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"The Dog That Returned to Mexico" from St. Nicholas Magazine

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from St. Nicholas Magazine
The Dog That Returned to Mexico
by Ellis Parker Butler Sam.

Samuel Dazzard was a great friend of mine and when I was working in the garden he often came and leaned over the fence and told me how the peons made gardens in Mexico.

Indeed, he told me many things about Mexico, for he had been there, and had walked all the way back to Iowa carrying a Mexican carved leather saddle and a braided hair bridle, which were all he had to show for a herder's outfit that he assured me was the finest a man ever owned. He had a dog, a coal black one that he had brought from Mexico, but it was a surprisingly mixed breed of dog, and not at all the kind that he could trade for a horse.

As a money-maker Sam Dazzard was a failure, but he was a powerfully lively thinker and he had a mechanical bent that would have made him rich if it had turned toward anything useful, but it didn't.

Sam -- we all called him Sam -- was a lank man, with innocent blue eyes and light hair. He had always a far-away expression, as if he was thinking of Mexico, and he was the most deadly serious man I ever knew.

I could hardly believe my ears when Sam came to me one day and offered to trade me the braided-hair bridle for the old buckboard that we were letting rot to pieces in the barnyard. One wheel of the buckboard was badly dished, and it had been a cheap vehicle when new.

"Have you got a horse, Sam?" I asked.

"No," he said. "No, I wouldn't have a horse in this country if you gave me one. A horse is all right in Mexico, but up here they eat their heads off. It doesn't pay to keep horses in Iowa."

"Then what do you want the buckboard for?" I ventured to ask.

Sam shook the bottom of the buckboard to see how sound it was.

"Well," he said, slowly, "I'll tell you. I am going to make an automobile. An automobile is the thing to have in this country. What a man wants up here is speed. Horses are all right in Mexico, where everybody takes plenty of time, but up here we have to move about fast. You mark my word; in ten years there won't be a horse left in Iowa."

He sat down and studied the buckboard for a while, and we waited.

"How are you going to run it?" I asked, after a while.

"Gasoline," he said, simply. "I prefer gasoline. You get more speed with gasoline, and that's what I'm after. I've got as fine a little gasoline engine as you ever saw -- as soon as I get it in shape."

"Why, I thought that engine blew up and wrecked the launch!" I said, surprised.

"Well, it did blow up some," Sam admitted, reluctantly. "It blew up some! But I can put it in good shape again in no time, and it was a mighty fine engine when it was new. Two horsepower engine. Why!" he said, enthusiastically, "One horse could run away with this buckboard and not know it had anything behind it; and when I get two horsepower in it, it will fly! That's what I want -- speed."

He paused, thoughtfully.

"Oh yes," he continued, "I've got some ideas that I'm going to use that will surprise some people. I do wish that hind wheel was a little better, but I guess I can fix it up. It's got to stand a lot of speed. Maybe," he said, dreamily, "I'll buy a new wheel if it doesn't cost too much."

We boys spent a great deal of our spare time for the next month or two at Sam's cabin watching the progress of the automobile. It took no little ingenuity and a great amount of patience to patch up the gasoline engine, but, while Sam had some ingenuity, he seemed to have more patience than anything else.

The hind wheels of that buckboard revolved so rapidly you couldn't see the spokes.

It was no trick at all for him to rig up a steering gear, but it troubled him to connect the engine with the rear wheels of the buckboard. He explained to us what he needed, and it seemed to be nearly everything he didn't have and couldn't get, and he admitted it frankly and said that if he just had a couple of good cog-wheels and a piece of endless chain he could do without the other things, but he didn't have the cog-wheels and chain either, and he finally rigged up a rope to drive the wheels. He had the engine screwed to the floor slats of the buckboard and, for the test, he had the rear axle jacked up on a barrel so that the wheels were a foot or so above the ground, and there were almost tears in his eyes the first time he started the engine. The hind wheels of that buckboard revolved so rapidly you couldn't see the spokes. Sam said he figured they were going at the rate of at least one hundred miles an hour, but that he wouldn't drive the automobile that fast at first. He said it took some time to learn how to handle an automobile, and that until he learned he would not think of going over ten miles an hour, especially as he hadn't rigged up a brake yet. He explained that he could easily make a brake, if he had a few articles he didn't have, but there was no place to put it on the buckboard.

Sam's cabin was by the riverbank, surrounded by brush and undergrowth, so we boys all lent a hand to carry the automobile to the road, which was not far. It was a good road for speeding an automobile, level as the top of a table -- and we begged Sam to let the automobile go full speed, but he firmly refused. He said we might enjoy seeing him dashed to pieces, but that he was not going to trust himself at any hundred miles an hour until he learned to handle the machine properly.

He climbed in and braced himself firmly on the seat and turned on the power a little. The engine chugged and chugged away, as gasoline engines do, but nothing happened. Then Sam turned on more power, but the automobile sat still in the road and did not move. I could see that Sam was chagrined, but he said nothing. He turned the gasoline engine on at full power.

That engine certainly was a good one. It was full of life and vim, and it fairly jumped up and down on the buckboard, like a child romping on a spring bed, but the buckboard seemed frozen to the road. It did not move an inch.

Sam stopped the engine and got out and crawled under the buckboard, which was so much like what a man with a real automobile would have done that we all cheered. Then Sam got up and shook his head.

"It beats me! " he exclaimed, sadly. "I can't see what is wrong. I can't for a fact."

