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Read the story and decide whether the stranger chooses the best possible way to silence the all-too-talkative Harold Bullard
Two old men sat on a park bench one morning in the sunshine of Tampa, Florida — one trying doggedly to read a book he was plainly enjoying while the other, Harold K. Bullard, told him the story of his life in the full, round, head tones of a public address system. At their feet lay Bullard’s Labrador retriever, who further tormented the aged listener by probing his ankles with a large, wet nose.
Bullard, who had been, before he retired, successful in many fields, enjoyed reviewing his important past. But he faced the problem that complicates the lives of cannibals — namely: that a single victim cannot be used over and over. Anyone who had passed the time of day with him and his dog refused to share a bench with them again.
So Bullard and his dog set out through the park each day in quest of new faces. They had had good luck this morning, for they had found this stranger right away, clearly a new arrival in Florida, still buttoned up tight in heavy serge, stiff collar and necktie, and with nothing better to do than read.
“Yes,” said Bullard, rounding out the first hour of his lecture, “made and lost fortunes in my time.”
“So you said,” said the stranger, whose name Bullard had neglected to ask. “Easy, boy. No, no, no, boy,” he said to the dog, who was growing more aggressive toward his ankles.
“Oh ? Already told you that, did I ?” said Bullard.
“Two in real estate, one in scrap iron, and one in oil and one in trucking.”
“So you said.”
“I did ? Yes, I guess I did. Two in real estate, one in scrap iron, one in oil, and one in trucking. Wouldn’t take back a day of it.”
“No, I suppose not,” said the stranger. “Pardon me, but do you suppose you could move your dog somewhere else ? He keeps…”
“Him ?” said Bullard, heartily. “Friendliest dog in the world. Don’t need to be afraid of him.”
“I’m not afraid of him. It’s just that he drives me crazy, sniffing at my ankles.”
“Plastic,” said Bullard, chuckling.
“Plastic. Must be something plastic on your garters. By golly, I’ll bet it’s those little buttons. Sure as we’re sitting here, those buttons must be plastic. That dog is nuts about plastic. Don’t know why that is, but he’ll sniff it out and find it if there’s a speck around. Must be a deficiency in his diet, though, by gosh, he eats better than I do. Once he chewed up a whole plastic humidor. Can you beat it ? That’s the business I’d go into now, by glory, if the pill rollers hadn’t told me to let up, to give the old ticker a rest.”
“You could tie the dog to that tree over there,” said the stranger.
“I get so darn’ sore at all the youngsters these days !” said Bullard. “All of ‘em mooning around about no frontiers any more. There never have been so many frontiers as there are today. You know what Horace Greeley would say today ?”
“His nose is wet,” said the stranger, and he pulled his ankles away, but the dog humped forward in patient pursuit. “Stop it, boy !”
“His wet nose shows he’s healthy,” said Bullard. “Go plastic, young man !” That’s what Greeley’d say. “Go atom, young man !”
The dog had definitely located the plastic buttons on the stranger’s garters and was cocking his head one way and another, thinking out ways of bringing his teeth to bear on those delicacies.
“Scat !” said the stranger.
“Go electronic, young man !” said Bullard. “Don’t talk to me about no opportunity any more. Opportunity’s knocking down every door in the country, trying to get in. When I was young, a man had to go out and find opportunity and drag it home by the ears. Nowadays…”
“Sorry,” said the stranger, evenly. He slammed his book shut, stood and jerked his ankle away from the dog. “I’ve got to be on my way. So good day, sir.”
He stalked across the park, found another bench, sat down with
“Oh — it’s you !” said Bullard, sitting down beside him. “He was tracking you. He was on the scent of something, and I just let him have his head. What’d I tell you about plastic ?” He looked about contentedly. “Don’t blame you for moving on. It was stuffy back there. No shade to speak of and not a sign of a breeze.”
“Would the dog go away if I bought him a humidor ?” said the stranger.
“Pretty good joke, pretty good joke,” said Bullard, amiably. Suddenly he clapped the stranger on his knee. “Sa-ay, you aren’t in plastics, are you ? Here I’ve been blowing off about plastics, and for all I know that’s your line.”
“My line ?” said the stranger crisply, laying down his book. “Sorry — I’ve never had a line. I’ve been a drifter since the age of nine, since Edison set up his laboratory next to my home, and showed me the intelligence analyser.”
“Edison ?” said Bullard. “Thomas Edison, the inventor ?”
“If you want to call him that, go ahead,” said the stranger.
“If I want to call him that ?” — Bullard guffawed — “I guess I just will ! Father of the light bulb and I don’t know what all.”
“If you want to think he invented the light bulb, go ahead. No harm in it.” The stranger resumed his reading.
“Say, what is this ?” said Bullard, suspiciously. “You pulling my leg ? What’s this about an intelligence analyser ? I never heard of that.”
“Of course you haven’t,” said the stranger. “Mr. Edison and I promised to keep it a secret. I’ve never told anyone. Mr. Edison broke his promise and told Henry Ford, but Ford made him promise not to tell anybody else — for the good of humanity.”
Bullard was entranced. “Uh, this intelligence analyser,” he said, “it analysed intelligence, did it ?”
“It was an electric butter churn,” said the stranger.
“Seriously now,” Bullard coaxed.
“Maybe it would be better to talk it over with someone,” said the stranger. “It’s a terrible thing to keep bottled up inside me, year in and year out. But how can I be sure that it won’t go any further ?”
“My word as a gentleman,” Bullard assured him.
“I don’t suppose I could find a stronger guarantee than that, could I ?” said the stranger, judiciously.
