Henry, bitter rival of. . .
George Bigelow, favorite to win. . .
The great race, in spite of Dizzy. . .
And Henry’s mother. . .
And loyal father.
In a story as gay as the Aldrich Family broadcasts themselves, lovelorn Henry, down for Cupid’s count, finally triumphs with the aid of Dizzy and bicycle build (after a fashion) for two
HEN—RY! Henry Aldrich!!”
His mother’s voice, poured with practiced pitch down the narrow basement stairs, summoned the chubby young man from the silence of day dream which had already begun to vex his companion, a thin boy about his own age, who was industriously oiling the sprocket of a tandem bicycle upended on the cellar floor.
“Yes, Mother?” Henry’s reply was almost automatic.
“Mary and I are going to the movies. Do you and Dizzy want to come along or are you going to work on that bicycle all night?”
Henry roused his attention sufficiently to introduce a slightly offended tone to his answer.
“Have you forgotten the race is tomorrow, Mother?” he called.
Since this at least settled the question of whether Henry cared to accompany his older sister and herself to the picture show, Mrs. Aldrich closed the cellar door again and left Henry to resume his musing.
Several times Dizzy looked up from his task, watched Henry idly turn a nut on the saddle the wrong way, started to speak and then shook his head compassionately.
To say that Henry Aldrich was love sick would be as much of an understatement as to tell a with mumps that his jaw looked a little swollen. Henry was positively stricken. And there seemed to be no immediate cure for his condition since the object of his affection was more than a thousand miles away, vacationing in New England. As he thought of Kathleen, flying along resort roads, Henry leveled a contemptuous glance at the decrepit machine on which he and Dizzy were working.
The bicycle which lay sprawled across the cellar floor was a relic of another age. Henry Ford conceivably might have been interested in it for his collection of early American antiques. Certainly it was not a machine which might have been expected to be entered in the Centerville Home Week annual bicycle race. But a series of misfortunes had robbed both Henry and Dizzy of their more modern wheels and the tandem they were now repairing provided a gambler’s last chance at the $50 first prize money.
But now, pondering over the fact that a fifth day had passed without a letter from his loved one, Henry’s enthusiasm over the morrow’s event had suddenly waned long silence, “I’m not going in the race!”
“Oh, Henry,” pleaded his friend, “you can’t change your mind like that!”
“Can’t I? The only reason I was going in it was so we could win the $50 and get enough carfare to go to Kathleen’s house party.”
Dizzy shot a sympathetic glance at his downcast friend. “And we can still win it,” he urged.
“Why should I care about going to her old house party? She promised on her word of honor to write me and I haven’t had a line from her.”
“She probably wrote you and the letter was lost in the mail. I heard of a girl that wrote a letter to a fellow and it wasn’t delivered for twenty years. Maybe that’s what happened in this case.”
“Well, I’m not going in the race!”
“Listen, Henry. You’ve got to. Why don’t you take some of our tire money and phone her? We’ve got a little extra.”
“She isn’t worth it.”
“I’ve an idea. How about putting the call in and asking the operator to reverse the charges?”
“What does that mean?”
Dizzy was a little doubtful on this point. “I don’t know. But I’ve seen my older brother do it.”
“And it doesn’t cost him a cent?”
Henry was obviously interested.
“Not a dime.”
“Who does pay for it?”
“I guess nobody does.”
“Is that right?” Henry was puzzled but half persuaded.
“Maybe the Government does,” conjectured Dizzy. There were so many things the Government paid for these days, it seemed plausible.
“Isn’t that decent of them,” mused Henry. His annoyance with Kathleen had vanished. “Why don’t I try it? Listen, Dizzy, I’ll send Father downstairs here and ask him to help you and you keep him busy until I’m through.” Henry laid down his wrench and got to his feet. “Be sure you keep him busy, while I’m phoning, now!” he admonished Dizzy from the foot of the stairs.
In the living room, Mr. Aldrich had just turned his newspaper to the latest chapter of the mystery serial which occupied him through an inch of his after dinner cigar every night, when Henry entered.
“Father, could you give us a little assistance down in the basement?” Henry’s tone was guileless.
“In what way?”
“We’d like to have you look over the back tire and see whether you can figure what should be done with it.”
“All right, son,” he said good humoredly. “Come on.”
“You go ahead, Father. Dizzy is waiting for you. I’ll be there in a minute.”
HENRY listened until he heard his father’s footsteps clatter down the basement stairs, and then moved quickly into the hall and picked up the telephone receiver.
