PENROD AND SAM
By Booth Tarkington
I. Penrod and Sam II. The Bonded Prisoner III. The Militarist IV. Bingism V. The In-Or-In VI. Georgie Becomes a Member VII. Whitey VIII. Salvage IX. Reward of Merit X. Conscience XI. The Tonic XII. Gipsy XIII. Concerning Trousers XIV. Camera Work in the Jungle XV. A Model Letter to a Friend XVI. Wednesday Madness XVII. Penrod's Busy Day XVIII. On Account of the Weather XIX. Creative Art XX. The Departing Guest XXI. Yearnings XXII. The Horn of Fame XXIII. The Party XXIV. The Heart of Marjorie Jones
CHAPTER I. PENROD AND SAM
During the daylight hours of several autumn Saturdays there had been severe outbreaks of cavalry in the Schofield neighbourhood. The sabres were of wood; the steeds were imaginary, and both were employed in a game called "bonded pris'ner" by its inventors, Masters Penrod Schofield and Samuel Williams. The pastime was not intricate. When two enemies met, they fenced spectacularly until the person of one or the other was touched by the opposing weapon; then, when the ensuing claims of foul play had been disallowed and the subsequent argument settled, the combatant touched was considered to be a prisoner until such time as he might be touched by the hilt of a sword belonging to one of his own party, which effected his release and restored to him the full enjoyment of hostile activity. Pending such rescue, however, he was obliged to accompany the forces of his captor whithersoever their strategical necessities led them, which included many strange places. For the game was exciting, and, at its highest pitch, would sweep out of an alley into a stable, out of that stable and into a yard, out of that yard and into a house, and through that house with the sound (and effect upon furniture) of trampling herds. In fact, this very similarity must have been in the mind of the distressed coloured woman in Mrs. Williams's kitchen, when she declared that she might "jes' as well try to cook right spang in the middle o' the stock-yards."
All up and down the neighbourhood the campaigns were waged, accompanied by the martial clashing of wood upon wood and by many clamorous arguments.
"You're a pris'ner, Roddy Bitts!"
"I am not!"
"You are, too! I touched you."
"Where, I'd like to know!"
"On the sleeve."
"You did not! I never felt it. I guess I'd 'a' felt it, wouldn't I?"
"What if you didn't? I touched you, and you're bonded. I leave it to Sam Williams."
"Yah! Course you would! He's on your side! I leave it to Herman."
"No, you won't! If you can't show any SENSE about it, we'll do it over, and I guess you'll see whether you feel it or not! There! NOW, I guess you—"
Strangely enough, the undoubted champion proved to be the youngest and darkest of all the combatants, one Verman, coloured, brother to Herman, and substantially under the size to which his nine years entitled him. Verman was unfortunately tongue-tied, but he was valiant beyond all others, and, in spite of every handicap, he became at once the chief support of his own party and the despair of the opposition.
On the third Saturday this opposition had been worn down by the successive captures of Maurice Levy and Georgie Bassett until it consisted of only Sam Williams and Penrod. Hence, it behooved these two to be wary, lest they be wiped out altogether; and Sam was dismayed indeed, upon cautiously scouting round a corner of his own stable, to find himself face to face with the valorous and skilful Verman, who was acting as an outpost, or picket, of the enemy.
Verman immediately fell upon Sam, horse and foot, and Sam would have fled but dared not, for fear he might be touched from the rear. Therefore, he defended himself as best he could, and there followed a lusty whacking, in the course of which Verman's hat, a relic and too large, fell from his head, touching Sam's weapon in falling.
"There!" panted Sam, desisting immediately. "That counts! You're bonded, Verman."
"Aim meewer!" Verman protested.
Interpreting this as "Ain't neither", Sam invented a law to suit the occasion. "Yes, you are; that's the rule, Verman. I touched your hat with my sword, and your hat's just the same as you."
"Imm mop!" Verman insisted.
"Yes, it is," said Sam, already warmly convinced (by his own statement) that he was in the right. "Listen here! If I hit you on the shoe, it would be the same as hitting YOU, wouldn't it? I guess it'd count if I hit you on the shoe, wouldn't it? Well, a hat's just the same as shoes. Honest, that's the rule, Verman, and you're a pris'ner."
Now, in the arguing part of the game, Verman's impediment cooperated with a native amiability to render him far less effective than in the actual combat. He chuckled, and ceded the point.
"Aw wi," he said, and cheerfully followed his captor to a hidden place among some bushes in the front yard, where Penrod lurked.
"Looky what I got!" Sam said importantly, pushing his captive into this retreat. "NOW, I guess you won't say I'm not so much use any more! Squat down, Verman, so's they can't see you if they're huntin' for us. That's one o' the rules—honest. You got to squat when we tell you to."
Verman was agreeable. He squatted, and then began to laugh uproariously.
"Stop that noise!" Penrod commanded. "You want to betray us? What you laughin' at?"
"Ep mack im mimmup," Verman giggled.
"What's he mean?" Sam asked.
Penrod was more familiar with Verman's utterance, and he interpreted.
"He says they'll get him back in a minute."
"No, they won't. I'd just like to see—"
"Yes, they will, too," Penrod said. "They'll get him back for the main and simple reason we can't stay here all day, can we? And they'd find us anyhow, if we tried to. There's so many of 'em against just us two, they can run in and touch him soon as they get up to us—and then HE'LL be after us again and—"
"Listen here!" Sam interrupted. "Why can't we put some REAL bonds on him? We could put bonds on his wrists and around his legs—we could put 'em all over him, easy as nothin'. Then we could gag him—"
"No, we can't," said Penrod. "We can't, for the main and simple reason we haven't got any rope or anything to make the bonds with, have we? I wish we had some o' that stuff they give sick people. THEN, I bet they wouldn't get him back so soon!"
"Sick people?" Sam repeated, not comprehending.
"It makes 'em go to sleep, no matter what you do to 'em," Penrod explained. "That's the main and simple reason they can't wake up, and you can cut off their ole legs—or their arms, or anything you want to."
"Hoy!" exclaimed Verman, in a serious tone. His laughter ceased instantly, and he began to utter a protest sufficiently intelligible.
"You needn't worry," Penrod said gloomily. "We haven't got any o' that stuff; so we can't do it."
"Well, we got to do sumpthing," Sam said.
His comrade agreed, and there was a thoughtful silence; but presently Penrod's countenance brightened.
"I know!" he exclaimed. "I know what we'll do with him. Why, I thought of it just as EASY! I can most always think of things like that, for the main and simple reason—well, I thought of it just as soon—"
"Well, what is it?" Sam demanded crossly. Penrod's reiteration of his new-found phrase, "for the main and simple reason", had been growing more and more irksome to his friend all day, though Sam was not definitely aware that the phrase was the cause of his annoyance. "WHAT are we goin' to do with him, you know so much?"
Penrod rose and peered over the tops of the bushes, shading his eyes with his hand, a gesture that was unnecessary but had a good appearance. He looked all round about him in this manner, finally vouchsafing a report to the impatient Sam.
"No enemies in sight—just for the main and simple reason I expect they're all in the alley and in Georgie Bassett's backyard."
"I bet they're not!" Sam said scornfully, his irritation much increased. "How do YOU know so much about it?"
"Just for the main and simple reason," Penrod replied, with dignified finality.
And at that, Sam felt a powerful impulse to do violence upon the person of his comrade-in-arms. The emotion that prompted this impulse was so primitive and straightforward that it almost resulted in action; but Sam had a vague sense that he must control it as long as he could.
"Bugs!" he said.
Penrod was sensitive, and this cold word hurt him. However, he was under the domination of his strategic idea, and he subordinated private grievance to the common weal. "Get up!" he commanded. "You get up, too, Verman. You got to—it's the rule. Now here I'll SHOW you what we're goin' to do. Stoop over, and both o' you do just exackly like I do. You watch ME, because this biz'nuss has got to be done RIGHT!"
Sam muttered something; he was becoming more insurgent every moment, but he obeyed. Likewise, Verman rose to his feet, ducked his head between his shoulders, and trotted out to the sidewalk at Sam's heels, both following Penrod and assuming a stooping position in imitation of him. Verman was delighted with this phase of the game, and, also, he was profoundly amused by Penrod's pomposity. Something dim and deep within him perceived it to be cause for such merriment that he had ado to master himself, and was forced to bottle and cork his laughter with both hands. They proved insufficient; sputterings burst forth between his fingers.
"You stop that!" Penrod said, looking back darkly upon the prisoner.
