THE PYES AND PETS
Would Gracie-the-cat be jealous if the Pyes got another pet—a dog? That was what Jerry Pye wanted to know and what he was dreaming about as he sat with Rachel, his sister, on their little upstairs veranda. Gracie had belonged to the family for eleven years. This was longer than Rachel, aged nine, or even Jerry, aged ten, had. She had been a wedding present to Mama, and she was known in the neighborhood as “the New York Cat.” Jerry was trying to imagine what Gracie’s feelings would be if the Pyes did get another pet—a dog.
The one thing that Jerry Pye wanted more than anything else in the world right now was a dog. Ever since he had seen the new puppies over in Speedys’ barn, he was not only more anxious than ever to have a dog, he was most anxious to have one of these Speedy puppies. He had the particular one picked out that he would most like to have as his own. This was not easy to do for they were all wonderful.
Jerry had chosen this certain special puppy because he was convinced he was the smartest of the new puppies. Naturally, he would love any dog he had, but imagine owning such a smart puppy as this one! When he owned him he would teach him to heel, be dead dog, sneeze, scratch his stomach when Jerry scratched his back, beg, and walk on his hind legs. If he had this dog, that is. And he looked speculatively at Gracie-the-cat who had pushed open the screen door and was now lolling with an agreeable expression on the rope mat. He would not want to hurt her feelings and he thought some more whether it would or would not hurt Gracie’s feelings if he brought a puppy into the house.
It was a Friday evening and Jerry and Rachel had been sitting, reading, on the little upstairs veranda of their tall house. Rachel had The Secret Garden from the library, and Jerry had one of the Altsheler books, and neither one of these books was an “I” book. They both always opened a book eagerly and suspiciously looking first to see whether or not it was an “I” book. If it were they would put it aside, not reading it until there was absolutely nothing else. Then, at last, they would read it. But, being an “I” book, it had to be awfully good for them to like it. Only a few, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and Swiss Family Robinson, for example, survived the hard “I” book test. These were among their best beloved in spite of the obvious handicap.
The children had read for a long time, but then it had grown dark. Now they were just sitting quietly, thinking, and watching the bats and bugs hurl themselves against the tall streetlamp which had suddenly come on and was casting a purple glow. Jerry was getting ready to bring up the matter of the dog to discuss with his sister Rachel, but first he liked to sit and dream about the wonderful idea that it was.
Rachel and Jared, called Jerry, Pye were very close companions. Of course they had many friends too; for instance, Dick Badger, who lived next door and who had a huge gray hound that knew how to scratch its stomach when you scratched its back, was Jerry’s best friend.
Rachel’s best friend was a girl over on Bugle Street named Addie Egan. All the boys and girls in Grade Five said Addie Egan had cooties and she really did not have cooties at all. Rachel stuck up for Addie whenever the occasion arose and she said, “Let Addie sign your character books. She does not have cooties.”
But then Rachel stuck up for everybody who was picked on. There was a little girl named Evvie Powers in the next block and sometimes the older boys and girls picked on her. “Police! Come and get Evvie!” they would cry, trying to scare the wits out of Evvie. But Rachel, if she heard them, would cry out, “Police! Don’t come and get Evvie!” And she would run and put her arms around the little girl. Evvie just worshiped Rachel and wanted to be with her every minute. This was a nuisance, for Evvie wasn’t even up to onesies in the game of onesie-twosie and Rachel was up to fivesies! But Evvie had to be protected nevertheless. Rachel would give her a smile and a pat and say, “Don’t worry, Evvie. I won’t let the police get you.” Then she would run off to find Addie or Jerry and Dick or someone her age, leaving Evvie wiping her eyes and looking after her adoringly.
Rachel was an eager skinny little girl who almost always wore skirts and blouses that didn’t stay tucked in, or sweaters, and her nose was frequently runny, because she had hay fever. Jerry was skinny too, but his nose didn’t run. Jerry had black hair and Rachel’s was reddish gold though, at this moment, sitting under the streetlamp, the hair of both of them looked purple.
