Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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MAX BRAND

THE SMALL WORLD

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RGL e-Book Cover 2014

A SHORT SHORT STORY

First published in Collier's Weekly, February 8, 1936
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2014
Produced by James Inkster and Roy Glashan

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SMYTHE is a tall man, with an erect bearing, and plenty of sternness in the forehead to make up for the rather soggy good nature of his jowls; but he is not an instant favourite with the ladies.

So Smythe, when he goes out at night, takes with him an unusual and living introduction to the girls; he rents a dog from a kennel and brings it along on a leash to the bars and the night clubs. Usually he tries for a pedigreed dog which might be boarding at a kennel while the owner is out of town.

A bit of hand-feeding will make most dogs affectionate. If it's an ugly brute that shows its teeth, Smythe says: "Poor devil belongs to a cousin of mine. Left locked up in a room all the time. I had to take him out; and he'll probably wind up by biting off a leg for me, because I'm a stranger. That's the devil of it. We all hate the unknown. But really we're all strange. None of us knows the other fellow. Not really."

A speech like this makes the people in a bar look at Smythe. At times, a girl will sit down suddenly and say: "That sounds like something; I think that's awfully good."

Smythe says that when a dog is around it leads a girl right into the profundities. She looks down at the dog and she looks up to the man that owns it. Also Smythe says that girls are incurably bent on finding a hero, and a man with a dog fills the role.

I am very much impressed by Smythe's dog technique, but I couldn't help asking him, the other day, how he wangled it so that the right girl would sit down with him and the pup. His answer was surprising. He said: "Any girl is all right, if you know how to take her. Besides, you don't have to throw the bait until you see the prize fish."

But—well, I'll tell you the story, pretty much as Smythe told it to me.

Illustration


IT SEEMS that Smythe—one evening three or four weeks ago—rented a fine white English bull terrier for the night. He led the dog into one of those big hotel bars where the idea is to give as much privacy as possible to the tables around the wall, took a stool at the bar and cooled himself off with a tall, thin Scotch-and-soda. A big party cruised in, spilled itself along the bar and, as usual, one of the girls in the crowd attached herself to the bull terrier. Smythe paid heed to her because, when she spoke to it, the dog stood up on its hind legs and licked her hand.

Now that Smythe was looking at her, he made an amazing discovery. The discovery was that she was indescribable!

The facts, as well as he could make them out, were about as follows: she was around five feet five or six, weight about a hundred and twenty, eyes green-gray or something, hair darkish-brownish, clothes just what you might expect. Even as I assemble these facts I fail to see what is unusual about them but Smythe, who has a penetrating brain, knew instantly that he was in the presence of that nonexistent thing: the Average American Girl!

It took his breath. For once money became to him a thing of no object. He offered her a drink and in a few moments, with his flawless technique, had her at a very private corner table.

As usual, he began by talking about the dog. The girl pointed at the bull terrier, which promptly caught the finger, gradually shifted it back to his molars and crunched. However, she removed it just as Smythe's blood was turning cold and the red enamel of the fingernail was not even scratched. Smythe decided that she was average only in appearance.

He continued his ordinary tactics, saying as though inspired by sudden insight: "You're not..." Then he paused and seemed embarrassed.

"I'm not what?" said the girl, falling into the old pattern.

"You're not happy," said Smythe. "I'm sorry... But I can see it!"

"Well, are you happy?" asked the girl.

This was just a little unusual. Ordinarily they asked this question a lot later, after they had unburdened themselves of a good deal of phoney biography.

"We won't go into that," Smythe said. Then he brightened himself with a visible effort and said: "I want you to be as happy as you can. Let's not talk about trouble."

She had a strange lack of emotion in her voice when she answered: "The only good men are the dead ones. What killed you?"

"Not bullets," said Smythe, and laughed his sad laugh again.

"A woman?" asked the girl.

Smythe felt that he was being hurried a little. He looked fixedly and yet gently upon the girl for two or three seconds. "No," he said. "Let's talk about you. Are you a bad girl?... Do you mind me saying it like this... brutally?"

"What do you call bad?" said this strange average girl.

He had the answer with the speed of an automatic: "I never have dared to define it."

"I'll tell you how bad I am," she said. "I take twenty-five dollars a week from home."

Smythe was a trifle dazed.

"I take twenty-five a week from home, and all the time I'm doing this," she explained, and made a gesture which included in "this" the drinks, the table, Smythe, and the whole place except the dog. When her hand dropped to her side, the dog began to chew it.

"The poor old fellow likes you," said Smythe. "Leads a rotten life. Cousin of mine has him and never takes him out. I couldn't stand it. Had to give him some air."

"Oh," said the girl, and blew out a long, blue-brown breath of smoke.

"I see what you mean," went on Smythe. "You take the money from the old folks, and still you keep on stepping out, now and then?... I'll tell you what."

"Yes, do tell me," said the girl.

"I could find a job for you," said Smythe. "You tell me what sort of thing you can do."

"This," said the girl, and made another of those gestures which included everything except the dog.

"You've never tried real work?" asked Smythe.

"What do you mean... real?" she asked.


HE LOOKED at her eyes through the smoke. They seemed more green than gray and a strange chill of apprehension went through Smythe; but at this moment a very odd thing happened. A police dog went by on a leash and the bull terrier got stealthily to his feet and smiled a pink, hungry smile.

"Zipper! Lie down!" said the average girl.

The dog crouched to the floor again.

"Do you know..." began Smythe, a little puzzled.

"I know Zipper pretty well," she said. "But I didn't know that my cousin Truman Wilson was your cousin. Did you?"

Somehow Smythe got the bill paid and carted that fifty pounds of white weight out into the fresh air.

At this point I said: "After all, why be so serious? The dog gag is as good as ever."

He shook his head. There was poetic sorrow in his face.

He said: "No, whenever I take a dog into a crowd, I feel that half the women whose backs are turned to me may be that girl... Half the people in the street look like her... I would hardly know her if I saw her again, but she would know me... When I go out at night, I sort of sneak around, think twice before I speak, and look before I leap. My morale is all gone."

I saw that old Smythe really was a sensitive soul.

I could only say: "I'm sorry!"

He took another drink, and then breathed out the words: "I come from the West, you know... And I always had a feeling that the world was a pretty big place..."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is in the Australian public domain.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.