Verman endeavoured to oblige, though giggles continued to leak from him at intervals, and the three boys stole along the fence in single file, proceeding in this fashion until they reached Penrod's own front gate. Here the leader ascertained, by a reconnaissance as far as the corner, that the hostile forces were still looking for them in another direction. He returned in a stealthy but important manner to his disgruntled follower and the hilarious captive.
"Well," said Sam impatiently, "I guess I'm not goin' to stand around here all day, I guess! You got anything you want to do, why'n't you go on and DO it?"
Penrod's brow was already contorted to present the appearance of detached and lofty concentration—a histrionic failure, since it did not deceive the audience. He raised a hushing hand.
"SH!" he murmured. "I got to think."
"Bugs!" the impolite Mr. Williams said again.
Verman bent double, squealing and sputtering; indeed, he was ultimately forced to sit upon the ground, so exhausting was the mirth to which he now gave way. Penrod's composure was somewhat affected and he showed annoyance.
"Oh, I guess you won't laugh quite so much about minute from now, ole Mister Verman!" he said severely. "You get up from there and do like I tell you."
"Well, why'n't you TELL him why he won't laugh so much, then?" Sam demanded, as Verman rose. "Why'n't you do sumpthing and quit talkin' so much about it?"
Penrod haughtily led the way into the yard.
"You follow me," he said, "and I guess you'll learn a little sense!"
Then, abandoning his hauteur for an air of mystery equally irritating to Sam, he stole up the steps of the porch, and, after a moment's manipulation of the knob of the big front door, contrived to operate the fastenings, and pushed the door open.
"Come on," he whispered, beckoning. And the three boys mounted the stairs to the floor above in silence—save for a belated giggle on the part of Verman, which was restrained upon a terrible gesture from Penrod. Verman buried his mouth as deeply as possible in a ragged sleeve, and confined his demonstrations to a heaving of the stomach and diaphragm.
Penrod led the way into the dainty room of his nineteen-year-old sister, Margaret, and closed the door.
"There," he said, in a low and husky voice, "I expect you'll see what I'm goin' to do now!"
"Well, what?" the skeptical Sam asked. "If we stay here very long your mother'll come and send us downstairs. What's the good of—"
"WAIT, can't you?" Penrod wailed, in a whisper. "My goodness!" And going to an inner door, he threw it open, disclosing a clothes-closet hung with pretty garments of many kinds, while upon its floor were two rows of shoes and slippers of great variety and charm.
A significant thing is to be remarked concerning the door of this somewhat intimate treasury: there was no knob or latch upon the inner side, so that, when the door was closed, it could be opened only from the outside.
"There!" said Penrod. "You get in there, Verman, and I'll bet they won't get to touch you back out o' bein' our pris'ner very soon, NOW! Oh, I guess not!"
"Pshaw!" said Sam. "Is that all you were goin' to do? Why, your mother'll come and make him get out the first—"
"No, she won't. She and Margaret have gone to my aunt's in the country, and aren't goin' to be back till dark. And even if he made a lot o' noise, it's kind of hard to hear anything from in there, anyway, when the door's shut. Besides, he's got to keep quiet—that's the rule, Verman. You're a pris'ner, and it's the rule you can't holler or nothin'. You unnerstand that, Verman?"
"Aw wi," said Verman.
"Then go on in there. Hurry!"
The obedient Verman marched into the closet and sat down among the shoes and slippers, where he presented an interesting effect of contrast. He was still subject to hilarity—though endeavouring to suppress it by means of a patent-leather slipper—when Penrod closed the door.
"There!" said Penrod, leading the way from the room. "I guess NOW you see!"
Sam said nothing, and they came out to the open air and reached their retreat in the Williams' yard again, without his having acknowledged Penrod's service to their mutual cause.
"I thought of that just as easy!" Penrod remarked, probably prompted to this odious bit of complacency by Sam's withholding the praise that might naturally have been expected. And he was moved to add, "I guess it'd of been a pretty long while if we'd had to wait for you to think of something as good as that, Sam."
"Why would it?" Sam asked. "Why would it of been such a long while?"
"Oh," Penrod responded airily, "just for the main and simple reason!"
Sam could bear it no longer. "Oh, hush up!" he shouted.
Penrod was stung. "Do you mean ME?" he demanded.
"Yes, I do!" the goaded Sam replied.
"Did you tell ME to hush up?"
"Yes, I did!"
"I guess you don't know who you're talkin' to," Penrod said ominously. "I guess I just better show you who you're talkin' to like that. I guess you need a little sumpthing, for the main and simple—"
Sam uttered an uncontrollable howl and sprang upon Penrod, catching him round the waist. Simultaneously with this impact, the wooden swords spun through the air and were presently trodden underfoot as the two boys wrestled to and fro.
Penrod was not altogether surprised by the onset of his friend. He had been aware of Sam's increasing irritation (though neither boy could have clearly stated its cause) and that very irritation produced a corresponding emotion in the bosom of the irritator. Mentally, Penrod was quite ready for the conflict—nay, he welcomed it—though, for the first few moments, Sam had the physical advantage.
However, it is proper that a neat distinction be drawn here. This was a conflict; but neither technically nor in the intention of the contestants was it a fight. Penrod and Sam were both in a state of high exasperation, and there was great bitterness; but no blows fell and no tears. They strained, they wrenched, they twisted, and they panted and muttered: "Oh, no, you don't!" "Oh, I guess I do!" "Oh, you will, will you?" "You'll see what you get in about a minute!" "I guess you'll learn some sense this time!"
Streaks and blotches began to appear upon the two faces, where colour had been heightened by the ardent application of a cloth sleeve or shoulder, while ankles and insteps were scraped and toes were trampled. Turf and shrubberies suffered, also, as the struggle went on, until finally the wrestlers pitched headlong into a young lilac bush, and came to earth together, among its crushed and sprawling branches.
"OOCH!" and "WUF!" were the two exclamations which marked this episode, and then, with no further comment, the struggle was energetically continued upon a horizontal plane. Now Penrod was on top, now Sam; they rolled, they squirmed, they suffered. And this contest endured. It went on and on, and it was impossible to imagine its coming to a definite termination. It went on so long that to both the participants it seemed to be a permanent thing, a condition that had always existed and that must always exist perpetually.
And thus they were discovered by a foray of the hostile party, headed by Roddy Bitts and Herman (older brother to Verman) and followed by the bonded prisoners, Maurice Levy and Georgie Bassett. These and others caught sight of the writhing figures, and charged down upon them with loud cries of triumph.
"Pris'ner! Pris'ner! Bonded pris'ner!" shrieked Roddy Bitts, and touched Penrod and Sam, each in turn, with his sabre. Then, seeing that they paid no attention and that they were at his mercy, he recalled the fact that several times, during earlier stages of the game, both of them had been unnecessarily vigorous in "touching" his own rather plump person. Therefore, the opportunity being excellent, he raised his weapon again, and, repeating the words "bonded pris'ner" as ample explanation of his deed, brought into play the full strength of his good right arm. He used the flat of the sabre.
WHACK! WHACK! Roddy was perfectly impartial. It was a cold-blooded performance and even more effective than he anticipated. For one thing, it ended the civil war instantly. Sam and Penrod leaped to their feet, shrieking and bloodthirsty, while Maurice Levy capered with joy, Herman was so overcome that he rolled upon the ground, and Georgie Bassett remarked virtuously:
"It serves them right for fighting."
But Roddy Bitts foresaw that something not within the rules of the game was about to happen.
"Here! You keep away from me!" he quavered, retreating. "I was just takin' you pris'ners. I guess I had a right to TOUCH you, didn't I?"
Alas! Neither Sam nor Penrod was able to see the matter in that light. They had retrieved their own weapons, and they advanced upon Roddy with a purposefulness that seemed horrible to him.
"Here! You keep away from me!" he said, in great alarm. "I'm goin' home."
He did go home—but only subsequently. What took place before his departure had the singular solidity and completeness of systematic violence; also, it bore the moral beauty of all actions that lead to peace and friendship, for, when it was over, and the final vocalizations of Roderick Magsworth Bitts, Junior, were growing faint with increasing distance, Sam and Penrod had forgotten their differences and felt well disposed toward each other once more. All their animosity was exhausted, and they were in a glow of good feeling, though probably they were not conscious of any direct gratitude to Roddy, whose thoughtful opportunism was really the cause of this happy result.
