Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.
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HE BOY NAMED
was grinning to himself as he walked across the tree-shaded Square. Over his shoulder was slung the small wooden box in which he carried the two kinds of shoe polish, tan and black, the shoebrushes, and the strips of cloth with which to put on the final glossiness.
He was grinning because never before had he shined anyone’s shoes except his own. And now he was looking for his first customer. It was a little exciting.
It was a hot summer noon. Djuna had hoped that there would be a good many men sitting around on the park benches and waiting for someone to come along and shine their shoes. But there weren’t. Djuna could see only one man in the whole Square. He was lounging on a bench at the opposite side of the little park, his head thrown back, staring up into the blue sky.
Djuna walked up to him. When he got closer, he saw that he was a rather plump young man and that he wasn’t looking at the sky at all. His eyes were closed.
“Shine?” said Djuna hopefully, pausing in front of him.
The young man raised his head and opened his eyes.
“Huh?” he said. Then, seeing Djuna standing there with the shoe-shining box on his shoulder, the plump young man smiled and said thoughtfully, “Yes and no.”
“What?” said Djuna, startled.
“I mean,” said the young man, sleepily, “it all depends. If you will promise not to hurry, the answer is yes. If your idea of shining shoes is to rush as though you were catching a train, the answer is no. Is that clear?”
Djuna grinned again and took the shoe box off his shoulder. “I’m in no hurry,” he said.
“Good!” said the young man. “Then you may proceed. The world is made up of people who hurry and people who don’t. I prefer those who don’t. Hurry gets you nowhere. You agree?”
He put one foot on the box with a sort of slow-motion movement. Djuna, kneeling, went to work. The plump young man closed his eyes again.
Djuna worked away slowly, as he had promised, and when he had at last finished the first shoe he lifted the young man’s foot off the box and tapped on his other foot.
“Huh?” said the young man dreamily, without opening his eyes.
“The other foot, please,” said Djuna.
“Oh!” said the young man. “Give you an inch, and you ask for a foot. Well, well, have it your way.”
He put the other foot on the box. Djuna daubed the polish on the shoe and rubbed away. Glancing up at the young man, he saw to his surprise that the young man’s eyes were open and that he was staring off to the right with an expression of lively interest on his face.
“As I live and breathe!” the young man exclaimed. “Benjamin Franklin himself!”
Djuna followed his gaze and saw, coming toward them on the path which ran diagonally across the Square, a boy of about his own age. The boy was bareheaded. Under each arm he carried a loaf of bread–not the ordinary size, but a long, thin loaf, about two feet long.
The boy came up to them and looked inquiringly at the young man. The young man shook his head.
“Well, it’s time, Mr. Furlong,” said the boy, apologetically.
The young man shook his head again. “Don’t hurry me, Ben,” he said firmly. “On your way! Twice across the Square was the agreement. And, besides, can’t you see I’m getting my shoes shined? Have you no love of beauty? Does it mean nothing to you that I dazzle the vulgar herd with my splendor? Be off with you, boy!”
The boy grinned, and went on. Djuna, finishing his job and putting his brushes back into the box, glanced after him and saw that when the boy reached the other end of the Square he turned and came slowly back toward them.
Djuna was bursting with curiosity. As he stood up and brushed off his knees he couldn’t resist saying eagerly to the plump young man, “Excuse me, but what did he mean when he told you it was time? Time for what?”
The young man fished in his pocket and handed Djuna a dime for the shoe shine. He sighed.
“There,” he said, “is your wage. You have earned it. You did not hurry. You will be a success in life. As for your question, the answer is a long and a sad story. Painful as it is, the truth is that I am employed in yonder newspaper office. Heaven help me, I am a reporter!”
“Honest?” exclaimed Djuna, looking up at him in awe. A real reporter!
“Alas, yes!” sighed the young man. “Perhaps you are too young to be told such shocking things, perhaps your tender ears should be spared these horrid truths, but the fact is that the editor, a gentleman by the name of Canavan, who, by any other name would smell as sweet, is full of weird ideas. Weird, I tell you! He thinks, for example, that I ought to get to the office on time. A ridiculous idea, isn’t it? I leave it to you, isn’t it? But such is the fact. Yesterday this monster, this Canavan announced that if I were late again, by as little as one minute, he would throw me out on my ear. Me, the pride of the office; me, Socker Furlong! What was I to do?”