“Hello, operator. I want to put in a call to New Weston, Vermont.” His voice was shaking a little with excitement. It was the first time he had ever talked on long distance and added to that thrill was the knowledge that in a minute he would be hearing Kathleen’s surprised greeting.
“I want to talk to Miss Kathleen Anderson,” he instructed. “He father’s name is Robert Anderson. And listen, Operator. Would you mind reversing the charges, please? . . . My name?. . . Do you have to have my name? Well—Henry Aldrich.”
At the other end of the line, Henry could hear the mysterious mechanics of the call being placed. One feminine voice after another took up the chant of code-like instructions as his line was opened through to New England. Then suddenly a crackle smacked his ear and the humming static was silenced until the Centerville operator came back on the wire. Her report was rattling.
“What? The charges? Well, they’re to be reversed. This is on the Government, . . .”
“I’m sorry, your party refuses to accept the charges,” the maiden at the keyboard announced. “Do you wish to pay for the call?”
“What’s it got to do with parties? This isn’t an election,” argued Henry. “I said the govern . . .” Henry was embarrassed now. Dizzy hadn’t prepared him for this emergency. The operator’s impersonal sing-song was prattling away again.
“Miss Anderson is on the phone?” echoed Henry nervously. “She’s right there at the other end of the line?” This was too much. Suppose Kathleen could hear his debate over the cost of the call. There was only one thing for a man of the world to do in such a position. With a slight effort, Henry cleared the lump in his throat and summoned up an air of casualness. “Well, as long as she’s waiting, I guess you’d better charge it here, then.”
“Go ahead, please,” said the operator and Henry could hear Kathleen’s high pitched “Hello.”
“Hello, Kathleen. This is Henry . . . Henry . . . H-E-N-R-Y. Have you forgotten me? . . . I’m fine. How are you? . . . Mmmm. I say I’m fine . . . F-I-N-E, F . . . like in Frank . . . R-A-N-K . . K . . . like in Kansas. Oh, I’m all mixed up. No, I didn’t say I was going to Kansas I said . . .”
With the ear that was not pressed against the receiver, Henry heard his father bellowing from the basement:
“Henry, where are you? What are you doing?”
Henry clamped his free hand over the telephone mouthpiece. I’ll be right there, Father,” he called.
“Well, bring down your tire cement,” ordered Mr.Aldrich.
“Just a minute, Kathleen,” Henry blurted into the phone. “I’ve got to . . .”
Leaving Kathleen’s precious presence dangling on the wall, Henry sped out to the kitchen, tugged at a drawer and dashed to the head of the basement stairs, clutching the tube of tire cement. “Hey, Dizzy,” he shouted. “Catch!”
BACK at the telephone, Henry eagerly picked up the receiver. “Hello, hello, Kathleen?” He panted for breath. His exertion had winded him. “Well, this is Henry again.”
Kathleen’s voice held a coquettish tone. “Did you get my letter?” she asked archly.
“You wrote?” exulted Henry. “Oh, Kathleen, I’m going to carry it in my pocket in the race. If Dizzy and I win the $50 we’re both coming up to you houseparty.
“And listen, the Centerville Times is going to cover the race on its radio station. If Dizzy and I win, we’ll be making a speech afterwards, and if I get the chance, I’ll say a few words to you.”
From the cellar stairs, Henry could hear Dizzy whistling. The tune was “Here Come the British,” and the signal could have been no clearer if Dizzy had shouted a warning.
Edging closer to the mouthpiece, Henry lowered his voice. “I’ve got to say good-bye now, Kathleen. I’ll be seeing you.” He had hardly hung the receiver on the hook when his father joined Dizzy in the hall.
“Where have you been, Henry?” queried Mr. Aldrich.
Adroitly, Dizzy covered Henry. “Your father says we’ve got to buy a new tire.”
“You certainly have, if you want to ride in that race,” affirmed Mr. Aldrich.
“Well, we’ve got enough money. We’ll get one,” declared Henry and then gave a startled jump as the telephone rang.
“Don’t bother, Father, I’ll answer it.” Henry moved toward the instrument but his father crossed in front of him. Henry turned a despairing look on Dizzy at his father’s next words. “Hello? . . . Am I through talking with whom? . . . With whom?” Mr. Aldrich’s eyebrows arched into twin question marks. “Hold the wire a minute, please.” Sam Aldrich stared at his son speculatively.
“Do you know anything about a call to Vermont?”
“Vermont, Father?” Henry sounded as if the name were as unfamiliar to him as the capital of a distant country.