CHAPTER II. THE BONDED PRISONER
After such rigorous events, every one comprehended that the game of bonded prisoner was over, and there was no suggestion that it should or might be resumed. The fashion of its conclusion had been so consummately enjoyed by all parties (with the natural exception of Roddy Bitts) that a renewal would have been tame; hence, the various minds of the company turned to other matters and became restless. Georgie Bassett withdrew first, remembering that if he expected to be as wonderful as usual, to-morrow, in Sunday-school, it was time to prepare himself, though this was not included in the statement he made alleging the cause of his departure. Being detained bodily and pressed for explanation, he desperately said that he had to go home to tease the cook—which had the rakehelly air he thought would insure his release, but was not considered plausible. However, he was finally allowed to go, and, as first hints of evening were already cooling and darkening the air, the party broke up, its members setting forth, whistling, toward their several homes, though Penrod lingered with Sam. Herman was the last to go from them.
"Well, I got git 'at stove-wood f' suppuh," he said, rising and stretching himself. "I got git 'at lil' soap-box wagon, an' go on ovuh wheres 'at new house buil'in' on Secon' Street; pick up few shingles an' blocks layin' roun'."
He went through the yard toward the alley, and, at the alley gate, remembering something, he paused and called to them. The lot was a deep one, and they were too far away to catch his meaning. Sam shouted, "Can't HEAR you!" and Herman replied, but still unintelligibly; then, upon Sam's repetition of "Can't HEAR you!" Herman waved his arm in farewell, implying that the matter was of little significance, and vanished. But if they had understood him, Penrod and Sam might have considered his inquiry of instant importance, for Herman's last shout was to ask if either of them had noticed "where Verman went."
Verman and Verman's whereabouts were, at this hour, of no more concern to Sam and Penrod than was the other side of the moon. That unfortunate bonded prisoner had been long since utterly effaced from their fields of consciousness, and the dark secret of their Bastille troubled them not—for the main and simple reason that they had forgotten it.
They drifted indoors, and found Sam's mother's white cat drowsing on a desk in the library, the which coincidence obviously inspired the experiment of ascertaining how successfully ink could be used in making a clean white cat look like a coach-dog. There was neither malice nor mischief in their idea; simply, a problem presented itself to the biological and artistic questionings beginning to stir within them. They did not mean to do the cat the slightest injury or to cause her any pain. They were above teasing cats, and they merely detained this one and made her feel a little wet—at considerable cost to themselves from both the ink and the cat. However, at the conclusion of their efforts, it was thought safer to drop the cat out of the window before anybody came, and, after some hasty work with blotters, the desk was moved to cover certain sections of the rug, and the two boys repaired to the bathroom for hot water and soap. They knew they had done nothing wrong; but they felt easier when the only traces remaining upon them were the less prominent ones upon their garments.
These precautions taken, it was time for them to make their appearance at Penrod's house for dinner, for it had been arranged, upon petition earlier in the day, that Sam should be his friend's guest for the evening meal. Clean to the elbows and with light hearts, they set forth. They marched, whistling—though not producing a distinctly musical effect, since neither had any particular air in mind—and they found nothing wrong with the world; they had not a care. Arrived at their adjacent destination, they found Miss Margaret Schofield just entering the front door.
"Hurry, boys!" she said. "Mamma came home long before I did, and I'm sure dinner is waiting. Run on out to the dining-room and tell them I'll be right down."
And, as they obeyed, she mounted the stairs, humming a little tune and unfastening the clasp of the long, light-blue military cape she wore. She went to her own quiet room, lit the gas, removed her hat and placed it and the cape upon the bed; after which she gave her hair a push, subsequent to her scrutiny of a mirror; then, turning out the light, she went as far as the door. Being an orderly girl, she returned to the bed and took the cape and the hat to her clothes-closet. She opened the door of this sanctuary, and, in the dark, hung her cape upon a hook and placed her hat upon the shelf. Then she closed the door again, having noted nothing unusual, though she had an impression that the place needed airing. She descended to the dinner table.
The other members of the family were already occupied with the meal, and the visitor was replying politely, in his non-masticatory intervals, to inquiries concerning the health of his relatives. So sweet and assured was the condition of Sam and Penrod that Margaret's arrival from her room meant nothing to them. Their memories were not stirred, and they continued eating, their expressions brightly placid.
But from out of doors there came the sound of a calling and questing voice, at first in the distance, then growing louder—coming nearer.
"Oh, Ver-er-man! O-o-o-oh, Ver-er-ma-a-an!"
It was the voice of Herman.
And then two boys sat stricken at that cheerful table and ceased to eat. Recollection awoke with a bang!
"Oh, my!" Sam gasped.
"What's the matter?" Mr. Schofield said. "Swallow something the wrong way, Sam?"
And now the voice was near the windows of the dining-room.
Penrod, very pale, pushed back his chair and jumped up.
"What's the matter with YOU?" his father demanded. "Sit down!"
"It's Herman—that coloured boy lives in the alley," Penrod said hoarsely. "I expect—I think—"
"Well, what's the matter?"
"I think his little brother's maybe got lost, and Sam and I better go help look—"
"You'll do nothing of the kind," Mr. Schofield said sharply. "Sit down and eat your dinner."
In a palsy, the miserable boy resumed his seat. He and Sam exchanged a single dumb glance; then the eyes of both swung fearfully to Margaret. Her appearance was one of sprightly content, and, from a certain point of view, nothing could have been more alarming. If she had opened her closet door without discovering Verman, that must have been because Verman was dead and Margaret had failed to notice the body. (Such were the thoughts of Penrod and Sam.) But she might not have opened the closet door. And whether she had or not, Verman must still be there, alive or dead, for if he had escaped he would have gone home, and their ears would not be ringing with the sinister and melancholy cry that now came from the distance, "Oo-o-oh, Ver-er-ma-an!"
Verman, in his seclusion, did not hear that appeal from his brother; there were too many walls between them. But he was becoming impatient for release, though, all in all, he had not found the confinement intolerable or even very irksome. His character was philosophic, his imagination calm; no bugaboos came to trouble him. When the boys closed the door upon him, he made himself comfortable upon the floor and, for a time, thoughtfully chewed a patent-leather slipper that had come under his hand. He found the patent leather not unpleasant to his palate, though he swallowed only a portion of what he detached, not being hungry at that time. The soul-fabric of Verman was of a fortunate weave; he was not a seeker and questioner. When it happened to him that he was at rest in a shady corner, he did not even think about a place in the sun. Verman took life as it came.
Naturally, he fell asleep. And toward the conclusion of his slumbers, he had this singular adventure: a lady set her foot down within less than half an inch of his nose—and neither of them knew it. Verman slept on, without being wakened by either the closing or the opening of the door. What did rouse him was something ample and soft falling upon him—Margaret's cape, which slid from the hook after she had gone.
Enveloped in its folds, Verman sat up, corkscrewing his knuckles into the corners of his eyes. Slowly he became aware of two important vacuums—one in time and one in his stomach. Hours had vanished strangely into nowhere; the game of bonded prisoner was something cloudy and remote of the long, long ago, and, although Verman knew where he was, he had partially forgotten how he came there. He perceived, however, that something had gone wrong, for he was certain that he ought not to be where he found himself.
WHITE-FOLKS' HOUSE! The fact that Verman could not have pronounced these words rendered them no less clear in his mind; they began to stir his apprehension, and nothing becomes more rapidly tumultuous than apprehension once it is stirred. That he might possibly obtain release by making a noise was too daring a thought and not even conceived, much less entertained, by the little and humble Verman. For, with the bewildering gap of his slumber between him and previous events, he did not place the responsibility for his being in White-Folks' House upon the white folks who had put him there. His state of mind was that of the stable-puppy who knows he MUST not be found in the parlour. Not thrice in his life had Verman been within the doors of White-Folks' House, and, above all things, he felt that it was in some undefined way vital to him to get out of White-Folks' House unobserved and unknown. It was in his very blood to be sure of that.
Further than this point, the processes of Verman's mind become mysterious to the observer. It appears, however, that he had a definite (though somewhat primitive) conception of the usefulness of disguise; and he must have begun his preparations before he heard footsteps in the room outside his closed door.
These footsteps were Margaret's. Just as Mr. Schofield's coffee was brought, and just after Penrod had been baffled in another attempt to leave the table, Margaret rose and patted her father impertinently upon the head.
"You can't bully ME that way!" she said. "I got home too late to dress, and I'm going to a dance. 'Scuse!"
And she began her dancing on the spot, pirouetting herself swiftly out of the room, and was immediately heard running up the stairs.
"Penrod!" Mr. Schofield shouted. "Sit down! How many times am I going to tell you? What IS the matter with you to-night?"
"I GOT to go," Penrod gasped. "I got to tell Margaret sumpthing."
"What have you 'got' to tell her?"
"It's—it's sumpthing I forgot to tell her."