To lead up to the subject that was nearest his heart Jerry said, “Rache, which is more important—a dog or a cat?”
Rachel and Jerry were in the habit of having discussions as to what was the most important of anything—the most important, or the prettiest, or the best, or the funniest. For instance, in the dictionary, almost their only picture book except for Mr. Pye’s books of birds, they had excited discussions over which was the prettiest fish on the shiny colored page of fish, or the prettiest bird, or butterfly. One favorite discussion of theirs was the one they had whenever they played train, calling out like conductors, “New York to Boston!” Which was more important, they asked one another, New York or Boston?
“New York,” Jerry would say. “Because it has the Museum of Natural History in it.”
“Boston,” said Rachel. “Because it sounds more important.”
“It just does.”
Rachel couldn’t explain the reason she thought Boston sounded more important than New York but it probably had something to do with the roundness of the letters, the B and the o’s. For the same reason she thought London sounded more important than Paris, though Paris sounded prettier. Sometimes, since Jerry was one year older than she, she wondered if she, too, should not say, “New York.” Still, to her, Boston sounded rounder, bigger, more solid—more important.
Their town, Cranbury, was between these two big cities. The trains went streaking past, running back and forth from Boston to New York, from New York to Boston. Mama was from a little town near New York, and Papa was from Boston. This made it doubly hard to choose the more important. How had Mama met Papa when they were at two different ends of the railroad?
It happened this way. Papa was much older than Mama. He was thirty-five when he met Mama and up till then he had not had a minute to get married because all he thought about was birds, birds, birds. Already, he was a quite famous bird man. Well, one day Papa happened to be standing in a New York subway station. Though he came from Boston he had frequent business in New York. In this particular subway station there was an escalator and all of a sudden Papa decided to see if he could run up the escalator, not the “up” escalator, the “down” one. He would have to run pretty fast to beat the stairs that were trying to bring him back downwards. Papa said he had always wanted to try this but naturally he did not want to make a fool of himself in front of other people of whom there were plenty in New York. This time, however, there weren’t any other people around and it was a splendid opportunity. So. Up he flew, several steps at a time, and he did manage to reach the top.
It so happened that when, panting, Papa did reach the top, there was a certain young girl who was about to come down the escalator; and here Papa came racing up it so fast, he couldn’t help it. He knocked the young lady down. Now this girl happened to be Mama who had come to the city for the opera matinee. The opera was Tannhäuser, the first she had ever seen, and she was floating through the air, almost, she was so transported by the magnificent music, when all of a sudden she landed flat on her back, knocked over by this crazy man who was flying up the “down” escalator.
Well, of course, since Mama was such a young little thing and wore only a size two shoe, and, moreover, ate like a bird, Papa had to marry her. They fell in love at first sight and though she was only seventeen, they got married as soon as all the permissions could be granted.
It was the most interesting way for a mother to meet a father of any that Rachel and Jerry had heard so far. Addie Egan’s mother had met her father at the high school prom, for example. And Dick Badger’s mother had met his father at a Sunday school picnic. And so it went. At any rate this was how it happened that Rachel and Jerry had the youngest mother in the town of Cranbury, and the youngest grandmother, and the youngest uncle, their Uncle Bennie, Mama’s baby brother, who was now only three years old.
Papa and Mama came to Cranbury to live so that Papa could study the birds of the marshes and the woods and the fields, and because Cranbury was in the middle between New York and Boston. Perhaps they, too, could not make up their minds which was more important, New York or Boston, and had to settle halfway.
After a while Gramma and Grampa moved to Cranbury too, so that Uncle Bennie would grow up knowing his niece and nephew, Rachel and Jerry, and none of them be strangers to any of them. Grampa was a piano tuner and he said he’d just as lief tune pianos in Cranbury as where he was and moreover he could have a boat in Cranbury, which he couldn’t in New York. Sometimes Rachel and Jerry asked Grampa which he thought was more important, New York or Boston, and between plinking the piano keys, he’d say, “New York.” But then, naturally, being from there he could not be a traitor and say, “Boston.”