He leaned over the engine and turned on the power at the lowest notch and what do you think! The automobile moved! It did not run away; it did not dash off at a hundred miles an hour, but it moved. It went about as fast as a baby could creep.

Sam got in again and gave it the full power once more but the automobile would not budge. Then he got out and gave it half power and it started off so fast that he had to dogtrot to keep up with it, but the moment he got in, it stopped dead still. We found, by experimenting that when Sam was in the automobile and the engine doing its best it was just an even balance. One of us boys could push the automobile along with one finger, but the moment we stopped pushing, the automobile stopped going. If the engine had been one fraction of a horse stronger the automobile would have run itself, or if Sam had been a couple of pounds lighter the engine would have been able to propel the automobile, but, as it was, it would not go alone. It would almost go, but not quite; but an automobile that will almost go is no better than one that will not go at all.

The first minute Muchito -- that was the dog's name -- heard the gasoline engine he crawled under Sam's cabin and refused to come out, and, when he found that Sam meant to keep the engine and make a sort of pet of it, Muchito took to going away during the day. He would come back to the cabin at night, with his coat full of burrs, but early the next morning he would run away again.

I should say Sam was moving at the rate of about one mile an hour.

The next morning after that I was starting for a good day's fishing and had just got to the edge of the town when I heard a noise down the road like a steamboat trying to get off a sandbar, and coming toward me I saw Sam in his automobile. He was holding to his steering bar with both hands and his hat pulled down over his ears to keep it from shaking off, and the engine was bouncing the bed of the buckboard so that Sam's teeth rattled like a stick drawn along a picket fence. Sam was jigging up and down on the seat, like a man with the chills and the whole outfit was palpitating as if it would be shaken to pieces the next minute. Everything was going at the rate of one hundred miles an hour except the wheels, and they were moving about as slowly as a tired turtle travels in the sun. I never saw so much noise and rattle and energy produce so little forward motion. I should say Sam was moving at the rate of about one mile an hour, but he was moving and his face showed his triumph.

I could walk so much faster than he could ride that I might say that I met him before he met me. He did not see me until I was right in front of him, for he was too busy being shaken, but the minute he saw me the automobile stopped.

Muchito saw me at the same moment, and jumped up on me, as a dog will. I never saw a dog so glad to see anyone as Muchito was to see me. We had always been good friends but not affectionate, but this time he wanted to love me to death. Sam had him fastened to the front axle of the automobile with a ten-foot rope.

"Hello, Sam," I said; "got the automobile so that it runs all right now, haven't you?"

"Yes! Oh, yes!" he said quickly. " She runs fine now. Not fast, but steady. That's what a man wants in an automobile -- steadiness. This idea of speed is all wrong. You get too much speed and you run over people. It isn't safe. Steadiness is what a man wants in this country; a good, steady automobile that will go where he wants it to go. I was just going up to town," he added.

"You must have started pretty early," I ventured.

"Yes," he admitted, "Pretty early. About four o'clock. I want to take my time. I want this machine to get down to good, steady work before I try any speed."

He looked anxiously over the front of the buckboard at Muchito, who was cowering close to my legs.

"Well," he said, "I guess I'll move on. I've got quite a way to go yet."

He turned on the power and the buckboard began to palpitate and bounce and jolt, but it did not move. Sam stood up and looked over at Muchito. Muchito was sitting on his tail looking sad and scared.

"Well, so long!" I shouted, "I want to get to the dam before the fish quit biting this morning."

I moved off down the road and Muchito followed me as far as the rope would allow. I looked back when I had gone a few yards and saw Sam get out of the automobile and take Muchito in his arms and carry him around to the front of the automobile and point him toward the city. Six times Sam carried Muchito to the front of the automobile and six times Muchito turned back and strained toward me at the end of the rope. Then Sam stood up and called to me.

"Hey!" he shouted. "Wait!"

I waited and saw Sam lift the rear wheels of the automobile around and straighten it out so that it was headed away from the city. Then he got in and turned on the power. Muchito was still straining toward me. The automobile moved toward me, slowly, but as Sam desired, steadily.

I understood Muchito was running away from the automobile, and if Muchito did not run neither did the automobile. His slight pull on the rope was all that was necessary to change the automobile from an inert but jolting buckboard into a slow but steady forward-moving vehicle.

"I guess I won't go to town today," chattered Sam, when he was near enough to make me hear; "I don't want to go to town much anyway. I enjoy riding one way as much as the other."

If he enjoyed being joggled I could admit it. I waited for him to come up with me, but as soon as Muchito reached me the dog sat down and the automobile stopped. Sam looked at me and at the dog.

"Suppose," he shouted, "suppose you walk on a little ahead. That dog --, I don't want to run over that dog. If you go on ahead he won't lag back. I wouldn't run over that dog for a good deal. That dog came from Mexico."

I started forward and whistled to Muchito. The dog jumped forward and the automobile moved, but the rope Sam had used was an old one and it snapped.

'The Dog That Returned to Mexico' by Ellis Parker Butler

For one moment Muchito stood in surprise. The next moment Sam had jumped from his automobile and made a dash for Muchito, but the dog slipped quickly to one side, glanced once at the automobile which was moving rapidly into the fence at the side of the road, and then tucking his tail between his legs started down the road at a gallop. We saw him turn the bend in the road and we never saw him again. He was tired of being an assistant motor to an automobile and he was headed for Mexico, where there are peons and haciendas and rancheros, but no buckboard motorcars.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:18:35am USA Central
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