"Well, it will keep till she comes downstairs," Mr. Schofield said grimly. "You sit down till this meal is finished."
Penrod was becoming frantic.
"I got to tell her—it's sumpthing Sam's mother told me to tell her," he babbled. "Didn't she, Sam? You heard her tell me to tell her; didn't you, Sam?"
Sam offered prompt corroboration.
"Yes, sir; she did. She said for us both to tell her. I better go, too, I guess, because she said—"
He was interrupted. Startlingly upon their ears rang shriek on shriek. Mrs. Schofield, recognizing Margaret's voice, likewise shrieked, and Mr. Schofield uttered various sounds; but Penrod and Sam were incapable of doing anything vocally. All rushed from the table.
Margaret continued to shriek, and it is not to be denied that there was some cause for her agitation. When she opened the closet door, her light-blue military cape, instead of hanging on the hook where she had left it, came out into the room in a manner that she afterward described as "a kind of horrible creep, but faster than a creep." Nothing was to be seen except the creeping cape, she said, but, of course, she could tell there was some awful thing inside of it. It was too large to be a cat, and too small to be a boy; it was too large to be Duke, Penrod's little old dog, and, besides, Duke wouldn't act like that. It crept rapidly out into the upper hall, and then, as she recovered the use of her voice and began to scream, the animated cape abandoned its creeping for a quicker gait—"a weird, heaving flop," she defined it.
The Thing then decided upon a third style of locomotion, evidently, for when Sam and Penrod reached the front hall, a few steps in advance of Mr. and Mrs. Schofield, it was rolling grandly down the stairs.
Mr. Schofield had only a hurried glimpse of it as it reached the bottom, close by the front door.
"Grab that thing!" he shouted, dashing forward. "Stop it! Hit it!"
It was at this moment that Sam Williams displayed the presence of mind that was his most eminent characteristic. Sam's wonderful instinct for the right action almost never failed him in a crisis, and it did not fail him now. Leaping to the door, at the very instant when the rolling cape touched it, Sam flung the door open—and the cape rolled on. With incredible rapidity and intelligence, it rolled, indeed, out into the night.
Penrod jumped after it, and the next second reappeared in the doorway holding the cape. He shook out its folds, breathing hard but acquiring confidence. In fact, he was able to look up in his father's face and say, with bright ingenuousness:
"It was just laying there. Do you know what I think? Well, it couldn't have acted that way itself. I think there must have been sumpthing kind of inside of it!"
Mr. Schofield shook his head slowly, in marvelling admiration.
"Brilliant—oh, brilliant!" he murmured, while Mrs. Schofield ran to support the enfeebled form of Margaret at the top of the stairs.
... In the library, after Margaret's departure to her dance, Mr. and Mrs. Schofield were still discussing the visitation, Penrod having accompanied his homeward-bound guest as far as the front gate.
"No; you're wrong," Mrs. Schofield said, upholding a theory, earlier developed by Margaret, that the animated behaviour of the cape could be satisfactorily explained on no other ground than the supernatural. "You see, the boys saying they couldn't remember what Mrs. Williams wanted them to tell Margaret, and that probably she hadn't told them anything to tell her, because most likely they'd misunderstood something she said—well, of course, all that does sound mixed-up and peculiar; but they sound that way about half the time, anyhow. No; it couldn't possibly have had a thing to do with it. They were right there at the table with us all the time, and they came straight to the table the minute they entered the house. Before that, they'd been over at Sam's all afternoon. So, it COULDN'T have been the boys." Mrs. Schofield paused to ruminate with a little air of pride; then added: "Margaret has often thought—oh, long before this!—that she was a medium. I mean—if she would let her self. So it wasn't anything the boys did."
Mr. Schofield grunted.
"I'll admit this much," he said. "I'll admit it wasn't anything we'll ever get out of 'em."
And the remarks of Sam and Penrod, taking leave of each other, one on each side of the gate, appeared to corroborate Mr. Schofield's opinion.
"Well, g'-night, Penrod," Sam said. "It was a pretty good Saturday, wasn't it?"
"Fine!" said Penrod casually. "G'-night, Sam."
CHAPTER III. THE MILITARIST
PENROD SCHOFIELD, having been "kept-in" for the unjust period of twenty minutes after school, emerged to a deserted street. That is, the street was deserted so far as Penrod was concerned. Here and there people were to be seen upon the sidewalks, but they were adults, and they and the shade trees had about the same quality of significance in Penrod's consciousness. Usually he saw grown people in the mass, which is to say, they were virtually invisible to him, though exceptions must be taken in favour of policemen, firemen, street-car conductors, motormen, and all other men in any sort of uniform or regalia. But this afternoon none of these met the roving eye, and Penrod set out upon his homeward way wholly dependent upon his own resources.
To one of Penrod's inner texture, a mere unadorned walk from one point to another was intolerable, and he had not gone a block without achieving some slight remedy for the tameness of life. An electric-light pole at the corner, invested with powers of observation, might have been surprised to find itself suddenly enacting a role of dubious honour in improvised melodrama. Penrod, approaching, gave the pole a look of sharp suspicion, then one of conviction; slapped it lightly and contemptuously with his open hand; passed on a few paces, but turned abruptly, and, pointing his right forefinger, uttered the symbolic word, "Bing!"
The plot was somewhat indefinite; yet nothing is more certain than that the electric-light pole had first attempted something against him, then growing bitter when slapped, and stealing after him to take him treacherously in the back, had got itself shot through and through by one too old in such warfare to be caught off his guard.
Leaving the body to lie where it was, he placed the smoking pistol in a holster at his saddlebow—he had decided that he was mounted—and proceeded up the street. At intervals he indulged himself in other encounters, reining in at first suspicion of ambush with a muttered, "Whoa, Charlie!" or "Whoa, Mike!" or even "Whoa, Washington!" for preoccupation with the enemy outweighed attention to the details of theatrical consistency, though the steed's varying names were at least harmoniously masculine, since a boy, in these, creative moments, never rides a mare. And having brought Charlie or Mike or Washington to a standstill, Penrod would draw the sure weapon from its holster and—"Bing! Bing! Bing!"—let them have it.
It is not to be understood that this was a noisy performance, or even an obvious one. It attracted no attention from any pedestrian, and it was to be perceived only that a boy was proceeding up the street at a somewhat irregular gait. Three or four years earlier, when Penrod was seven or eight, he would have shouted "Bing!" at the top of his voice; he would have galloped openly; all the world might have seen that he bestrode a charger. But a change had come upon him with advancing years. Although the grown people in sight were indeed to him as walking trees, his dramas were accomplished principally by suggestion and symbol. His "Whoas" and "Bings" were delivered in a husky whisper, and his equestrianism was established by action mostly of the mind, the accompanying artistry of the feet being unintelligible to the passerby.
And yet, though he concealed from observation the stirring little scenes he thus enacted, a love of realism was increasing within him. Early childhood is not fastidious about the accessories of its drama—a cane is vividly a gun which may instantly, as vividly, become a horse; but at Penrod's time of life the lath sword is no longer satisfactory. Indeed, he now had a vague sense that weapons of wood were unworthy to the point of being contemptible and ridiculous, and he employed them only when he was alone and unseen. For months a yearning had grown more and more poignant in his vitals, and this yearning was symbolized by one of his most profound secrets. In the inner pocket of his jacket, he carried a bit of wood whittled into the distant likeness of a pistol, but not even Sam Williams had seen it. The wooden pistol never knew the light of day, save when Penrod was in solitude; and yet it never left his side except at night, when it was placed under his pillow. Still, it did not satisfy; it was but the token of his yearning and his dream. With all his might and main Penrod longed for one thing beyond all others. He wanted a Real Pistol!
That was natural. Pictures of real pistols being used to magnificently romantic effect were upon almost all the billboards in town, the year round, and as for the "movie" shows, they could not have lived an hour unpistoled. In the drug store, where Penrod bought his candy and soda when he was in funds, he would linger to turn the pages of periodicals whose illustrations were fascinatingly pistolic. Some of the magazines upon the very library table at home were sprinkled with pictures of people (usually in evening clothes) pointing pistols at other people. Nay, the Library Board of the town had emitted a "Selected List of Fifteen Books for Boys," and Penrod had read fourteen of them with pleasure, but as the fifteenth contained no weapons in the earlier chapters and held forth little prospect of any shooting at all, he abandoned it halfway, and read the most sanguinary of the other fourteen over again. So, the daily food of his imagination being gun, what wonder that he thirsted for the Real!
