From the Children’s Friend, October 1931 –
That Grown-up Feeling
By Stella P. Rich
“Oh, Bangs,” shouted three boys from the doorway of an abandoned garage, “we’ve got something to tell you. Come here.”
“Can’t right now. I’m going to the bank,” answered “Bangs” Austin.
“Bank?” chorused three boyish voices. “What you going to the bank for?”
“I can’t tell you now. The thing closes in twenty more minutes,” he called. “I’ll see you down at the old swimming hole tonight.”
Bangs Austin felt very grown up in spite of his twelve years as he stepped up to the cashier’s window of the town’s one bank.
“I want to start a savings account,” he told Mr. Gayly as he pushed a ten dollar check toward the old gentleman.
The cashier peered kindly at the boy from behind heavy spectacles. “Ten dollars! Pretty good, Sonny. Somebody give it to you?”
“No, sir. I earned every bit of it thinning beets for Mr. Packer. I’m going to get me a peachy bicycle as soon as I have enough saved,” he confided.
“Fine. I’m always glad to see boys start to save some money. It’s a sign they are growing up.”
Bangs had always liked Mr. Gayly. Once in Primary when his teacher had asked the class to name some heroes, Bangs had said “Lincoln and John Gayly.” Now, to know that his hero actually thought that he was growing up made the boy’s heart swell with pride.
The cashier handed Bangs a little book with his real name, Reed Austin, written across it.
“Bring it back with you when you have some more money to deposit, Reed.”
That evening down by the canal where the town boys had all gathered for a swim, Bangs saw the three friends who had hailed him that morning.
“What did you want to tell me?” he asked of Buck Allred, the biggest of the three.
“Just wanted to know if you wanted some real fun tonight. Not little-kid fun, but grown-up fun, huh?”
There it was again – grown-up. Bangs expanded his chest. “Sure I do. What other kind of fun do you think I’d want?”
“Well, listen. Tonight just as soon as it gets dark we are going over to Neils Beargone’s – that’s the old Swede that lives out at the other side of town – and throw rocks on his roof. My brother Sam says that is all you have to do to hear one of the liveliest lines of Swedish swearing you can imagine. The old boy just goes wild. Tonight we will make him think there’s a real hailstorm.”
After an hour of splashing and shouting the boys scrambled out of water and started for town. Four of the number stopped occasionally to fill every inch of available pocket room with smooth pebbles.
Neils Beargone lived alone in a little one-roomed shack in the midst of his wheat field. There were no blinds at the windows and the one glaring light revealed the old Swede seated on a bench by the stove busily hammering away at the sole of a shoe.
From their position outside the boys could see the top of his bald head surrounded by a thin fringe of red hair.
“It’s like a wreath,” Bangs whispered, and each boy seized his own nose to stifle the wild laughter that threatened to overwhelm him.
At that moment old Niels commenced to sing. His voice was high-pitched and wavering and it sounded to the boys as if he repeated over and over again, “Ah ee kanga gand astray.” It was too much for their sense of humor and muffled snorts revealed their position under the window.
The sounds must have reached Neils for he came to the door and peered out into the soft summer darkness. The boys had dropped flat, and they lay breathless till he went back to his hammering.
“Now, fellows,” Buck told them.
They crept from their hiding place and stationed themselves one at each corner of the house.
“Let her go,” Buck whispered.
A terrific rattling followed. Clatter, clatter, clatter. It sounded as if all the hail in the world had centered on old Neils’ roof.
The man sprang to his feet. His hammer dropped to the floor. From Bangs’ hiding place in the wheat the boy could see him in the open doorway, his arms flung above his head, his face working with anger.
The stream of Swedish that followed surpassed the boys’ wildest dreams. He began to run up and down the cleared space before his house, his rheumatic legs making him a weird figure as he passed back and forth before the light that streamed from his open doorway.
Buck’s fleetness in running gave him courage to take an extra risk. The night air was shattered by the bleat of a billy goat, and immediately afterward three boys made their exit through the wheat.
Neils started to run in the direction of the fleeing boys. He almost stepped on Bangs as he passed. A few feet ahead a small irrigation ditch broke the even surface of the field. The old man failing to note it, stumbled and fell headlong.
The Swedish swearing stopped abruptly. Perhaps it was a trick to catch them. Bangs waited till the silence became oppressive, then cautiously he rose from his hiding place. He could see the old man’s form stretched out on the ground. A sickening thought struck him. What if they had killed him!
He moved carefully toward the figure. Old Neils lay perfectly still. He came nearer. Still no sound.