“What did you do?” exclaimed Djuna.
“Child, you may well ask,” said young Mr. Furlong. “I had no watch, alarm clock I had none. In my honest desperation, I thought of this faithful child, this young Ben Franklin, the most reliable copy boy that ever lost a piece of copy between desk and desk. Good! I held words with him. We came to terms. It was agreed that if the day was fine–which it is, thank heaven!–I should take my ease here on this bench until young Ben would come and summon me to yon torture chamber. The loaves of bread, I might add, are my own idea. An excellent touch, is it not? You have read, of course, of how the famous Mr. Franklin, two hundred years ago–or was it three hundred?–used to wander about with loaves of bread under his arms, while he was looking for a job as a reporter. Ah me, I hope it doesn’t mean to hint that
shall soon be looking for another job! Well, my boy, have I answered your question?”
Just as he finished speaking, Ben, the boy with the bread loaves, got back to them. He looked very serious.
“Honest, Mr. Furlong, it’s time,” he said. “You’d better get going.”
The plump young reporter sighed once again and got to his feet, reluctantly.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
Ben shifted both loaves of bread under one arm and dug into his pocket with his free hand.
“I wouldn’t fool you, Mr. Furlong,” he said. “You know that. If you don’t believe me, you can look at my watch.”
His hand came out of his pocket and he held it out, open, toward the reporter. Djuna gasped. In Ben’s palm was a tiny green turtle, no bigger than a silver half-dollar. It stuck its head out from its shell and looked up inquiringly.
“You see?” demanded Ben. “It’s just one o’clock.”
Socker Furlong looked down at it with great interest. “You’re right,” he said. “Quite right. I wouldn’t have believed it was so late!”
Fishing in his own pocket, he brought out another dime and handed it to Ben. “There,” he said, “is your emolument. Your honorarium. Coin of the realm, my boy, coin of the realm. Spend it not unwisely. Furlong thanks you.”
He stalked away, heading for the newspaper office.
Djuna couldn’t take his eyes away from the tiny turtle. “Gee whiz!” he exclaimed. “Can he really tell time?”
“Well, partly,” said Ben modestly. “When he puts his head out, I call it either half-past eleven, or twelve o’clock, or one, according to which way he turns it; and when he sticks out his tail it’s six. His left hand is eleven, and his right hand is two. His right hind leg is half-past four and his left hind leg is half-past seven. But it’s when he puts them all out at once that it’s sort of hard to tell just
time it is.”
“Gee!” said Djuna, again. He pondered. “Of course you could always turn him a little, so that whatever he stuck out would be pointing the right way,” he observed.
“Well, that’s so,” said Ben. “That would fix it.”
“Where’d you get him?” asked Djuna.
“In a pet shop.”
The turtle seemed embarrassed at being the center of attention and drew his head in again. Ben restored him to his pocket.
“Doesn’t he mind being carried around that way?” asked Djuna. “I should think he would.”
“Oh, I never carry him around much,” said Ben hastily. “I’ve got a glass bowl full of water for him at home and another one at the office. He sits in the water all day and all night, or else he climbs up on the rock in the bowl. He don’t get around much. It’s probably good for him to carry him around a little.”
“What do you call him?” asked Djuna, respectfully.
“Waterbury,” said Ben. “That’s the name of a clock.”
“Gee, I wish
had a turtle,” said Djuna. “I’ve got a dog, a Scotty, but I couldn’t bring him with me. I had to leave him at home.”
“What do you mean?” asked the other boy. “Don’t you live around here?”
“No, I live in the country, a place called Edenboro,” said Djuna. “I’m just visiting here. But there wasn’t any room for Champ–that’s my dog–so I had to leave him behind. But maybe–”
He stopped, and looked uncomfortable.
” asked Ben.
“Oh, nothing,” said Djuna. “I just thought that maybe I could earn enough money to–well, to sort of go and visit him, maybe.”
“Oh!” said Ben. “Shining shoes, you mean.”
“Yes,” said Djuna.
“Say, I’ve got to go,” said Ben. “I can feel Waterbury moving around. I guess he wants to get back into his bowl.”