He passed from the sidewalk into his own yard, with a subdued "Bing!" inflicted upon the stolid person of a gatepost, and, entering the house through the kitchen, ceased to bing for a time. However, driven back from the fore part of the house by a dismal sound of callers, he returned to the kitchen and sat down.
"Della," he said to the cook, "do you know what I'd do if you was a crook and I had my ottomatic with me?"
Della was industrious and preoccupied. "If I was a cook!" she repeated ignorantly, and with no cordiality. "Well, I AM a cook. I'm a-cookin' right now. Either g'wan in the house where y'b'long, or git out in th' yard!"
Penrod chose the latter, and betook himself slowly to the back fence, where he was greeted in a boisterous manner by his wistful little old dog, Duke, returning from some affair of his own in the alley.
"Get down!" said Penrod coldly, and bestowed a spiritless "Bing!" upon him.
At this moment a shout was heard from the alley, "Yay, Penrod!" and the sandy head of comrade Sam Williams appeared above the fence.
"Come on over," said Penrod.
As Sam obediently climbed the fence, the little old dog, Duke, moved slowly away, but presently, glancing back over his shoulder and seeing the two boys standing together, he broke into a trot and disappeared round a corner of the house. He was a dog of long and enlightening experience; and he made it clear that the conjunction of Penrod and Sam portended events which, from his point of view, might be unfortunate. Duke had a forgiving disposition, but he also possessed a melancholy wisdom. In the company of either Penrod or Sam, alone, affection often caused him to linger, albeit with a little pessimism, but when he saw them together, he invariably withdrew in as unobtrusive a manner as haste would allow.
"What you doin'?" Sam asked.
"Nothin'. What you?"
"I'll show you if you'll come over to our house," said Sam, who was wearing an important and secretive expression.
"What for?" Penrod showed little interest.
"Well, I said I'd show you if you came on over, didn't I?"
"But you haven't got anything I haven't got," said Penrod indifferently. "I know everything that's in your yard and in your stable, and there isn't a thing—"
"I didn't say it was in the yard or in the stable, did I?"
"Well, there ain't anything in your house," returned Penrod frankly, "that I'd walk two feet to look at—not a thing!"
"Oh, no!" Sam assumed mockery. "Oh, no, you wouldn't! You know what it is, don't you? Yes, you do!" Penrod's curiosity stirred somewhat. "Well, all right," he said, "I got nothin' to do. I just as soon go. What is it?"
"You wait and see," said Sam, as they climbed the fence. "I bet YOUR ole eyes'll open pretty far in about a minute or so!"
"I bet they don't. It takes a good deal to get me excited, unless it's sumpthing mighty—"
"You'll see!" Sam promised.
He opened an alley, gate and stepped into his own yard in a manner signalling caution—though the exploit, thus far, certainly required none and Penrod began to be impressed and hopeful. They entered the house, silently, encountering no one, and Sam led the way upstairs, tiptoeing, implying unusual and increasing peril. Turning, in the upper hall, they went into Sam's father's bedroom, and Sam closed the door with a caution so genuine that already Penrod's eyes began to fulfil his host's prediction. Adventures in another boy's house are trying to the nerves; and another boy's father's bedroom, when invaded, has a violated sanctity that is almost appalling. Penrod felt that something was about to happen—something much more important than he had anticipated.
Sam tiptoed across the room to a chest of drawers, and, kneeling, carefully pulled out the lowest drawer until the surface of its contents—Mr. Williams' winter underwear—lay exposed. Then he fumbled beneath the garments and drew forth a large object, displaying it triumphantly to the satisfactorily dumfounded Penrod.
It was a blue-steel Colt's revolver, of the heaviest pattern made in the Seventies. Mr. Williams had inherited it from Sam's grandfather (a small man, a deacon, and dyspeptic) and it was larger and more horrible than any revolver either of the boys had ever seen in any picture, moving or stationary. Moreover, greenish bullets of great size were to be seen in the chambers of the cylinder, suggesting massacre rather than mere murder. This revolver was Real and it was Loaded!
CHAPTER IV. BINGISM
Both boys lived breathlessly through a magnificent moment.
"Leave me have it!" gasped Penrod. "Leave me have hold of it!"
"You wait a minute!" Sam protested, in a whisper. "I want to show you how I do."
"No; you let me show you how I do!" Penrod insisted; and they scuffled for possession.
"Look out!" Sam whispered warningly. "It might go off."
"Then you better leave me have it!" And Penrod, victorious and flushed, stepped back, the weapon in his grasp. "Here," he said, "this is the way I do: You be a crook; and suppose you got a dagger, and I—"
"I don't want any dagger," Sam protested, advancing. "I want that revolaver. It's my father's revolaver, ain't it?"
"Well, WAIT a minute, can't you? I got a right to show you the way I DO, first, haven't I?" Penrod began an improvisation on the spot. "Say I'm comin' along after dark like this—look, Sam! And say you try to make a jump at me—"
"I won't!" Sam declined this role impatiently. "I guess it ain't YOUR father's revolaver, is it?"
"Well, it may be your father's but it ain't yours," Penrod argued, becoming logical. "It ain't either'r of us revolaver, so I got as much right—"
"You haven't either. It's my fath—"
"WATCH, can't you—just a minute!" Penrod urged vehemently. "I'm not goin' to keep it, am I? You can have it when I get through, can't you? Here's how I do: I'm comin' along after dark, just walkin' along this way—like this—look, Sam!"
Penrod, suiting the action to the word, walked to the other end of the room, swinging the revolver at his side with affected carelessness.
"I'm just walkin' along like this, and first I don't see you," continued the actor. "Then I kind of get a notion sumpthing wrong's liable to happen, so I—No!" He interrupted himself abruptly. "No; that isn't it. You wouldn't notice that I had my good ole revolaver with me. You wouldn't think I had one, because it'd be under my coat like this, and you wouldn't see it." Penrod stuck the muzzle of the pistol into the waistband of his knickerbockers at the left side and, buttoning his jacket, sustained the weapon in concealment by pressure of his elbow. "So you think I haven't got any; you think I'm just a man comin' along, and so you—"
Sam advanced. "Well, you've had your turn," he said. "Now, it's mine. I'm goin' to show you how I—"
"WATCH me, can't you?" Penrod wailed. "I haven't showed you how I do, have I? My goodness! Can't you watch me a minute?"
"I HAVE been! You said yourself it'd be my turn soon as you—"
"My goodness! Let me have a CHANCE, can't you?" Penrod retreated to the wall, turning his right side toward Sam and keeping the revolver still protected under his coat. "I got to have my turn first, haven't I?"
"Well, yours is over long ago."
"It isn't either! I—"
"Anyway," said Sam decidedly, clutching him by the right shoulder and endeavouring to reach his left side—"anyway, I'm goin' to have it now."
"You said I could have my turn out!" Penrod, carried away by indignation, raised his voice.
"I did not!" Sam, likewise lost to caution, asserted his denial loudly.
"You did, too."
"I never said anything!"
"You said—Quit that!"
"Boys!" Mrs. Williams, Sam's mother, opened the door of the room and stood upon the threshold. The scuffling of Sam and Penrod ceased instantly, and they stood hushed and stricken, while fear fell upon them. "Boys, you weren't quarrelling, were you?"
"Ma'am?" said Sam.
"Were you quarrelling with Penrod?"
"No, ma'am," answered Sam in a small voice.
"It sounded like it. What was the matter?"
Both boys returned her curious glance with meekness. They were summoning their faculties—which were needed. Indeed, these are the crises which prepare a boy for the business difficulties of his later life. Penrod, with the huge weapon beneath his jacket, insecurely supported by an elbow and by a waistband which he instantly began to distrust, experienced distressful sensations similar to those of the owner of too heavily insured property carrying a gasoline can under his overcoat and detained for conversation by a policeman. And if, in the coming years it was to be Penrod's lot to find himself in that precise situation, no doubt he would be the better prepared for it on account of this present afternoon's experience under the scalding eye of Mrs. Williams. It should be added that Mrs. Williams's eye was awful to the imagination only. It was a gentle eye and but mildly curious, having no remote suspicion of the dreadful truth, for Sam had backed upon the chest of drawers and closed the damnatory open one with the calves of his legs.
Sam, not bearing the fatal evidence upon his person, was in a better state than Penrod, though when boys fall into the stillness now assumed by these two, it should be understood that they are suffering. Penrod, in fact, was the prey to apprehension so keen that the actual pit of his stomach was cold.
Being the actual custodian of the crime, he understood that his case was several degrees more serious than that of Sam, who, in the event of detection, would be convicted as only an accessory. It was a lesson, and Penrod already repented his selfishness in not allowing Sam to show how he did, first.