After Rachel had been taken to visit both cities, New York and Boston, finding them both wonderful, she didn’t know what to say in the importance game. To keep it interesting, however, she continued to say, “Boston.” What would be the sense of both her and Jerry saying, “New York”? There would not have been any game then. And, anyway, the name, “Boston,” still sounded more important.
It was Papa who had taken Rachel on her first visit to Boston. And it was Mama who had taken her on her first visit to New York. The time she went to Boston with Papa happened to be over the Thanksgiving weekend, just a few years before this story begins. They were to spend the weekend with an old aunt of Papa’s, Auntie Hoyt, who had been the first to steer Papa toward birds. She was a spinster aunt and she was very old and fragile and Papa was very fond of her.
That weekend was a cold, raw, and bleak one. Rachel slept on a small cot in the parlor and she could not get warm the whole night. She didn’t have enough covers and her feet would not warm up. She stayed awake and stayed awake and though she scrunched herself up into a tight ball, she still stayed cold. Since Auntie Hoyt was poor, Rachel imagined she did not have any more covers in the cupboard and she felt she should not embarrass her by asking for more. Anyway she didn’t want to be a nuisance and wake anybody up, so she shivered and shook. Also she didn’t want Papa to think he had such a cold daughter he could not possibly take her on any more trips. Rachel longed to go on bird trips with Papa, to the coldest North and the hottest South and traipse through the swamps of Florida. She had to be stoic. It must have been about three in the morning before she ever fell asleep.
The next night as Rachel got ready for bed she viewed the cold couch of night with horror. She felt she could not stand the cold another minute. Papa was reading The Auk, and Auntie Hoyt a little book of Forget-me-nots. Whispering, so Auntie Hoyt would not hear her, and hoping the question would not fill Papa with such disgust he would never take her to Labrador, she asked Papa where they had hung her overcoat—she planned to sleep in it. Then he and Auntie Hoyt, who had heard, were sorry and piled a hundred coats on her couch. She was still cold, however, and could not get her feet warm the whole time she was there, in Boston.
In Boston, one day, she had an unusual experience. While Papa and Auntie Hoyt waited out of sight somewhere, she had to go by herself into a large room in a department store and listen to someone dressed up like Santa Claus read a Christmas story and ’Twas the night before Christmas. This seemed odd to her for at Thanksgiving time, she was not ready for Santa Claus. In Cranbury they got through the turkeys and the pumpkins and the Pilgrims before they brought out the Santa Clauses. She was quite relieved when the whole occasion was over and instead of being abandoned she found Papa and Auntie Hoyt waiting, beaming, at the door.
They went on an underground trolley car in Boston which went too fast around corners and it was a wonder it did not bump into the wall. For almost every meal Auntie Hoyt gave them baked beans out of a can and cold boiled ham both of which Rachel was very fond of but for which Auntie Hoyt apologized, saying hard times had hit her. In Boston, she also saw the Common, the old North church, the Bunker Hill monument, and where John Adams was buried. It was all like walking through the pages of the history book. Could New York come up to this?
The following year when Mama took her down to New York, she saw that it could, but in a different way. It is true she had a number of ideas about New York before she got there which came in for quite a reshuffling when she saw how things really were. For instance, she had expected the elevated railway to be a little train running on narrow tracks from pole to pole about a half a mile in the air, really elevated. A sky train, she had thought, reached perhaps by ladder, and she had anticipated riding on it with the greatest delight. On the contrary the elevated was so low down, the trolleys that ran over the viaduct from Cranbury to the city were almost as exciting.
The subway, too, was not as she had expected. She had thought a subway would be a shining thing way way down in the middle of the earth. But there, one had merely to go down a flight of stairs and one beheld the subway; and she did not see the escalator that Papa flew up.
