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Authors: Beverly Cleary

Henry and the Paper Route

BOOK: Henry and the Paper Route
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Beverly Cleary
Henry and the Paper Route

Illustrated by Tracy Dockray

O
ne Friday afternoon Henry Huggins sat on the front steps of his white house on Klickitat Street, with his dog Ribsy at his feet. He was busy trying to pick the cover off an old golf ball to see what was inside. It was not very interesting work, but it was keeping him busy until he could think of something better to do. What he really wanted, he decided, was to do something different; but
how he wanted that something to be different, he did not know.

“Hi, Henry,” a girl's voice called, as Henry picked away at the tough covering of the golf ball. It was Beatrice, or Beezus, as everyone called her. As usual, she was followed by her little sister Ramona, who was hopping and skipping along the sidewalk. When Ramona came to a tree, she stepped into its shadow and then jumped out suddenly.

“Hi, Beezus,” Henry called hopefully. For a girl, Beezus was pretty good at thinking up interesting things to do. “What are you doing?” he asked, when the girls reached his house. He could see that Beezus had a ball of red yarn in her hands.

“Going to the store for Mother,” answered Beezus, as her fingers worked at the yarn.

“I mean what's that in your hands?” Henry asked.

“I'm knitting on a spool,” Beezus explained. “You take a spool and drive four nails in one end, and you take some yarn and a crochet hook—like this. See?” Deftly she lifted loops of yarn over the nails in the
spool to show Henry what she was doing.

“But what does it make?” Henry asked.

“A long piece of knitting.” Beezus held up her work to show Henry a tail of knitted red yarn that came out of the hole in the center of the spool.

“But what's it good for?” Henry asked.

“I don't know,” admitted Beezus, her fingers and the crochet hook flying. “But it's fun to do.”

Ramona squeezed herself into the shadow of a telephone pole. Then she jumped out and looked quickly over her shoulder.

“What does she keep doing that for?” Henry asked curiously, as he picked off a large piece of the golf ball cover. He was getting closer to the inside now.

“She's trying to get rid of her shadow,” Beezus explained. “I keep telling her she can't, but she keeps trying, anyway. Mother
read her that poem: ‘I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, and what can be the use of him is more than I can see.' She decided she didn't want a shadow tagging around after her.” Beezus turned to her sister. “Come on, Ramona. Mother said not to dawdle.”

“Oh, for Pete's sake,” muttered Henry, as the girls left. Knitting a long red tail that wasn't good for anything, and trying to get rid of a shadow—the dumb things girls did! They didn't make sense. Then he looked at the battered golf ball in his hands and the thought came to him that what he was doing didn't make much sense, either. In disgust he tossed the golf ball onto the lawn.

Ribsy uncurled himself from the foot of the steps and got up to examine the golf ball. He picked it up in his teeth and trotted to the top of the driveway, where he dropped it and watched it roll down the
slope to the sidewalk. Just before it rolled on into the street, he raced down and caught the ball in his mouth. Then he trotted back up the driveway and dropped the ball again.

Henry watched Ribsy play with the golf ball, and he decided that this afternoon everyone—even his dog—was busy doing something that made no sense at all. What he wanted to do was something that made sense, something important. Something like…something…Well, he couldn't think exactly what, but something
important
.

“Hi there, Henry!” A folded newspaper landed with a thump on the grass in front of Henry.

“Oh, hi, Scooter,” answered Henry, glad of an excuse to talk to someone, even if it was Scooter McCarthy.

Scooter was in the seventh grade at Glenwood School, while Henry was only in the fifth. Naturally, Scooter felt pretty superior
when Henry was around. Henry looked at Scooter sitting on his bicycle, with one foot against the curb and his canvas bag of
Journal
s over his shoulders. He thought it must be fun to ride down the street tossing
papers to the right and to the left, and getting paid for it.

“Say, Henry,” said Scooter. “Mr. Capper—he's in charge of all the
Journal
boys around here—he's looking for somebody to take a route. You don't happen to know anybody around here who would like to deliver papers, do you?”

“Sure,” answered Henry eagerly. “Me.” Talk about opportunity knocking! It was practically pounding on his door. A paper route was important, and Henry knew that delivering the
Journal
was exactly what he wanted to do. It made sense.

Scooter looked thoughtfully at Henry, who waited for him to scoff, the way he usually did at almost anything Henry said. But this time Scooter surprised Henry. He did not scoff. Instead, he said seriously, “No, I don't believe you could do it.”

Henry would have felt better if Scooter
had said, “You deliver papers? Ha! Big joke,” or something like that. Then Henry would have known that Scooter was just talking. But to have Scooter say, “No, I don't believe you could do it….” Well, Henry knew Scooter really meant it.

“What's wrong with me delivering papers?” Henry demanded. “I can throw just as good as you can.”

“Well, for one thing, you're not old enough,” Scooter explained. “You have to be eleven to have a paper route.”

“I'm practically eleven,” said Henry. “I have a birthday in a couple of months. Less than that, really. I
feel
eleven, and if you can deliver papers, I guess I could, too.”