"You're sure you weren't quarrelling, Sam?" said Mrs. Williams.
"No, ma'am; we were just talking."
Still she seemed dimly uneasy, and her eye swung to Penrod.
"What were you and Sam talking about, Penrod!"
"What were you talking about?"
Penrod gulped invisibly.
"Well," he murmured, "it wasn't much. Different things."
"Oh, just sumpthing. Different things."
"I'm glad you weren't quarrelling," said Mrs. Williams, reassured by this reply, which, though somewhat baffling, was thoroughly familiar to her ear. "Now, if you'll come downstairs, I'll give you each one cookie and no more, so your appetites won't be spoiled for your dinners."
She stood, evidently expecting them to precede her. To linger might renew vague suspicion, causing it to become more definite; and boys preserve themselves from moment to moment, not often attempting to secure the future. Consequently, the apprehensive Sam and the unfortunate Penrod (with the monstrous implement bulking against his ribs) walked out of the room and down the stairs, their countenances indicating an interior condition of solemnity. And a curious shade of behaviour might have here interested a criminologist. Penrod endeavoured to keep as close to Sam as possible, like a lonely person seeking company, while, on the other hand, Sam kept moving away from Penrod, seeming to desire an appearance of aloofness.
"Go into the library, boys," said Mrs. Williams, as the three reached the foot of the stairs. "I'll bring you your cookies. Papa's in there."
Under her eye the two entered the library, to find Mr. Williams reading his evening paper. He looked up pleasantly, but it seemed to Penrod that he had an ominous and penetrating expression.
"What have you been up to, you boys?" inquired this enemy.
"Nothing," said Sam. "Different things."
"Oh—just different things."
Mr. Williams nodded; then his glance rested casually upon Penrod.
"What's the matter with your arm, Penrod?"
Penrod became paler, and Sam withdrew from him almost conspicuously.
"I said, What's the matter with your arm?"
"Which one?" Penrod quavered.
"Your left. You seem to be holding it at an unnatural position. Have you hurt it?"
Penrod swallowed. "Yes, sir. A boy bit me—I mean a dog—a dog bit me."
Mr. Williams murmured sympathetically: "That's too bad! Where did he bite you?"
"On the—right on the elbow."
"Good gracious! Perhaps you ought to have it cauterized."
"Did you have a doctor look at it?"
"No, sir. My mother put some stuff from the drug store on it."
"Oh, I see. Probably it's all right, then."
"Yes, sir." Penrod drew breath more freely, and accepted the warm cookie Mrs. Williams brought him. He ate it without relish.
"You can have only one apiece," she said. "It's too near dinner-time. You needn't beg for any more, because you can't have 'em."
They were good about that; they were in no frame of digestion for cookies.
"Was it your own dog that bit you?" Mr. Williams inquired.
"Sir? No, sir. It wasn't Duke."
"Penrod!" Mrs. Williams exclaimed. "When did it happen?"
"I don't remember just when," he answered feebly. "I guess it was day before yesterday."
"Gracious! How did it—"
"He—he just came up and bit me."
"Why, that's terrible! It might be dangerous for other children," said Mrs. Williams, with a solicitous glance at Sam. "Don't you know whom he belongs to?"
"No'm. It was just a dog."
"You poor boy! Your mother must have been dreadfully frightened when you came home and she saw—"
She was interrupted by the entrance of a middle-aged coloured woman. "Miz Williams," she began, and then, as she caught sight of Penrod, she addressed him directly, "You' ma telefoam if you here, send you home right away, 'cause they waitin' dinner on you."
"Run along, then," said Mrs. Williams, patting the visitor lightly upon his shoulder; and she accompanied him to the front door. "Tell your mother I'm so sorry about your getting bitten, and you must take good care of it, Penrod."
Penrod lingered helplessly outside the doorway, looking at Sam, who stood partially obscured in the hall, behind Mrs. Williams. Penrod's eyes, with veiled anguish, conveyed a pleading for help as well as a horror of the position in which he found himself. Sam, however, pale and determined, seemed to have assumed a stony attitude of detachment, as if it were well understood between them that his own comparative innocence was established, and that whatever catastrophe ensued, Penrod had brought it on and must bear the brunt of it alone.
"Well, you'd better run along, since they're waiting for you at home," said Mrs. Williams, closing the door. "Good-night, Penrod."
... Ten minutes later Penrod took his place at his own dinner-table, somewhat breathless but with an expression of perfect composure.
"Can't you EVER come home without being telephoned for?" demanded his father.
"Yes, sir." And Penrod added reproachfully, placing the blame upon members of Mr. Schofield's own class, "Sam's mother and father kept me, or I'd been home long ago. They would keep on talkin', and I guess I had to be POLITE, didn't I?"
His left arm was as free as his right; there was no dreadful bulk beneath his jacket, and at Penrod's age the future is too far away to be worried about the difference between temporary security and permanent security is left for grown people. To Penrod, security was security, and before his dinner was half eaten his spirit had become fairly serene.
Nevertheless, when he entered the empty carriage-house of the stable, on his return from school the next afternoon, his expression was not altogether without apprehension, and he stood in the doorway looking well about him before he lifted a loosened plank in the flooring and took from beneath it the grand old weapon of the Williams family. Not did his eye lighten with any pleasurable excitement as he sat himself down in a shadowy corner and began some sketchy experiments with the mechanism. The allure of first sight was gone. In Mr. Williams' bedchamber, with Sam clamouring for possession, it had seemed to Penrod that nothing in the world was so desirable as to have that revolver in his own hands—it was his dream come true. But, for reasons not definitely known to him, the charm had departed; he turned the cylinder gingerly, almost with distaste; and slowly there stole over him a feeling that there was something repellent and threatening in the heavy blue steel.
Thus does the long-dreamed Real misbehave—not only for Penrod!
More out of a sense of duty to bingism in general than for any other reason, he pointed the revolver at the lawn-mower, and gloomily murmured, "Bing!"
Simultaneously, a low and cautious voice sounded from the yard outside, "Yay, Penrod!" and Sam Williams darkened the doorway, his eye falling instantly upon the weapon in his friend's hand. Sam seemed relieved to see it.
"You didn't get caught with it, did you?" he said hastily.
Penrod shook his head, rising.
"I guess not! I guess I got SOME brains around me," he added, inspired by Sam's presence to assume a slight swagger. "They'd have to get up pretty early to find any good ole revolaver, once I got MY hands on it!"
"I guess we can keep it, all right," Sam said confidentially. "Because this morning papa was putting on his winter underclothes and he found it wasn't there, and they looked all over and everywhere, and he was pretty mad, and said he knew it was those cheap plumbers stole it that mamma got instead of the regular plumbers he always used to have, and he said there wasn't any chance ever gettin' it back, because you couldn't tell which one took it, and they'd all swear it wasn't them. So it looks like we could keep it for our revolaver, Penrod, don't it? I'll give you half of it."
Penrod affected some enthusiasm. "Sam, we'll keep it out here in the stable."
"Yes, and we'll go huntin' with it. We'll do lots of things with it!" But Sam made no effort to take it, and neither boy seemed to feel yesterday's necessity to show the other how he did. "Wait till next Fourth o' July!" Sam continued. "Oh, oh! Look out!"
This incited a genuine spark from Penrod.
"Fourth o' July! I guess she'll be a little better than any firecrackers! Just a little 'Bing!' Bing! Bing!' she'll be goin'. 'Bing! Bing! Bing!'"
The suggestion of noise stirred his comrade. "I'll bet she'll go off louder'n that time the gas-works blew up! I wouldn't be afraid to shoot her off ANY time."
"I bet you would," said Penrod. "You aren't used to revolavers the way I—"
"You aren't, either!" Sam exclaimed promptly, "I wouldn't be any more afraid to shoot her off than you would."
"You would, too!"
"I would not!"
"Well, let's see you then; you talk so much!" And Penrod handed the weapon scornfully to Sam, who at once became less self-assertive.
"I'd shoot her off in a minute," Sam said, "only it might break sumpthing if it hit it."
"Hold her up in the air, then. It can't hurt the roof, can it?"
Sam, with a desperate expression, lifted the revolver at arm's length. Both boys turned away their heads, and Penrod put his fingers in his ears—but nothing happened. "What's the matter?" he demanded. "Why don't you go on if you're goin' to?"
Sam lowered his arm. "I guess I didn't have her cocked," he said apologetically, whereupon Penrod loudly jeered.
"Tryin' to shoot a revolaver and didn't know enough to cock her! If I didn't know any more about revolavers than that, I'd—"
"There!" Sam exclaimed, managing to draw back the hammer until two chilling clicks warranted his opinion that the pistol was now ready to perform its office. "I guess she'll do all right to suit you THIS time!"
