A Man, a Boy, and a Dog
by Ellis Parker Butler
When he left his office, Mr. Elton looked at his watch and saw he had time to stop at Max Anderson's and select a bicycle for Jimmy's present before lunch. He knew just about what he wanted because Max had been advertising a wheel for $19.50, boy's size, and there was not much to do but choose the color. Anything Max sold was reliable. He was the sort you could depend upon. Ten minutes ought to do the trick.
Ten minutes would have done the trick, too, if Max had not had another customer in hand, showing a radio. Max's repairman came from the shop and offered to wait on Mr. Elton, but Max said "Never mind, Joe. I'll take care of Mr. Elton myself," in the way that meant that Mr. Elton was a friend who deserved especially good treatment. So Mr. Elton had to wait until the radio was sold.
Max was all smiles and friendliness when he finally came to Mr. Elton, and was ready to talk awhile, but Mr. Elton said, "I'm in considerable of a hurry, Max. My lunch will be waiting. You can fix me up in a minute -- I just want one of those bikes for my boy. He's been begging for a bike for weeks. How about those $19.50 wheels you've been advertising?"
"A big bargain, Ed," Max said enthusiastically. "Take a look. Here they are. Boy's first wheel?"
"He's had a tricycle, but he's outgrown it."
"And will he be happy when he gets a real bike! Now, this is what the boys are all crazy about -- motorcycle build, motorcycle horn --"
"I'll take your word for it, Max," Ed Elton said. "How about this one in blue and silver? $19.50? Put that aside for me, will you?"
It was seven minutes after the time his wife expected him home when Mr. Elton left Max's shop, and he was annoyed because he had promised positively that he would be on time; she had some club affair she must attend. He turned toward home but a snappy sedan ran to the curb beside him.
"Hello, Ed -- going home?" he was hailed. "Give you a lift?"
"Fine!" Elton answered, and got into the car. It was not only fine to have the lift but it was fine to have it offered by Harvey Tanner on the contract for whose new building Ed was figuring. It showed the big fellow was friendly at least, and contracts were scarce enough these days.
"You won't forget to have your estimate in by the first of the week," Tanner said as he manipulated his car through the soft snow of the street. "I want to get things started."
That was good, Ed Elton thought. He had a chance. The big man would not talk like this otherwise.
Tanner ran the car into Elton's driveway and stopped it. Back in the yard Jimmy was playing in the deep snow with his dog. He had thrown a snowball that had sunk into the soft snow and the big brown and white collie had leaped for it, barking, running his nose deep into the snow, nosing for the ball, not finding it. Then Jimmy saw his father in the car and came running as fast as the soft mass of white would let him.
"Dad!" he shouted. "Dad!"
Ed Elton was out of the car. He stood with his foot on the running board, finishing his talk with the big man.
"Keep quiet, Jimmy," he said, and the boy's rosy face went sober instantly. He said, "Bobbie, stop!" to his cavorting and barking playmate. The dog lay down.
"And that your boy?" Harvey Tanner asked. "Fine looking boy, Elton. I had one like that; I lost him. Well --"
The car backed suddenly as Mr. Elton took his foot from the running board. The collie must have been lying there behind the car in the snow of the driveway, for a rear wheel caught one of its paws. The first yelp the dog gave was like a scream of terror -- terror and pain combined -- and it limped away yelping and then limped back to Jimmy, holding up its paw and trembling and whining, looking up to the boy for help or sympathy as a dog will.
The boy may have thought the dog was wounded to the death, or it may have been only because the dog was his and had been hurt, but he ran to where Harvey Tanner had stopped the car and his face was twisted with anger. He was beside himself with rage.
"You big old hog!" he screamed, stammering as he tried to find a name for the big man. "You big old murderer! You big old fool!"
"Now, son --" Harvey Tanner began, but Ed Elton broke in.
"Stop that!" he shouted at the boy, and raised his hand so that the lad cringed, fearing a blow, and the dog, his paw hanging, growled with the ruff rising on his neck. "I'm ashamed of you. Talking to a man like that! That settles it -- you don't get a bike for Christmas; you don't get anything. Get away from me! Go!"
"Now, Elton --" Harvey Tanner began again, but Jimmy's father cut him short.
I won't have it," he said, and he said to Jimmy again "Get away from me!" The boy turned and went toward the empty garage at the back of the lot, with the dog following him, limping. In a corner there he crouched down with the dog close against him. He was entirely miserable. He had done wrong and he knew he had done wrong, but his father had never said "Get away from me!" in that hard cold voice before.