But in New York Rachel tasted the best meal she ever had in her whole life. She and Mama had walked for miles and miles and hours and hours. They had had nothing to eat because on the train Rachel had eaten up the hard-boiled egg sandwiches that were supposed to be eaten in some quiet park with the squirrels and pigeons. Her footsteps lagged; she was hot, hungry, and tired. Finally her mother caught on and took her into a long, narrow store—she said afterwards it was the five-and-ten-cent store—and there Rachel was served this delicious dinner of pot roast and mashed potatoes and gravy and peas, and not too much, just enough, on a thick little hard white plate. Her dinner cost ten cents, Mama said, and it impressed Rachel that for either five or ten cents, one could buy almost anything in New York.
Even dresses. For after this wonderful little dinner they went into an enormous place and there, for ten cents apiece, Mama bought Rachel two dresses, a blue one and a brown one, and these were the first bought dresses Rachel had ever had. Mama made all her clothes. Rachel loved the bought dresses. But when they were washed they shrank up to nothing and she had to give them to Thelma Ruby, her old doll.
These were the only times so far that Rachel had been to either New York or Boston and when they played the game as to which was more important she still said, “Boston,” so there’d be a game.
“Which is more important?” asked Jerry again for it seemed that Rachel had not heard the first time. “A cat or a dog?”
“Both,” said Rachel, for this was like asking which was more important, a girl or a boy, and could not be answered.
“M-m-m,” said Jerry.
September breezes stirred the branches of the huge horse chestnut tree that hung over the house; the stars were coming out; and the two children sat in silence. Then, stepping carefully over Gracie, not to make her move, Rachel reached for a horse chestnut that was glistening in the lamplight and, polishing it on her skirt, she sat down again on the bench beside Jerry. In the distance shouts of children playing hide-and-seek could be heard. Then, because it looked as though Rachel might possibly have it in mind to get up and run around the corner and get in the hide-and-seek game, to keep her here, Jerry said, “Hey.”
“M-m-m?” said Rachel.
“I been thinking.”
“M-m-m,” said Rachel. And she waited. Thinking was more in Jerry’s line than talking, but finally he blurted out:
“Would Gracie be jealous if we had another pet, a dog?”
“A dog!” exclaimed Rachel in surprise.
“Yes, a dog. There’s a puppy over at Speedys’ barn and they said I could have him for one dollar.”
“One dollar!” said Rachel. “Where’d you get the dollar?”
“First,” said Jerry. “Would Gracie be jealous, that’s what I’m asking you. Not, where’d I get the dollar.”
Well. There was silence for a few minutes while Rachel took this in. Then she said incredulously, “Is Gracie a pet?”
Neither Rachel nor Jerry ever petted Gracie because Gracie had no use for children, imagining they were just out to pull her tail. It is hard to know how she got this wrong idea, but she did have it, and the only person she had any use for was Mama. When she caught a rat out in the barn, as she did once in a while, she brought it to Mama, laying it proudly at Mama’s feet. If Mama did not act as pleased as Gracie expected, she would neatly rip the rat’s stomach open with her claws so Mama would find it more tempting. This performance, however unpleasant, was remarkable, and Mrs. Pye boasted of it to all other cat owners who were not too squeamish to hear the tale.
Naturally, the feelings of such an important cat and her position in the household had to be carefully considered before taking such a step as Jerry had suggested.
“Is Gracie a pet?” Rachel repeated.
“Of course she’s a pet. If she’s a cat, she’s a pet.”
“Oh. I thought she was a member of the family.”
“She is. But she’s still a pet.”
So now they were back at the beginning. Would Gracie, being a pet of the Pyes, be jealous if Jerry brought this puppy of the Speedys into the house?
“Well,” said Rachel, counting on her fingers to make her answer more important. “There are four of us and none of us is jealous because there is more than one of us.”
“But we’re people. I’m not talking about getting another people. I’m talking about a dog.”
“I don’t think Gracie would be jealous of a dog,” reasoned Rachel carefully. “Because we’re not jealous of Gracie. And we’re people and she’s a cat. And she’ll think about the dog the way we think about her. She might be jealous if we got another cat, like we might be jealous if we got another people. But she won’t be jealous if we get a dog, any more than we would be.”