"Well, whyn't you go ahead, then; you know so much!" And as Sam raised his arm, Penrod again turned away his head and placed his forefingers in his ears.
A pause followed.
"Why'n't you go ahead?"
Penrod, after waiting in keen suspense, turned to behold his friend standing with his right arm above his head, his left hand over his left ear, and both eyes closed.
"I can't pull the trigger," said Sam indistinctly, his face convulsed as in sympathy with the great muscular efforts of other parts of his body. "She won't pull!"
"She won't?" Penrod remarked with scorn. "I'll bet I could pull her."
Sam promptly opened his eyes and handed the weapon to Penrod.
"All right," he said, with surprising and unusual mildness. "You try her, then."
Inwardly discomfited to a disagreeable extent, Penrod attempted to talk his own misgivings out of countenance.
"Poor 'ittle baby!" he said, swinging the pistol at his side with a fair pretense of careless ease. "Ain't even strong enough to pull a trigger! Poor 'ittle baby! Well, if you can't even do that much, you better watch me while I—"
"Well," said Sam reasonably, "why don't you go on and do it then?"
"Well, I AM goin' to, ain't I?"
"Well, then, why don't you?"
"Oh, I'll do it fast enough to suit YOU, I guess," Penrod retorted, swinging the big revolver up a little higher than his shoulder and pointing it in the direction of the double doors, which opened upon the alley. "You better run, Sam," he jeered. "You'll be pretty scared when I shoot her off, I guess."
"Well, why don't you SEE if I will? I bet you're afraid yourself."
"Oh, I am, am I?" said Penrod, in a reckless voice—and his finger touched the trigger. It seemed to him that his finger no more than touched it; perhaps he had been reassured by Sam's assertion that the trigger was difficult. His intentions must remain in doubt, and probably Penrod himself was not certain of them; but one thing comes to the surface as entirely definite—that trigger was not so hard to pull as Sam said it was.
BANG! WH-A-A-ACK! A shattering report split the air of the stable, and there was an orifice of remarkable diameter in the alley door. With these phenomena, three yells, expressing excitement of different kinds, were almost simultaneous—two from within the stable and the third from a point in the alley about eleven inches lower than the orifice just constructed in the planking of the door. This third point, roughly speaking, was the open mouth of a gayly dressed young coloured man whose attention, as he strolled, had been thus violently distracted from some mental computations he was making in numbers, including, particularly, those symbols at ecstasy or woe, as the case might be, seven and eleven. His eye at once perceived the orifice on a line enervatingly little above the top of his head; and, although he had not supposed himself so well known in this neighbourhood, he was aware that he did, here and there, possess acquaintances of whom some such uncomplimentary action might be expected as natural and characteristic. His immediate procedure was to prostrate himself flat upon the ground, against the stable doors.
In so doing, his shoulders came brusquely in contact with one of them, which happened to be unfastened, and it swung open, revealing to his gaze two stark-white white boys, one of them holding an enormous pistol and both staring at him in stupor of ultimate horror. For, to the glassy eyes of Penrod and Sam, the stratagem of the young coloured man, thus dropping to earth, disclosed, with awful certainty, a slaughtered body.
This dreadful thing raised itself upon its elbows and looked at them, and there followed a motionless moment—a tableau of brief duration, for both boys turned and would have fled, shrieking, but the body spoke:
"'At's a nice business!" it said reproachfully. "Nice business! Tryin' blow a man's head off!"
Penrod was unable to speak, but Sam managed to summon the tremulous semblance of a voice. "Where—where did it hit you?" he gasped.
"Nemmine anything 'bout where it HIT me," the young coloured man returned, dusting his breast and knees as he rose. "I want to know what kine o' white boys you think you is—man can't walk 'long street 'thout you blowin' his head off!" He entered the stable and, with an indignation surely justified, took the pistol from the limp, cold hand of Penrod. "Whose gun you playin' with? Where you git 'at gun?"
"It's ours," quavered Sam. "It belongs to us."
"Then you' pa ought to be 'rested," said the young coloured man. "Lettin' boys play with gun!" He examined the revolver with an interest in which there began to appear symptoms of a pleasurable appreciation. "My goo'ness! Gun like'iss blow a team o' steers thew a brick house! LOOK at 'at gun!" With his right hand he twirled it in a manner most dexterous and surprising; then suddenly he became severe. "You white boy, listen me!" he said. "Ef I went an did what I OUGHT to did, I'd march straight out 'iss stable, git a policeman, an' tell him 'rest you an' take you off to jail. 'At's what you need—blowin' man's head off! Listen me: I'm goin' take 'iss gun an' th'ow her away where you can't do no mo' harm with her. I'm goin' take her way off in the woods an' th'ow her away where can't nobody fine her an' go blowin' man's head off with her. 'At's what I'm goin' do!" And placing the revolver inside his coat as inconspicuously as possible, he proceeded to the open door and into the alley, where he turned for a final word. "I let you off 'iss one time," he said, "but listen me—you listen, white boy: you bet' not tell you' pa. I ain' goin' tell him, an' YOU ain' goin' tell him. He want know where gun gone, you tell him you los' her."
He disappeared rapidly.
Sam Williams, swallowing continuously, presently walked to the alley door, and remarked in a weak voice, "I'm sick at my stummick." He paused, then added more decidedly: "I'm goin' home. I guess I've stood about enough around here for one day!" And bestowing a last glance upon his friend, who was now sitting dumbly upon the floor in the exact spot where he had stood to fire the dreadful shot, Sam moved slowly away.
The early shades of autumn evening were falling when Penrod emerged from the stable; and a better light might have disclosed to a shrewd eye some indications that here was a boy who had been extremely, if temporarily, ill. He went to the cistern, and, after a cautious glance round the reassuring horizon, lifted the iron cover. Then he took from the inner pocket of his jacket an object which he dropped listlessly into the water: it was a bit of wood, whittled to the likeness of a pistol. And though his lips moved not, nor any sound issued from his vocal organs, yet were words formed. They were so deep in the person of Penrod they came almost from the slowly convalescing profundities of his stomach. These words concerned firearms, and they were:
"Wish I'd never seen one! Never want to see one again!"
Of course Penrod had no way of knowing that, as regards bingism in general, several of the most distinguished old gentlemen in Europe were at that very moment in exactly the same state of mind.
CHAPTER V. THE IN-OR-IN
Georgie Bassett was a boy set apart. Not only that; Georgie knew that he was a boy set apart. He would think about it for ten or twenty minutes at a time, and he could not look at himself in a mirror and remain wholly without emotion. What that emotion was, he would have been unable to put into words; but it helped him to understand that there was a certain noble something about him that other boys did not possess.
Georgie's mother had been the first to discover that Georgie was a boy set apart. In fact, Georgie did not know it until one day when he happened to overhear his mother telling two of his aunts about it. True, he had always understood that he was the best boy in town and he intended to be a minister when he grew up; but he had never before comprehended the full extent of his sanctity, and, from that fraught moment onward, he had an almost theatrical sense of his set-apartness.
Penrod Schofield and Sam Williams and the other boys of the neighbourhood all were conscious that there was something different and spiritual about Georgie, and, though this consciousness of theirs may have been a little obscure, it was none the less actual. That is to say, they knew that Georgie Bassett was a boy set apart; but they did not know that they knew it. Georgie's air and manner at all times demonstrated to them that the thing was so, and, moreover, their mothers absorbed appreciation of Georgie's wonderfulness from the very fount of it, for Mrs. Bassett's conversation was of little else. Thus, the radiance of his character became the topic of envious parental comment during moments of strained patience in many homes, so that altogether the most remarkable fact to be stated of Georgie Bassett is that he escaped the consequences as long as he did.
Strange as it may seem, no actual violence was done him, except upon the incidental occasion of a tar-fight into which he was drawn by an obvious eccentricity on the part of destiny. Naturally, he was not popular with his comrades; in all games he was pushed aside, and disregarded, being invariably the tail-ender in every pastime in which leaders "chose sides"; his counsels were slighted as worse than weightless, and all his opinions instantly hooted. Still, considering the circumstances fairly and thoughtfully, it is difficult to deny that his boy companions showed creditable moderation in their treatment of him. That is, they were moderate up to a certain date, and even then they did not directly attack him—there was nothing cold—blooded about it at all. The thing was forced upon them, and, though they all felt pleased and uplifted—while it was happening—they did not understand precisely why. Nothing could more clearly prove their innocence of heart than this very ignorance, and yet none of the grown people who later felt themselves concerned in the matter was able to look at it in that light. Now, here was a characteristic working of those reactions that produce what is sometimes called "the injustice of life", because the grown people were responsible for the whole affair and were really the guilty parties. It was from grown people that Georgie Bassett learned he was a boy set apart, and the effect upon him was what alienated his friends. Then these alienated friends were brought (by odious comparisons on the part of grown people) to a condition of mind wherein they suffered dumb annoyance, like a low fever, whenever they heard Georgie's name mentioned, while association with his actual person became every day more and more irritating. And yet, having laid this fuse and having kept it constantly glowing, the grown people expected nothing to happen to Georgie.
