from People's Home Journal
Billy Brad's Wonderful Story
by Ellis Parker Butler
The second week of July saw the coming of June Morton to the home of her dear friend, Mrs. William Bradley, mother of William Bradley, Junior, a sweet and guileless little child known to one and all as Billy Brad.
It was evident to Mrs. Bradley from the first that her husband's brother Peter was greatly attracted to June, for he began spending much more time at the house than had been his custom. Uncle Peter, as he was affectionately called by all the Bradleys, began bringing flowers and candy which he presented diffidently to June Morton, and for several weeks Billy Brad had rather more candy than was good for him. For June could not refuse him when he stood before her with his big eyes looking up at her. She could not resist popping a fat chocolate into his rosy mouth.
At first, June was rather attracted by Peter Bradley, but as the weeks passed she became doubtful. She admired his gentleness, but she was afraid he was almost too gentle. She was herself rather fly-away; she liked to laugh and dance, and as she came to know Peter Bradley more intimately she drew back at the thought of him as a husband.
He seemed the kind of man who takes, "Keep an even mind under all circumstances," as his life motto; who is never perturbed; never wabbles and -- consequently -- might well become irritated after marriage by a wife less calm and self-controlled than himself.
If Peter Bradley had stormed around and roughed things now and then, June would have felt sure he was the man she wanted. But she was never in the least afraid of him. And -- paradoxically -- she was afraid of him because she was never afraid of him.
On this evening Mr. and Mrs. Bradley had gone to the motion picture theater, leaving immediately after dinner, and the only person who did not know what they meant by going was Billy Brad.
Billy Brad was quite ignorant of any guile on the part of his parents, but both June and Billy Brad's Uncle Peter felt that they had been left at home together intentionally. When June led the way into the living room she had an uncanny feeling of leading a dear but too lamb-like lamb to a slaughter she must make as gentle as possible And Uncle Peter -- as he followed her -- had real difficulty in keeping his mind "even" under these particular "circumstances."
"You run out on the porch and play, Billy Brad," Uncle Peter said, and the advice was instantly followed, for Billy Brad had innumerable things to attend to. He was particularly anxious to see how two fat angleworms and a beetle were enjoying their rations. He had sheltered them under the "Welcome" doormat -- supplying them with a chocolate bonbon and a big bite of apple, and he was eager to see if their appetites had been hearty.
Uncle Peter Bradley was all of thirty-five years old, but that is not many years for a man, unless he wears tortoise-shell spectacles, which Uncle Peter did. In his moments of intensity and concentration he was apt to look a little solemn and severe -- like a college professor of the thinner variety -- and now he was both intense and concentrated.
He tried to appear calm and free from nervousness, and he congratulated himself that he was succeeding. So he spoke to June and told her, in simple, serious words, that he loved her most dearly.
"I am well aware, June," he said, "that I am older than you by ten or twelve years, but I bring you a heart that is unsoiled. I have never loved any other woman.
"Now, I do not want to rush you off your feet, but I am sure you will never find a heart more faithful than mine --"
It had happened that Uncle Peter had seated himself when he entered the living room and, almost as characteristically, June had gone to stand by the window. As he spoke she stood with her face partially turned away, looking out of the window but picking at the leaf of a Boston fern that stood there. Now she came toward him with a few swift steps, but she stopped halfway with a gesture of sympathy and regret.
"I'm sorry -- so sorry, Peter dear -- but it cannot be. I like you. I do like you, Peter," she said, "but you mustn't say any more. You mustn't ask me what you were going to ask me, or tell me what you were going to tell me. Please!"
Peter looked up into her face.
"Well, of course --" he said, meaning that if it was impossible he knew it was impossible, but that his intentions had been good.
"It's just, that -- Well, you're not the man I could marry, I'm afraid," said June. "You're so -- I mean, I'm so --"
Peter closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, for he was giving up a great deal; he was giving up almost everything he seemed to care for at the moment. Then he opened his eyes and looked at June again.
"It's all right," he said, trying to smile.
Then, quite suddenly, June put her hands against her face, hiding her eyes.
"Ah!" she exclaimed. She hurried to the door. "I -- I think that's all, Peter," she said hurriedly. "I'm sorry. I -- I think I'd better go up to my room. I -- I'm silly – I'm going to cry." She laughed, rather hysterically. Good ni -- good-by, Peter. You'll look after Billy Brad till they come home? I -- oh!"
She ran up the stairs and Peter heard her close her door. He cleared his throat rather forcibly and felt of his tie -- a purely automatic act -- touching his scarf-pin with the tip of his forefinger. Then, to his great surprise, a huge sigh welled up in him.
"Ha!" he said, for he had not meant to sigh. He ran his hand along his forehead and arose and walked gently to the front door and out upon the porch. On the top step he seated himself and looked at the trees and the lawn. They were still bathed in the setting sun's light.