“You don’t know anyone in Vermont, do you?” Mr. Aldrich apparently was a puzzled as Henry hoped he himself looked.
“Why . . . no one except Kathleen, Father.”
A great light broke on Sam Aldrich’s countenance. He turned back to the telephone. “Operator, could you please tell me what the charges are?”
Henry was fumbling in his pocket. “I’ve got the thirty cents right here.” He said eagerly. His father waved him away and listened for a moment and then, with a “Thank you,” clicked the receiver.
“Do you have change for fifty cents, Father?” Henry inquired.
“The charges,” said Mr. Aldrich looking sternly at his son, “happen to be three dollars and eighty-five cents!”
HENRY’S immediate and frantic petition for credit left his father unmoved and payment for the phone call left the partners just thirty-eight cents for the new tire.
“There go our chances for the race.” Dizzy was desolate. But Henry, after a moment’s moody contemplation of their plight, suddenly brightened.
“I know what we can do, Dizzy,” he cried. “I know exactly what we can do. And I’ll bet it will work!”
“What is it, Henry?”
“Meet me at Main and Second Streets at nine o’clock tomorrow morning and I’ll show you.”
Just two minutes after the doors of the Centerville First National Bank opened the next morning, Henry, followed by Dizzy, approached the desk of Frank Nye, the president. Henry wore an expression of self-confidence that would have become a junior partner of J. P. Morgan and Company. “How do you do, Mr. Nye,” he greeted the gray-haired official.” We’d like to do some business here.”
The banker looked up from a pile of mail before him. “If you want to open an account, Henry, just stand over in that line.”
“Well, that wasn’t exactly what we had in mind, Mr. Nye. You see it’s this way. We need some money. But we don’t want to borrow it. We’ve got a better idea.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Nye. You see it’s this way. We need some money. But we don’t want to borrow it. We’ve got a better idea.”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Nye, we aren’t going to hold you up, or anything, interjected Dizzy. If Mr. Nye was relieved at this reassurance he gave no sign of it.”
“We’re going into the bicycle race this afternoon,” continued Henry, “and we’re sure to win.”
“How do you know you are?” demanded the banker, and Henry was surprised to realize that, although seemingly intent on his correspondence, Mr. Nye had been listening.
BECAUSE there will be two of us against one of everybody else,” pointed out Dizzy.
“And what is your proposition?” Mr. Nye asked.
“When we win, we’ll probably be asked to make a speech on the radio right afterwards,” explained Henry. “And when we make it, how would you like us to say a few words about your bank?”
“In other words,” expounded Dizzy, “we’ll tell everybody we’re depositing the money we win with you.”
“And how would that help the First National Bank?”
Dizzy was unprepared for this sort of reasoning. He looked at Henry. “Why . . . why . . how would it, Henry?”
“If we recommend the bank, it must be good,” declared Centerville’s would-be testimonial tycoon
Mr. Nye chuckled. “How much would this wonderful advertising cost the bank?”
Henry swallowed twice. “Would . . . would $25 be a little too much?” He eyed the bank officer hopefully.
“Quite a little.”
Dizzy’s methods were more direct. “Would you consider a reasonable amount?”
“Would you be interested in putting this bank on its feet for the sum of two dollars?” asked Mr. Nye.
“You really want us to do it?” gasped Henry, delighted.
“Yes, it’s a bargain.” Mr. Nye rose, drew two crisp new one-dollar bills from his pocket and, with a hearty handshake, dismissed his callers.
Outside on the sidewalk, Dizzy pounded his plump pal’s back. “Henry, that was the easiest two dollars I ever made.”
Henry, swept away by the magnitude of his success, was gazing thoughtfully at Bishop’s Clothing Emporium across the street. “Dizzy, I’ve got another idea. Come on.”
With dizzy at his heels, Henry hurried across the street, entered the clothing store, and once more launched into his sales talk on the merits of radio publicity.
“I wouldn’t be inclined to be interested,” announced Morris Bishop, the proprietor. “People have got to see to buy.” However, after an earnest fifteen minutes discussion, it was agreed that the boys should exploit the Emporium for a retainer of $2.50. But in addition to airing a radio plug for the store, Henry and Dizzy were to ride in the race attired in samples of the two articles the Emporium was featuring in its current summer sale. On their bicycle was to be tied a sign reading: “Clothing Furnished by Bishop’s suite and Coat Emporium.”
“What are the specials you want us to wear?” inquired Henry when the deal was completed, Mr. Bishop fitted the contrasting figures before him with an experienced eye.
