloons?" Tom asked, thinking he had misunderstood Wash.

"Balloons," repeated Wash, spreading out his final sheet of paper.

The drawing was not very well done and the dog looked as much like a cow as like a dog, but we got the idea at once. A string was tied to the tip of the dog's tail, and a balloon was on the end of the string, and in the drawing the dog's tail certainly stood straight up in a brave and defiant manner. Tom studied the drawing awhile in silence.

"It would have to be a gas balloon," he said after a minute.

"Certainly," agreed Wash. "And we will have to experiment a little to get a balloon of just the right size. If it is too small it will not pull the tail up and if it is too big it will lift the whole hind end of the dog off the ground, and that would not do. A dog cannot chase other dogs with only two feet on the ground. But that is merely a matter of adjusting the balloon to the weight of the dog."

"One trouble," I said, "is that if the dog chases another dog under a bush -- a thorn bush -- the thorns might explode the balloon."

"I thought of that," said Wash. "The balloon would be made of aluminum or something that thorns would not puncture."

"I never heard of any gas that would lift an aluminum balloon," I said. "Did you, Tom?"

"That's one thing I have to look into," Wash said before Tom could answer. "I may have to put a motor in the balloon and an airplane propeller on top of it, but for the present we can use a toy balloon, or two or three of them if one is not enough. The main thing --"

What the main thing was we did not hear.

"Excuse me, boys," a voice said behind us and we turned to see a well-dressed man standing there. "I understand you have -- oh, there he is! Hello, Rover!"

Instantly Terror jumped toward the man, pulling at the chain that held him, and showing every evidence of joy.

"I'm sorry to have to claim this dog," the man said, "but I own him and raised him from a pup and he is mine. I heard that you boys had a white dog that answered my dog's description. How did you get him?"

"I bought him from a man," said Tom. "I paid a dollar for him."

"I had an idea he was stolen," said the man. "Here is a dollar and here is fifty cents for any trouble he has been. I don't suppose you object to my buying my own dog back?"

"No, sir," said Tom, "and if you want the chain and collar they cost sixty-five cents."

At this the man laughed and gave Tom sixty-five cents, and in a few minutes he was leading Terror away. Wash Betts rolled up his plans. He did not seem annoyed at all. He always had plenty of inventions to work on.

"Anyway, Tom," I said, "it's easier to get a brave dog than to go to all that trouble to cure a cowardly one. Isn't that so, Sam?"

I knew Sam would have some sort of maxim to fire at us, but for a bit he was stumped. "A bird in the hand --" he began, and then he tried "You can't make a silk purse --" and then he hit it.

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks," he said.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:21:24am USA Central
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