Presently, as Peter sat there, Billy Brad came from some dark corner of the porch where he had been performing mysterious rites with two angleworms, a beetle and a palm leaf fan. He seated himself close to Peter on the top step and leaned forward as Peter was leaning. He, too, looked at the sunset light on the trees and lawn.
"Uncle Pe-turr!" he said presently in his most coaxing tone. "Uncle Pe-turr! Won't you tell me a sto-ree?"
Peter Bradley did not hear him. But, for that matter. neither did he see the lawn or the trees at which he was looking. Billy Bradley sidled a little closer.
"Uncle Pe-turr! Uncle Pe-turr! Won't you tell me sto-ree?"
"What?" said Peter, arousing himself. "What did you say, Billy Brad?"
"Won't you please tell me a sto-ree?" coaxed Billy Brad. "Won't you, Uncle Pe-turr?"
Peter let his arm steal around the chubby little form beside him. He cleared his throat.
"Why, yes, Billy Brad," he said gently. "Yes, I'll be glad to tell you a story, if you will be a good little boy and not interrupt me. The last time I told you a story you wore continually interrupting, and I don't like that, Billy Brad."
"I -- I won't interrupting you, Undo Peter," said Billy Brad.
"Very well, then. Sit still and don't wiggle and don't interrupt and this will be a nice long story that will last until your mother comes home."
"And my papa," said Billy Brad.
"Yes, and your father," said Uncle Peter.
"My -- my papa, what I are named for," said Billy Brad.
"Yes," said Uncle Peter. "Your father for whom you were named. So, once upon a time --"
"For -- for because they went to the movies," said Billy Brad.
"Yes, they went to the movies," agreed Uncle Peter hastily. "So once upon a time there was a dear little gray squirrel with a big bushy tail --"
"It -- it looked like a squail," said Billy Brad with enthusiasm, "but -- but it was really an awfully great, big, snorky dragon, and it snorked fire and it snorked smoke, didn't it, Uncle Peter?"
"No, it did not, Billy Brad," said Uncle Peter. "It wasn't a dragon at all; it was a squirrel. It was a cunning little gray squirrel, and it was up in a tree --"
"A apple tree?" inquired Billy Brad with deep interest.
"Well, yes," agreed Uncle Peter. "It was up in an apple tree --"
"For -- for to get some nuts," said Billy Brad.
"No," said Uncle Peter. "Of course not! It was an apple tree, and apple trees don't bear nuts; they bear apples. Rosy red apples."
"And -- and yellow apples," said Billy Brad.
"Yes, some trees bear yellow apples," admitted Uncle Peter.
"And -- and blue apples," said Billy Brad.
"No, not blue apples," said Uncle Peter. "There are no blue apples. Now, you must not be interrupting me if you want me to tell you a story. So the --"
"I aren't going to interrupting you, Uncle Peter," said Billy Brad in his most appealing tone.
"That's good," said Uncle Peter.
"But -- but what for was the big old dragon up into the apple tree, Uncle Peter?" asked Billy Brad. "Was the big old snorky dragon up into the apple tree to get some apples?"
"Dragon? There was no dragon, I tell you! It was a dear little gray squirrel, and it was up in the apple tree where all the rosy red apples were --"
"And the yellow apples --"
"No, there were no yellow apples in that tree," said Uncle Peter. "It was a red-apple tree --"
"O-oh!" exclaimed Billy Brad. "And -- and -- I bet when that old dragon was up in that apple tree it snorked fire -- it did! And -- and I bet it cooked the apples -- it did! And -- and --"
"Now, see here, Billy Brad," said Uncle Peter, firmly. "I am telling this story; you are not telling it. There was no dragon in that apple tree."
"Oh!" said Billy Brad understandingly, and then he added: "But -- but what tree was the old snorky dragon in, Uncle Peter?"
"It wasn't a dragon; it was a squirrel," said Uncle Peter. "It was a gray squirrel -- a common gray squirrel -- and it had a bushy tail that curled up over its back."
"Didn't it snork fire, Uncle Peter? Didn't it sometimes snorkle just a wee little bit of fire?" asked Billy Brad wistfully.
"Now, see here!" said Uncle Peter. "If you would rather hear about an ugly old fire-snorting dragon than about a pretty little curly-tailed squirrel, well and good! I'll tell you about a dragon, if that is what you want. But unless you sit still and don't interrupt I shall tell you no story. Do you understand that? Will you stop wiggling and be a good boy and sit still and listen?"
"Yes, Uncle Peter," said Billy Brad meekly.