“There is no stronger guarantee,” said Bullard, proudly. “Cross my heart and hope to die !”
“Very well.” The stranger leaned back and closed his eyes, seeming to travel backwards through time. He was silent for a full minute, during which Bullard watched with respect.
“It was back in the fall of eighteen seventy-nine,” said the stranger at last, softly. “Back in the village of Menlo Park, New Jersey. I was
“I didn’t get to know Edison right off, but his dog Sparky and I got to be steady pals. A dog a whole lot like yours, Sparky was, and we used to wrestle all over the neighbourhood. Yes, sir, your dog is the image of Sparky.”
“Is that so ?” said Bullard, flattered.
“Gospel,” replied the stranger. “Well, one day Sparky and I were wrestling around, and we wrestled right up to the door of Edison’s laboratory. The next thing I knew, Sparky had pushed me in through the door, and bam ! I was sitting on the laboratory floor, looking up at Mr. Edison himself.”
“Bet he was sore,” said Bullard, delighted.
“You can bet I was scared,” said the stranger. “I thought I was face to face with Satan himself. Edison had wires hooked to his ears and running down to a little black box in his lap ! I started to scoot, but he caught me by the collar and made me sit down.
“Boy,” said Edison, “it’s always darkest before the dawn. I want you to remember that.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“For over a year, my boy,” Edison said to me, “I’ve been trying to find a filament that will last in an incandescent lamp. Hair, string, splinters — nothing works. So while I was trying to think of something else to try,
“I don’t believe it !” said Bullard.
“May I be struck by lightning this very instant !” said the stranger. “And it did work, too. Edison had tried out the analyser on the men in his shop, without telling them what he was up to. The smarter a man was, by gosh, the farther the needle on the indicator in the little black box swung to the right. I let him try it on me, and the needle just lay where it was and trembled. But dumb as I was, then is when I made my one and only contribution to the world. As I say, I haven’t lifted a finger since.”
“Whadja do ?” said Bullard, eagerly.
“I said, “Mr. Edison, sir, let’s try it on the dog.” And I wish you could have seen the show that dog put on when I said it ! Old Sparky barked and howled and scratched to get out. When he saw we meant business, that he wasn’t going to get out, he made a beeline right for the intelligence analyser and knocked it out of Edison’s hands. But we cornered him, and Edison held him down while I touched the wires to his ears. And would you believe it, that needle sailed clear across the dial, way past a little red pencil mark on the dial face !”
“The dog busted it,” said Bullard.
“Mr. Edison, sir,” I said, “what’s that red mark mean ?”
“My boy,” said Edison, “it means that the instrument is broken, because that red mark is me.”
“I’ll say it was broken,” said Bullard.
The stranger said gravely, “But it wasn’t broken. No, sir. Edison checked the whole thing, and it was in apple-pie order. When Edison told me that, it was then that Sparky, crazy to get out, gave himself away.” “How ?” said Bullard, suspiciously.
“We really had him locked in, see ? There were three locks on the door — a hook and eye, a bolt, and a regular knob and latch. That dog stood up, unhooked the hook, pushed the bolt back and had the knob in his teeth when Edison stopped him.”
“No !” said Bullard.
“Yes !” said the stranger, his eyes shining. “And then is when Edison showed me what a great scientist he was. He was willing to face the truth, no matter how unpleasant it might be.”
“So !” said Edison to Sparky. “Man’s best friend, huh ? Dumb animal, huh ?”
That Sparky was a caution. He pretended not to hear. He scratched himself and bit fleas and went around growling at rat-holes — anything to get out of looking Edison in the eye.
“Pretty soft, isn’t it, Sparky ?” said Edison. “Let somebody else worry about getting food, building shelters and keeping warm, while you sleep in front of a fire or go chasing after the girls or raise hell with the boys. No mortgages, no politics, no war, no work, no worry. Just wag the old tail or lick a hand, and you’re all taken care of.”
“Mr. Edison,” I said, “do you mean to tell me that dogs are smarter than people ?”
“Smarter ?” said Edison. “I’ll tell the world ! And what have I been doing for the past year ? Slaving to work out a light bulb so dogs can play at night !”
“Look, Mr. Edison,” said Sparky, “Why not…”
“Hold on !” roared Bullard.
“Silence !” shouted the stranger, triumphantly. “Look, Mr. Edison,” said Sparky, “why not keep quiet about this ? It’s been working out to everybody’s satisfaction for hundreds of thousands of years. Let sleeping dogs lie. You forget all about it, destroy the intelligence analyser, and I’ll tell you what to use for a lamp filament.”
“Hogwash !” said Bullard, his face purple. The stranger stood. “You have my solemn word as a gentleman. That dog rewarded me for my silence with a stock market tip that made me independently wealthy for the rest of my days. And the last words that Sparky ever spoke were to Thomas Edison. “Try a piece of carbonized cotton thread,” he said. Later, he was torn to bits by a pack of dogs that had gathered outside the door, listening.”
The stranger removed his garters and handed them to Bullard’s dog.
“A small token of esteem, sir, for an ancestor of yours who talked himself to death. Good day.”
He tucked his book under his arm and walked away.
Âñå ìàòåðèàëû ïðåäñòàâëåííûå íà ñàéòå èñêëþ÷èòåëüíî ñ öåëüþ îçíàêîìëåíèÿ ÷èòàòåëÿìè è íå ïðåñëåäóþò êîììåð÷åñêèõ öåëåé èëè íàðóøåíèå àâòîðñêèõ ïðàâ. Ñòóäàëë.Îðã (0.012 ñåê.)