“Heavyweight, high leather boots and fall top coats!” answered Morris.
IT was noon before Henry and Dizzy completed their canvass of the Main Street merchants and then the practical Dizzy insisted that they halt their campaign in favor of lunch. “I can’t pedal six and a half miles this afternoon on an empty stomach. And besides, we’ve got enough for the tire, now,” insisted when Henry suggested they skip the meal in favor of another hour’s search for sponsors.
They repaired to their respective homes and over the luncheon table, Henry proudly recounted his success as a solicitor. “We get $8 in cash and promises of $10 more,” the boy ballyhoo broker boasted. Mrs. Aldrich was visibly impressed. Even Mary, Henry’s older sister, admitted that he had shown admirable that he had shown admirable initiative.
After lunch, he strode that sent Mrs. Aldrich’s eyes to the soles of the high leather boots he was wearing, and out into the yard where the tandem was propped against a laundry pole, its new front tire as conspicuous as a sable patch on a pair of old overalls.
Around the corner of the house, appeared Dizzy. Over his sweater and corduroy slacks, Dizzy was wearing a new heavy top coat which reached to the middle of his high leather boots. He looked like a trapper who had borrowed a coachman’s outfit and was sorry he’d ever left the woods. The hot August sun baked him like a jacketed potato. Henry was struggling into his own, even larger model of the Bishop Emporium’s suggestion of what the well-dressed man would be wearing when snow fell.
He then began adjusting a wire basket onto the front handle bars of the tandem. The basket was filled with sample boxes of breakfast food from Allen’s Grocery which the boys had contracted to toss out to the crowds along the line of the race.
On the quiet summer afternoon’s air there suddenly came the sound of band music in the distance. “Hurry up, Dizzy. Get on,” ordered Henry. “Hear the band. I guess the crowd is beginning to gather. We’d better get down to the starting line.” Henry looked up at the window of his parents’ room and called.
“Mother, Mother! Aren’t you coming to see the race?”
Mrs. Aldrich appeared at the window and waved good luck. “Your father is coming,” she announced. “But I’m going to stay home and listen to it on the radio.”
Henry and Dizzy maneuvered a mounting and, a little shakily at first, started slowly pedaling toward the center of town. Mrs. Aldrich remained at the window and watched them out of sight and then moved swiftly to her besides radio and turned the switch. Soon there breezed through the loudspeaker the cr voice of Ted Sloane, sports editor of the Centerville Times.
“Well, here we are in Centerville, folks,” began Sloane, “about to see the annual six-and-a-half-mile cross country bicycle classic. Among others who are entered in the grueling contest today are: Thayer Fenner, David Mercer, George Bigelow and Tommy Wentworth. And now coming down Main Street is a sight to behold, ladies and gentlemen. Two dark horses if we’ve ever seen two. Henry Aldrich and Dizzy Stevens, who will ride together on their own tandem. To try and describe their bicycle would be impossible. Apparently it is equipped for both land water. Open up the way, folks and let the two boys through to the starting line.
“Henry! Henry Aldrich. We’d like to hear a word or two from you before the race begins,” Mrs. Aldrich felt a tingle of excitement chase itself around her ribs as she waited for her son’s voice to come over the air. There was a moment’s pause and then Sloane, the announcer, asked:
“Going to win this race, Henry?”
THERE he was. There was Henry! “Yes, sir,” quavered an uncertain tenor. And then gathering confidence, the boy’s voice went on. “And I’d like to say that the money Dizzy and I get for the first prize will be deposited in the following banks: The Centerville First National, the Centerville Dime Savings, and the Bank and Trust Company of Centerville.”
Just then another boy’s voice, suspiciously like George Bigelow’s, drifted into the microphone. “Hi, Henry, where you think you’re goin’ on that ramblin’ wreck?”
The jingle of her telephone bell summoned Mrs. Aldrich away from her radio long enough to explain to a bridge-playing friend why she would be unable to make a fourth for the afternoon. When she returned to her room, Sloane was in the midst of a description of the race from his car which was pacing the leaders.
“And from here on, for the next four and a half miles, it promises to be a hard fought battle,” bleated the broadcaster. “Dave Mercer is now running third. George Bigelow, the favorite to win the race, is now within one length of the leaders, Aldrich and Stevens. He’s even with them. He’s a full length ahead of them. He’s opening the stretch at every turn of the wheel. The car in which your announcer is riding is about to pass Aldrich and Stevens. If you listen, you of the radio audience may be able to hear the hum of their wheel as it tears down the open road.”