"Then see that you do!" said Uncle Peter severely, for he was not a fluent storyteller and he disliked to be interrupted. "And now, if you can behave, I will go on with the story. It seems that once upon a time there was a huge, big dragon that snorted fire, and it lived in a big, dark cave, and one day it was in its cave --"
"You -- you -- said it was up into a tree," said Billy Brad. "You -- you said it was up into a apple tree, Uncle Peter --"
"I said nothing of the kind," said Uncle Peter a little tartly. "That was a squirrel. I did not say this dragon was in an apple tree."
"Didn't you?" inquired Billy Brad innocently.
"I certainly did not," said Uncle Peter.
"Wasn't -- wasn't the great big old snorky dragon up into any kind of tree. Uncle Peter?" Billy Brad asked.
"No, it was not!"
"Well -- Well -- asked Billy Brad; "Well -- what kind of a tree wasn't the big old snorky dragon up into Uncle Peter?"
"My stars!" exclaimed Uncle Peter. "It wasn't in a hickory tree, for one kind."
"For apples?" asked Billy Brad.
"No, I say the dragon was not in a hickory tree. And if the dragon was not in the tree it couldn't be up in it after apples. You asked me what kind of tree the dragon was not up in, and I said it was not up in a hickory tree. Is that clear? There was no hickory tree. There were no hickory trees within miles of that place. There wasn't a hickory tree in that whole country. Hickory trees did not grow there. Nobody there had ever heard of a hickory tree. Now do you understand?"
"Yes," said Billy Brad. "But -- but how could the big, old, snorky dragon be not up in a hickory tree, if there wasn't not any hickory trees, Uncle Peter?"
"You must not say 'wasn't not;' that is horrible grammar," said Uncle Peter. "Nice little boys don't say 'wasn't not' --"
"But -- but I didn't say it wasn't not up in the tree; you said it wasn't not up in the tree --"
"We're not talking about what was or was not in the tree," said Uncle Peter, just a little harshly. " You said there wasn't not any hickory tree."
"No! No! You said there wasn't not any hickory tree, Uncle Peter. I didn't say there wasn't not any hickory tree."
"Now, that is downright rude, Billy Brad!" declared Uncle Peter. "That is contradicting me, and it is rude to contradict. You must not contradict and you must not interrupt, if you want me to tell you stories. What I said was that there were no hickory trees in that country --"
"What country, Uncle Peter?" asked Billy Brad.
"Oh -- China!" said Uncle Peter desperately.
"Where the Chinamens come from? With pigtails?" said Billy Brad.
"Yes, that's the place. And what I said was, there were no hickory trees --"
"Why don't they have hickory trees in China, Uncle Peter?" asked Billy Brad.
"Well, I don't know. Perhaps they do. Perhaps I should not have said they have no hickory trees. There may be hickory trees in China."
"And -- and was the big old snorky dragon up into one of the hickory trees they maybe do have in China, Uncle Peter?" asked Billy Brad.
"Oh, dear! All right! Yes! Yes; the dragon was up in a hickory tree!"
"For -- for because it was after a apple?" asked Billy Brad.
"No! There are no apples on hickory trees."
"But -- but why did the big old snorky dragon go up into the hickory tree for to get a apple if there aren't not no apples in the hickory trees, Uncle Peter?"
"I'll not answer such a silly question. Once upon a time there was a huge, big dragon and it lived in a big dark cave, and --"
"And -- and it was up into an apple tree," amended Billy Brad.
"No! An apple tree would not be growing in a dark cave. So, once upon a time there was a huge, big dragon --"
"It -- it was a gray dragon," said Billy Brad.
"Very well, if you want it to be a gray dragon it was a gray dragon," said Uncle Peter. "So, once upon a time there was a huge, big, gray dragon --"
"With -- with a bushy tail," said Billy Brad.
"No, it did not have a bushy tail," said Uncle Peter.
"But -- but you said it had a bushy tail!"
"No, I did not. That was the squirrel."
"What squail?" asked Billy Brad.
"Oh, my goodness!" said Uncle Peter. "Forget the squirrel! That was another story. There is no squirrel in this story. This story is about a dragon, and this dragon lived in a dark cave and snorted fire and smoke. So one day there was a poor Chinaman named Ching Chong --"
"And -- and he had a pigtail," said Billy Brad.
"Yes, he had a pigtail --"
"And -- and it was a bushy pigtail," said Billy Brad with great satisfaction. "It -- it was a curly pigtail, Uncle Peter."
"All right! Have it your own way! And this poor Chinaman had a kitchen stove that his wife cooked --"
"And -- and she had a curly pigtail," said Billy Brad. "And -- and the big, old dragon he came and he eated her all up!"