This sounded rather sensible to Jerry and he looked at his sister gratefully.
“Did you ask Mama?” asked Rachel.
“No,” said Jerry. “First I had to find out if Gracie would be jealous.”
Presently Mama came out for a breath or two of air. She sat down in the little old red wooden rocker and fanned herself with a folded newspaper. Then Jerry told her he had a plan to buy this certain puppy of the Speedys for one dollar since Gracie, as Rachel said, being a member of the family and a cat, would not be jealous of their having a new pet—a dog.
“A dog!” said Mama, and Rachel and Jerry saw with satisfaction that she showed the proper surprise. “Well,” she said. There had never been a dog in the Pye family before, only Mama and Papa and Jerry and Rachel and Gracie. Naturally it came as a jolt to try to imagine life with a dog when life had been going along so long without one.
But Mama did not hesitate long. She said that it would be very nice to have a dog and, since Mama was Mama, she did not ask Jerry where he was going to get the dollar. Rachel did though. She asked again where Jerry was going to get the dollar. Jerry muttered he wasn’t sure just yet so Rachel knew it was going to be a hard thing to do.
It seemed to Rachel that by the time Jerry could get a whole dollar saved up the puppy would be a grown-up dog. If he had only told them sooner they could have begun to save long ago. They could have made mite boxes such as those given out in Sunday school during Lent, and she and Jerry could have put their pennies in them. Soon there might have been enough to buy the dog. This way though, since he had not told them until now, and since they did not want this puppy to be a grown-up dog before they got him, they would have to think of some quicker plan.
Naturally Rachel would help Jerry get the dollar, only she just couldn’t think how, aside from the mite boxes which were the only idea that had occurred to her so far. Even if there had been time for mite boxes they were not such a good idea after all, she corrected herself. She had guiltily remembered the way hers always looked when she turned it in in Sunday school, the slot for the pennies all stretched and torn from taking pennies out again. It was not a neat and tidy mite box the way Beulah Ball’s was; it was a dirty, torn, loose mite box, and so was Jerry’s.
To tell the truth Jerry was not at all certain how he was going to earn that dollar either but he did not doubt that he would find some way. If Papa’s book that he was writing on birds sold a lot of copies Jerry could ask Papa for the dollar. But it would be a long time before that was finished. The puppy would certainly be grown up and belonging to someone else long before then. The book probably would not sell a lot of copies anyway. It was for scholars.
Papa was a great bird man and for a few minutes Jerry thought proudly about him. He was off now on a trip to the Everglades to study birds in their habitat there. Men in Washington were always quoting Mr. Pye’s articles on birds. When some question on the conservation of birds came up, “Call in Mr. Pye,” was the first thing the men in Washington said. They would pay his fare to Washington but that was all they would pay aside from the respect.
Outside of the family and the ladies of the Far and Near Society, who subscribed to the National Geographic and frequently saw his name in print, few people in Cranbury knew that Mr. Pye was such a famous bird man; for of course he did not run around saying, “I, I, I.”
It was thought that since Mr. Pye did not work in an office or a factory, and did not teach school either, he must naturally be wealthy, traveling all around the way he did. Nothing could have been further from the truth. His pocket and Mama’s pocketbook were almost always practically empty. So getting the dollar for the puppy from Mama or Papa was not to be considered.
Rachel was thinking about Papa too. The way he loves birds! she thought. He could not bear to think of harm coming to any of them and he pleaded with his neighbors to put bells around their cats’ necks, the way Gracie had around hers. There were more belled cats in this neighborhood than anywhere else in Cranbury and, maybe, the world.
One day Papa read in the paper that birds had rained on New York City, little birds that had missed their course in migration and bumped into the high buildings. Hundreds died. Papa had not been able to eat or sleep. He took a train down to New York to study the whole sad matter and make a report on it. “The way Papa loves birds is the way I love, the way I love . . .” Rachel thought hard. “The way I love birds, too.” She remembered she was going to be a bird man just like Papa when she grew up. She would accompany Papa on his bird trips and when the big fellows in Washington said, “Call in Mr. Pye,” they would add, “And his little girl.”