There was that sense of emptiness that invariably follows a cut over in radio and then, laboredly over the sound of their tandem’s whining sprocket, came the voices of Henry and Dizzy.
“Did you ever feel anything more uncomfortable in all your life, Dizzy, than these darn boots of Bishops?”
Through pants, as he pumped the pedals, came Dizzy’s answer. “Boy, I wouldn’t buy a pair like these if you paid me.”
“And is that First National Bank a gyp! Two dollars for all that publicity. . . .”
“The tightwads!” echoed Dizzy as Sloane pulled his microphone out of sound of their voices.
“Ladies and gentlemen Bigelow is now starting up the long pull toward Kendal Hill. Aldrich and Stevens are dropping to third place. In fact they’ve dropped to fourth place. It’s upgrade now and obviously the tandem terrors are not moving so easily. Here is an interesting bit of news. Aldrich has just removed his coat and is throwing it in the ditch. Stevens is following his example. Dave Mercer is moving up on Bigelow. Aldrich and Stevens are now in twelfth place, and still dropping back.
“Aldrich has just dismounted and is running back to the coat he threw away. Through our glasses it looks as if he is getting a letter from the coat and running back to rejoin his frantic teammate.
“Instead of coasting, as the others are doing, to gain a rest, Aldrich and Stevens are now travelling at terrific speed. They are now riding fifth. Bigelow has looked over his shoulder and sees what is coming. Aldrich and Stevens are second! The two boys must be making at least three hundred pedal revolutions a minute. Perfect timing . . . perfect control. They are out to win this race and fifty dollars, Wait! Wait! Something’s about to happen, folks. A threshing machine has just pulled in from a side road, directly in front of Aldrich and Stevens. Hitched to the machine is load of oats. The tandem is behind it. There is no way to pass. The boys have got to hit it. They can’t get by. Whew!
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have just seen a miracle. The two boys squeezed by and didn’t touch the threshing machine. What riding! The rest of the threshing machine has now moved into the exact middle of the road.
“What’s this? Aldrich and Stevens seem to be having trouble. They are trying their best to stop their wheel. We can see from here that the front tire is as flat as a pancake and their wheel is wobbling all over the road.
“Apparently the boys have no pump with which to repair their puncture, and are debating what to do. They’ve just stopped the threshing machine and . . . oh, this is wonderful! . . they’ve taken a bag of oats and are pouring the oats into a slit in their deflated tire and are taping up the hole.
“Meanwhile several bicycles have passed the tandem and the race now seems to be between Bigelow and Mercer.
“But no! We don’t for the life of us know how they did it, but Aldrich and Stevens are now up there, threatening Bigelow is swerving to block Aldrich and Stevens, as they try to pass. It doesn’t look as if the boys on the tandem will be able to get by. They’re going to try, folks. Now Bigelow swings over directly in front of them. They try on the other side.
“Bigelow is doing all he can to block them and so far he’s succeeded beautifully. Whoops! Bigelow swerved and for one moment the two bicycles actually touched. Here they are, less than twenty-five yards to go. Ten . . . Five . . . Two! Bigelow is still leading. And Bigelow crosses the line first!”
There was a cannonade of cheers and then over the radio came the voice of a race committeeman. “First prize of $50 goes to George Bigelow. Second prize, a repeating air rifle to Henry Aldrich and Dizzy Stevens.”
As the shouts of the crowds subsided, Mrs. Aldrich could recognize half a dozen voice near the broadcaster’s car. One of them seemed to be Mr. Nye, president of the First National Bank.
“Henry Aldrich, I want a word with you,” he was saying.
“I know,” came her son’s throaty tone, above the confusion. “You want those two dollars back, don’t you?”
“No, Henry. Any boy that has as much enterprise and courage as you and your friend Dizzy, here certainly deserves some kind of a reward.”
The buzz of a myriad private greetings at the finish line drowned out all of Henry’s answer but the final phrase: “You mean, Mr. Nye, you’ll give us a job, and we can earn our carfare to New England some other way?”
“Wait and see, Henry,” came the chuckle of the bank president.
And then clear and true, above the noisy hubbub of the final minute of the broadcast, Mrs. Aldrich caught her husband’s awed accents.
“Henry, don’t you ever get discouraged?”
With a twist of her wrist, Mrs. Aldrich clicked off the radio. It was thrilling. It was a memorable event. Think of hearing her own husband and her own son on the air! But she couldn’t loiter to listen for more. They’d be home soon, now. And, as the unsung sage of the Aldrich Family she knew what her duty this very minute was.
It was time to be getting dinner!