"No, he didn't!" said Uncle Peter. "He did nothing of the kind, and if you want to hear another word of this story you must stop interrupting me. I'm telling this story; you're not telling it. You are listening to it. It's rude to interrupt. Now, behave! So this Chinaman's wife always cooked dinner on the kitchen stove --"
"And -- and the big old snorky dragon didn't not eat her up," said Billy Brad. "For -- for because that big, old, awfully dragon he was up into a hickory tree, for because he was going to get him a apple --"
"She always cooked dinner on the kitchen stove," proceeded Uncle Peter, raising his voice a little. "And of course they had a dragon to light the fire --"
"And -- and it had a bushy tail --" interrupted Billy Brad.
"It did not have a bushy tail!" said Uncle Peter. "So this dragon that they had, went out --"
"For -- for to climb a hickory tree for -- for to get a apple," said Billy Brad.
"No! It did not go out that way! The fire in it went out. It was an old dragon and the fire in it went out," said Uncle Peter. "So when the Chinaman's wife made the old dragon waddle up to the kitchen stove, and twisted its tail to make it snort fire into the shavings to light the fire, it could not snort fire, so --"
"And -- and it had a curly tail," said Billy Brad.
"No! It did not have a curly tail! If you want me to tell you this story --"
"And it snorkled fire!" said Billy Brad blissfully. "It -- it snorkled fire, and -- and it snorkled smoke, and -- and it setted the house all on fire --"
"It did not! If you interrupt me again --"
"And -- and it went up into a apple tree," said Billy Brad.
"Stop it!" cried Uncle Peter. "I will not have you interrupt me in this way. You are being a bad boy, and you are doing it on purpose --"
"And -- and it had a curly tail. It had a curly tail. It had a curly tail," said Billy Brad.
"Now, look here!" said Uncle Peter. "I want you to stop that -- do you understand me? Great Scott! Can't I have anything in this world the way I want it? Now, be still and behave -- I don't want another word out of you! I didn't want to tell you a story; you asked me to tell you a story. Are you going to sit still and keep quiet?"
Billy Brad looked out at the lawn which was now quite dark. He heaved a great sigh.
"And -- and the big old awfully dragon snorkled fire out from its nose," he said softly. "For because it had a curly tail --"
"Oh, very well!" exclaimed Uncle Peter, getting up from the porch step in a haste that made Billy Brad look up at him apprehensively. He took Billy Brad by the arm, for he was angry -- boiling with unreasonable anger.
"Don't!" said Billy Brad.
"I will, though!" exclaimed Uncle Peter harshly, and he set Billy Brad on his feet. He hurried Billy Brad into the house, dragging him by the arm, not very roughly yet not very gently, either. At the foot of the stairs he stopped.
"June!" he shouted up the stairs. "Come down here!"
"Yes! Yes, I'm coming!" she cried, for she had never heard Peter use that tone and she was sure something awful had happened to Billy Brad. She did not wait to arrange her hair, which was rather mussed because she had been lying on the bed; nor to bathe her eyes, which were rather red for some other reason. She came running down the stairs.
"Here!" cried Peter Bradley thrusting Billy Brad at her. "You can take care of this -- this -- impudent child until his parents come. I've had enough of him. I won't stand his contrariness! I've had enough of his nonsense!"
He stood a moment glowering angrily at June, who was hardly more than a misty whiteness in the dark of the hall. He breathed hard and he was thoroughly angry at everything in the world.
"And I've had enough of your nonsense, too!" he cried suddenly. "I won't stand it! I don't have to put up with every fool notion that every child and silly girl thinks up to annoy me with. I have a right to my way once in awhile."
"Oh, you're hurting my wrist!" exclaimed June, for he had reached out and grasped it. "You don't need to be so rough; you don't need to jerk me like that!"
"That's got nothing to do with it!" cried Peter. "What I want to know, here and now, once and for all --"
"Well, you needn't think, just because you get angry --"
"Oh, stop it!" ordered Peter, in a loud voice. "I'm tired of nonsense! Are you going to marry me, or not?"
"Well, if you're going to break my wrist --"
Because she wore rubber heels, Mrs. Bradley, returning from the movies, was at the door before anyone heard her.
"For mercy's sake!" she exclaimed. "What is all this shouting about? I heard you clear to the corner!"
June giggled. She put the hand Peter had suddenly released on the arm of Peter's coat.
"It's all right," she said. "It's only the way Peter and I get engaged."
"And -- and the awfully big, old dragon he did snorkle out fire," said Billy Brad brazenly. "And -- and he wasn't a squail."
June dropped to one knee and put her arms around Billy Brad and kissed him smackingly on one cheek.
"We just love awfully big old dragons that snorkle fire, don't we, Billy Brad?" she said.
"And was Billy Brad a good boy while we were away?" asked Mrs. Bradley.
"No!" said Uncle Peter. "No, he was not a good boy. He --"
"-- was a wonderful boy!" said June, gazing tenderly at Billy Brad.