‘What have we done, oh, what have we done?” The boy was crying. He called to the other boys but they were too far away to hear. Suddenly he started to run toward the street. An automobile light had come into view around a curve in the road. He hailed the driver. It was Mr. Gayly.
“Oh, please come quick and see what is the matter with Mr. Beargone.”
“What’s happened?” the man asked.
“He fell – I saw him fall – he – he doesn’t get up.”
Mr. Gayly felt Neils’ pulse. “It’s going slightly,” he said. “We better get him into the house.”
He picked up the limp figure, carried him in, and laid him on the rude homemade bed in the corner.
“Now some cold water, Sonny.”
Bangs was trembling so he could hardly fill the basin.
While Mr. Gayly was bathing Neils’ face the sick man groaned, opened his eyes and looked bewilderedly about the room.
“Just lie quiet. You’re all right.”
“Ver am I?” the old Swede asked and then before Mr. Gayly could answer him he groaned and pointed to his ankle. “He hurts bad,” he said.
Mr. Gayly examined the ankle. “Yes, it’s sprained. I think I better send the doctor down.”
“No, no,” the old man protested weakly, “I got no money.”
“Don’t you worry, Mr. Beargone, I’ll pay the doctor. Now I’ve got to hurry to a director’s meeting at Caldwell but I’ll phone Dr. Johns and have him come right out. Reed Austin, here, can stay with you till the doctor comes, can’t you, Reed?’
“Von’t your folks be worried?” asked old Neils.
“They aren’t home. I’m staying with grandma,” the boy answered, “and she was going to the picture show.”
“Better build up a fire, Reed, and get some hot water. The doctor will likely want to bathe that foot.”
Bangs hurried out for some wood. As he came around the corner of the house he heard Mr. Gayly say to Neils, “Lucky for you, Beargone, that the youngster happened by when you fell. He’s a manly little chap.”
The boy’s face burned with shame. Why hadn’t the others come back? Of course they didn’t know that anything had happened to old Neils, but Bangs wished desperately that they were there to help him decide what to do. He felt that he must tell Mr. Gayly that he wasn’t a manly little chap – that he was partly to blame for old Neils’ sprained ankle. He felt that he ought to tell old Neils himself but at that thought a trembling seized the boy. Maybe the old man would start swearing again. There was nothing humorous in that thought, now. How could he ever have thought it funny to hear old Neils swear!
When Bangs reached the door Mr. Gayly had gone.
Presently the doctor came and bound up the ankle. “You’ll have to keep off it several days,” he said and hurried on to make another call.
“I’ll come over in the morning,” Bangs told the old man, “just as soon as I get my chores done, and help you all I can.”
He left Neils muttering “Tank you, tank you. You are so good to me.”
It was a long walk to grandmother’s. He was glad that his parents were away. Somehow, he felt that he couldn’t face them after what had happened tonight. Grandmother hadn’t come in. He hurried up to bed but found that he could not sleep, or if he did it was to dream that old Neils was chasing him and always the man was riding a shiny new bicycle. Suddenly Bangs sat up in bed. What about that doctor bill! Neils had said that he had no money. Mr. Gayly had said not to worry, that he would see that the doctor was paid. But Mr. Gayly wasn’t to blame for Neils’ sprained ankle. He, Bangs, and the other boys were to blame. They should pay that doctor bill. But doctor bills cost lots of money. He knew well enough that the other boys didn’t have any and he didn’t have any – except his bicycle money. He couldn’t take that! And yet –
After what seemed hours, Bangs made his decision.
When Mr. Gayly came in to the bank next morning, Bangs was waiting for him.
“How much will it cost for Dr. Johns’ fixing old Neils’ ankle, do you think?” he asked the man.
“That’s a funny question, Sonny. About ten dollars, I guess. What makes you ask?”
“Well– ” Bangs drew in a long breath, “well, do you think I could get that money out that I put in the bank yesterday? I’m not going to get my bicycle after all. I’m going to pay Dr. Johns. I owe him.”
Faltering then, the boy told the old banker the whole miserable story. “You said I was a manly chap but I’m not. I’m mean, but I’m goin’ to tell old Neils I was one of the boys that teased him and ask him to forgive me and if you will give me the money I’ll go and see the doctor now.”
The banker got out the money and handed it to the boy. He walked with him to the door. Bangs felt the man’s arm around him.
“Reed, do you know what I think about you? I think you are a real man. Shake hands.”
And Bangs, a mist of tears in his eyes, suddenly knew that this thing he was feeling was the grown-up feeling.