The dog pressed against him, shivering and whining. He, too, knew they were in disgrace.
When a fellow's dad wants nothing to do with him it is pretty bad because, after all, a dad is the greatest thing in the world. There are mothers, of course, but dad is the fellow one knows is big and strong and good. And when dad says "Get away from me!" it is better to be in the corner of a garage with the dog, and out of the way, because dad doesn't like you any more.
Mrs. Elton had not been able to wait. Maggie, the cook, when Ed Elton went into the house, called "Jim-my! ]im-mee!" twice. No answer.
"Never mind him, if he doesn't come," said Ed Elton. "Let him sulk; he has behaved outrageously." And he ate his lunch alone. It was time something was done about that boy, flaring out at Harvey Tanner in that way. What he needed was a good old-fashioned whipping. He hoped it would not make any difference in Tanner's attitude regarding the contract. He walked back to the office and, on his way, stopped in at Max Andersen's.
"I won't want that wheel after all, Max," he said. "I've changed my mind. Sorry."
"Oh, that's all right, Ed." Max said. "I could sell twice as many of those bikes as I can get, at that price. Just forget it."
He jerked the "Sold" tag off the blue and silver wheel, crumpled it in his hand, and tossed it on the floor.
"Yes, sir," he said, "I wish I could get twice as many of those wheels -- there'd be just twice as many happy boys in this town, Ed."
Between five and six, Mrs. Elton stopped at the office on her way home from the club meeting.
"I thought you might be ready to go home," she said, "and the walking must be awful -- raining and freezing. What's the matter? Isn't everything going all right, Ed?"
"I never had such an afternoon in this office. Nothing went right for me. And Emily --"
"Jimmy gets no presents this Christmas. Not a thing! That boy has got to learn a thing or two."
Mrs. Elton's lips set tight as Jimmy's father told her what had happened that noon. She may have thought "We will see about that," but it was no time to say anything when he was in such a mood, and she was silent as they drove home.
"Where is Jimmy?" she asked when she was in the house and Ed was putting the car away.
"He was here a minute or so ago, ma'm," said Maggie. "He acts like he was goin' to be sick or something, Jimmy does. Not a bite of lunch would he eat -- I couldn't get him to come in at all until an hour or so ago. I brung him in whether he wanted to come or not then, ma'm, for he was that cold, him and the dog, out there in the garage doin' nothin' at all."
Without taking off her coat or hat, Mrs. Elton ran up the stairs. She found Jimmy in his own room, with the dog there. He had bandaged the dog's foot as well as he could -- a queer loose bandage -- and she saw nothing wrong with Jimmy other than a sniffle such as a boy often has. But she put him to bed.
"Mother," he said when he was covered snugly.
"Dad don't like me any more," he said.
"Oh, yes he does, Jimmy!" she said, putting her arms around him for a kiss. "You mustn't think that. I think he was just angry. Everyone gets angry now and then -- almost everybody."
"I did," Jimmy said. "That man hurt Bobbie and I was mad at him."
"Yes. Well, we won't talk about it now. Go to sleep, Jimmy."
"Yes, mother," he said, and repeated his "Now I lay me --" and closed his eyes.
Downstairs, Ed Elton came in from the garage. He went down and looked at the furnace, and went up to wash his hands. Jimmy heard his tread in the hall. He waited expectantly but his door did not open and his father did not come in, and he heard him so down the hall again and down the stairs. He felt like a little lost boy without the good night kiss his father always gave him.
"He don't like me any more," he thought. "He don't like me any more," and he cried for the first time, softly. In the corner Bobbie whined gently, licking his sore foot.
Downstairs, Mr. Edward Elton put down the evening paper and followed his wife into the dining room. He was frowning still as he drew up his chair.
"Did you speak to Jimmy?" Mrs. Elton asked.
"No, I did not," said Mr. Elton. "That boy --"
He saw then the slip of paper that was tucked under his plate and drew it out. The characters on it were printed, Jimmy's scrawly letters done with a pencil.
"I AM SORY, DAD," was what was printed on the paper. For a minute Ed Elton sat looking at the paper, and then he looked at Jimmy's mother and handed her the slip of paper.
"I'll be right down," he said, and he went up the stairs and went into Jimmy's room.
"Dad?" cried a joyful voice as Jimmy raised his head.
"Son!" said Ed Elton. "Old boy!"
And never, if he had confessed it, did Ed Elton in his whole life, feel anything half as blessedly good as the two small arms around his neck.