“Yes, but you aren't eleven,” Scooter pointed out, as he pulled another
Journal
out of his bag and pedaled on down the street.

Henry watched Scooter toss a
Journal
, with an experienced flip of his wrist, onto
the front steps of a house farther down the block. So Scooter really didn't think he could handle a paper route. And he wasn't just joking, either.

Henry began to think. He'd show Scooter; that's what he'd do. Maybe Scooter was older and did have a paper route, but he would catch up with him somehow. He'd go to Mr. Capper's house on Knott Street—the house with the horse-chestnut trees in front, where the boys had chestnut fights every fall—and he would ask Mr. Capper for the paper route. He would act so grown-up and so businesslike that Mr. Capper wouldn't think to ask his age, and even if he did, Henry could say he was practically eleven. After all, if Mr. Capper was asking around for a boy to deliver papers he must be pretty hard up for someone to work for him. Why, the job was as good as Henry's already. And with a paper route and a birthday, he would
be as good as caught up with Scooter.

Then it occurred to Henry that Mr. Capper might have asked other paperboys besides Scooter if they knew someone who would like to deliver papers. It might be a good idea to go over to Mr. Capper's house as fast as he could, before some other boy beat him to it. Henry ran into the house and washed his hands as far up as the wrists. He ran a comb through his hair and pulled on his jacket, which he snatched off his bedpost. He was glad his mother was out shopping, so he did not have to stop and persuade her to let him have a paper route. He could do that after the route was his.

After removing the unbusinesslike raccoon tail from the handlebars, Henry wheeled his bicycle out of the garage and was coasting down the driveway when Ribsy suddenly appeared and started to follow him.

“Go home!” Henry ordered.

Ribsy sat down on the sidewalk. He thumped his tail on the cement and looked hopefully at Henry.

“Good dog,” said Henry, and started to pedal down Klickitat Street. Ribsy galloped after him.

Hearing Ribsy's license tag jingle, Henry looked over his shoulder. “I told you to go home,” he said.

Ribsy looked hurt. He was used to following Henry wherever he went, and he could not understand why he could not go this time. Henry sighed. “I'm sorry, fellow,” he said, and pedaled back to his house. There he got off his bicycle and led Ribsy, by his collar, up the front steps. “I'd like to take you with me, but this is important. I can't have a dog tagging along when I ask for a job.” He shoved Ribsy through the front door and hurried down the steps. He did not look
back, because he knew that Ribsy, his paws on the windowsill, would be watching him.

Henry zipped up his jacket so it would look neater, and ran his hand over his hair to make sure it was combed. A boy had to look his best when he asked for a job, even though he was practically sure the job was his—if he got there in time.

Henry practiced being grown-up as he pedaled toward Mr. Capper's house. He steered his bicycle with one hand and jingled the nickels and dimes in his pocket with the other hand. He sat up very straight to make himself look taller. He tried to think what to say to Mr. Capper.

“How do you do?” he said politely to a telephone pole. “I'm Henry Huggins. I heard you were looking for a paperboy.” No, that wasn't quite right. He got off his bicycle to address a mailbox. “Good afternoon,” he said. “My name is Henry Huggins. I understand
you are looking for a boy to deliver papers.” That was better.

Then Henry spoke to an imaginary bunch of boys. “Sorry,” he said, in a brief and businesslike way. “Can't play ball with you now. I have to start my route.” Yes, that was what he would be saying after his visit to Mr. Capper. “My route,” he said to himself again, and just speaking the words made him feel good.

As he rode through the business district, Henry glanced at his reflection in the windows of the Rose City Barber Shop and the Payless Drug Store and was pleased with what he saw. Businesslike—that was Henry Huggins. Why, he probably wouldn't even have to tell Mr. Capper why he was calling. Mr. Capper would look at him, and right away he would see that here was a boy who could handle a paper route.

“Young man, do you want a job?” he would ask Henry, as soon as he opened the door. Maybe Mr. Capper would be so busy talking him into taking the paper route that all Henry needed to say would be, “Yes, sir, I'll be glad to take the job.” Already he could see himself pedaling down the street, throwing papers to the right and to the left with a perfect aim. He would never have to get off his bicycle and poke around in someone's shrubbery for a paper that had missed the porch. Not Henry Huggins.

And the things he could buy with the money he earned! Stamps for his collection. A flashlight. Two flashlights—one for his bicycle and one to keep in his room. He could even buy a real sleeping bag that he had admired in the sporting goods store. Then he could ask his friend Robert to come over and spend the night, and sleep out in the backyard. It would be lots more fun to sleep in a real sleeping bag with a
zipper, instead of some old blankets his mother pinned together with safety pins.

Just then Henry came to the rummage sale in the vacant lot. Now a rummage sale was something Henry knew all about, because his mother had helped with such a sale only last year. A lot of ladies who belonged to a club gathered up all the old junk they could find in their closets and basements and attics and garages, and had a couple of men with trucks haul it all to a vacant lot, where they spread it all out on boards set on sawhorses. They sold the junk—or rummage, as they called it—for very low prices, and used the money to buy a television set which they gave to a hospital.

BOOK: Henry and the Paper Route
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