Whereas Rachel collected bird nests and feathers and anything to do with birds that she could find, Jerry collected stones and rocks, and his room was filled with them.
Picking up a rock, when she and Jerry were on a searching expedition, Rachel would ask, “Is this quartz?”
“No,” Jerry would say.
“What is it then?” asked Rachel, because Jerry was going to be a rock man, a quartz man, when he grew up and he knew everything.
“It’s just plain rock,” answered Jerry.
“One thing,” said Jerry so suddenly Rachel started. Her thinking had wandered far from the puppy and how Jerry was going to get the dollar.
“M-m-m,” she said.
“This puppy that I’m going to buy for one dollar that was born in Speedys’ barn had his tail cut off yesterday. They all did.”
“His tail cut off !” said Rachel, horrified. “Didn’t it hurt? And he’s not a whole dog then? He should cost less than one dollar.”
Mama said quickly, “They know how to cut off puppy dogs’ tails so fast it doesn’t hurt at all and it helps the beauty of them when they grow up not to have the long lanky tail.”
“Most dogs I know have tails,” said Rachel.
“Not fox terriers,” said Jerry.
“I thought they were born without them.”
“No. Anyway it didn’t hurt, Mama said,” affirmed Jerry rather doubtfully for this was hard to take in.
Since it had grown cooler, Mama went into the house to get some typing done on one of Papa’s articles on birds, this one—The terns; and soon, clickety-clickety, they could hear her racing along. Rachel and Jerry sat awhile longer wondering how they could earn a dollar.
Jerry had only until tomorrow night at six o’clock to raise the dollar because Mrs. Speedy said so. She said, “I’d like for you to have this puppy you’re so crazy about, Jerry. But there’s someone else wants him too. And he keeps after me, you bet.” Mrs. Speedy always put a great many “you bets” into her conversation and the Pyes all called her “Mrs. Speedy, you bet,” or just plain, “You bet.”
“He’s always hanging around, this other fellow, waving the dollar,” Mrs. Speedy told Jerry and the words were harping in his ears now. She also said, “I said to him, I said, if Jerry is not here by six o’clock Saturday then you can have the puppy. You bet.”
When Jerry told Rachel this, she whistled. “Phew,” she said. “We only have tonight and tomorrow.”
But the evening came to an end, and they went to bed with no idea how the dollar was to be earned. The only thing that was settled was that Gracie-the-cat would probably not be jealous, that and the fact that Mama said it would be all right for them to have a dog. But there was all day tomorrow and something would surely happen.
At night, when Jerry and Rachel went to bed they had the habit of making up stories, or rather one long continuous story that never ended. This story was all about the adventures of Martin Boombernickles, a character that could change itself into a horse, a boy, a man, a dog, anything, whenever it felt like it. They almost never went to sleep without adding an episode.
It was cozy in the night to hear Jerry call out from his narrow iron bed in his room, to Rachel in her narrow iron bed in her room, the next room, “Rachel, are you asleep? We haven’t done the episode yet.”
Rachel never went to sleep before Jerry even though she was a whole year younger, pinching herself to stay awake, if necessary, in order not to miss adding to the story. In delight, she would call out, “No. Oh, Boombernickles.” Because it was the one who said “Boombernickles” first who was allowed to commence the episode.
Boombernickles had been going on for years and years. It was Rachel who had named it. “Oh, Boombernickles,” she used always to say whenever she had to do something she didn’t particularly like.
“Wherever did you get that word, boombernickles?” her mother asked.
“I don’t know,” said Rachel. But “Boombernickles” came to be the name of the character that could do anything, anything, in the nighttime stories she and Jerry made up.
Tonight, after the episode was finished, before he went to sleep, Jerry said, “Rache. I’ll get the puppy, won’t I? Something’ll happen. I’ll get the dollar, won’t I?”
“Sure,” muttered Rachel drowsily. “Something’ll happen.”