The catastrophe befell as a consequence of Sam Williams deciding to have a shack in his backyard. Sam had somehow obtained a vasty piano-box and a quantity of lumber, and, summoning Penrod Schofield and the coloured brethren, Herman and Verman, he expounded to them his building-plans and offered them shares and benefits in the institution he proposed to found. Acceptance was enthusiastic; straightway the assembly became a union of carpenters all of one mind, and ten days saw the shack not completed but comprehensible. Anybody could tell, by that time, that it was intended for a shack.
There was a door on leather hinges; it drooped, perhaps, but it was a door. There was a window—not a glass one, but, at least, it could be "looked out of", as Sam said. There was a chimney made of stovepipe, though that was merely decorative, because the cooking was done out of doors in an underground "furnace" that the boys excavated. There were pictures pasted on the interior walls, and, hanging from a nail, there was a crayon portrait of Sam's grandfather, which he had brought down from the attic quietly, though, as he said, it "wasn't any use on earth up there." There were two lame chairs from Penrod's attic and along one wall ran a low and feeble structure intended to serve as a bench or divan. This would come in handy, Sam said, if any of the party "had to lay down or anything", and at a pinch (such as a meeting of the association) it would serve to seat all the members in a row.
For, coincidentally with the development of the shack, the builders became something more than partners. Later, no one could remember who first suggested the founding of a secret order, or society, as a measure of exclusiveness and to keep the shack sacred to members only; but it was an idea that presently began to be more absorbing and satisfactory than even the shack itself. The outward manifestations of it might have been observed in the increased solemnity and preoccupation of the Caucasian members and in a few ceremonial observances exposed to the public eye. As an instance of these latter, Mrs. Williams, happening to glance from a rearward window, about four o'clock one afternoon, found her attention arrested by what seemed to be a flag-raising before the door of the shack. Sam and Herman and Verman stood in attitudes of rigid attention, shoulder to shoulder, while Penrod Schofield, facing them, was apparently delivering some sort of exhortation, which he read from a scribbled sheet of foolscap. Concluding this, he lifted from the ground a long and somewhat warped clothes-prop, from one end of which hung a whitish flag, or pennon, bearing an inscription. Sam and Herman and Verman lifted their right hands, while Penrod placed the other end of the clothes-prop in a hole in the ground, with the pennon fluttering high above the shack. He then raised his own right hand, and the four boys repeated something in concert. It was inaudible to Mrs. Williams; but she was able to make out the inscription upon the pennon. It consisted of the peculiar phrase "In-Or-In" done in black paint upon a muslin ground, and consequently seeming to be in need of a blotter.
It recurred to her mind, later that evening, when she happened to find herself alone with Sam in the library, and, in merest idle curiosity, she asked: "Sam, what does 'In-Or-In' mean?"
Sam, bending over an arithmetic, uncreased his brow till it became of a blank and marble smoothness.
"What are those words on your flag?"
Sam gave her a long, cold, mystic look, rose to his feet and left the room with emphasis and dignity. For a moment she was puzzled. But Sam's older brother was this year completing his education at a university, and Mrs. Williams was not altogether ignorant of the obligations of secrecy imposed upon some brotherhoods; so she was able to comprehend Sam's silent withdrawal, and, instead of summoning him back for further questions, she waited until he was out of hearing and then began to laugh.
Sam's action was in obedience to one of the rules adopted, at his own suggestion, as a law of the order. Penrod advocated it warmly. From Margaret he had heard accounts of her friends in college and thus had learned much that ought to be done. On the other hand, Herman subscribed to it with reluctance, expressing a decided opinion that if he and Verman were questioned upon the matter at home and adopted the line of conduct required by the new rule, it would be well for them to depart not only from the room in which the questioning took place but from the house, and hurriedly at that. "An' STAY away!" he concluded.
Verman, being tongue-tied—not without advantage in this case, and surely an ideal qualification for membership—was not so apprehensive. He voted with Sam and Penrod, carrying the day.
New rules were adopted at every meeting (though it cannot be said that all of them were practicable) for, in addition to the information possessed by Sam and Penrod, Herman and Verman had many ideas of their own, founded upon remarks overheard at home. Both their parents belonged to secret orders, their father to the Innapenent 'Nevolent Lodge (so stated by Herman) and their mother to the Order of White Doves.
From these and other sources, Penrod found no difficulty in compiling material for what came to be known as the "rixual"; and it was the rixual he was reading to the members when Mrs. Williams happened to observe the ceremonial raising of the emblem of the order.
The rixual contained the oath, a key to the secret language, or code (devised by Penrod for use in uncertain emergencies) and passwords for admission to the shack, also instructions for recognizing a brother member in the dark, and a rather alarming sketch of the things to be done during the initiation of a candidate.
This last was employed for the benefit of Master Roderick Magsworth Bitts, Junior, on the Saturday following the flag-raising. He presented himself in Sam's yard, not for initiation, indeed—having no previous knowledge of the Society of the In-Or-In—but for general purposes of sport and pastime. At first sight of the shack he expressed anticipations of pleasure, adding some suggestions for improving the architectural effect. Being prevented, however, from entering, and even from standing in the vicinity of the sacred building, he plaintively demanded an explanation; whereupon he was commanded to withdraw to the front yard for a time, and the members held meeting in the shack. Roddy was elected, and consented to undergo the initiation.
He was not the only new member that day. A short time after Roddy had been taken into the shack for the reading of the rixual and other ceremonies, little Maurice Levy entered the Williams' gate and strolled round to the backyard, looking for Sam. He was surprised and delighted to behold the promising shack, and, like Roddy, entertained fair hopes for the future.
The door of the shack was closed; a board covered the window, but a murmur of voices came from within. Maurice stole close and listened. Through a crack he could see the flicker of a candle-flame, and he heard the voice of Penrod Schofield:
"Roddy Bitts, do you solemnly swear?"
"Well, all right," said the voice of Roddy, somewhat breathless.
"How many fingers you see before your eyes?"
"Can't see any," Roddy returned. "How could I, with this thing over my eyes, and laying down on my stummick, anyway?"
"Then the time has come," Penrod announced in solemn tones. "The time has come."
Evidently a broad and flat implement was thereupon applied to Roddy.
"OW!" complained the candidate.
"No noise!" said Penrod sternly, and added: "Roddy Bitts must now say the oath. Say exackly what I say, Roddy, and if you don't—well, you better, because you'll see! Now, say 'I solemnly swear—'"
"I solemnly swear—" Roddy said.
"To keep the secrets—"
"To keep the secrets—" Roddy repeated.
"To keep the secrets in infadelaty and violate and sanctuary."
"What?" Roddy naturally inquired.
"OW!" cried Roddy. "That's no fair!"
"You got to say just what I say," Penrod was heard informing him. "That's the rixual, and anyway, even if you do get it right, Verman's got to hit you every now and then, because that's part of the rixual, too. Now go on and say it. 'I solemnly swear to keep the secrets in infadelaty and violate and sanctuary."'
"I solemnly swear—" Roddy began.
But Maurice Levy was tired of being no party to such fascinating proceedings, and he began to hammer upon the door.
"Sam! Sam Williams!" he shouted. "Lemme in there! I know lots about 'nishiatin'. Lemme in!"
The door was flung open, revealing Roddy Bitts, blindfolded and bound, lying face down upon the floor of the shack; but Maurice had only a fugitive glimpse of this pathetic figure before he, too, was recumbent. Four boys flung themselves indignantly upon him and bore him to earth.
"Hi!" he squealed. "What you doin'? Haven't you got any SENSE?"
And, from within the shack, Roddy added his own protest.
"Let me up, can't you?" he cried. "I got to see what's goin' on out there, haven't I? I guess I'm not goin' to lay here all DAY! What you think I'm made of?"
"You hush up!" Penrod commanded. "This is a nice biznuss!" he continued, deeply aggrieved. "What kind of a 'nishiation do you expect this is, anyhow?"
"Well, here's Maurice Levy gone and seen part of the secrets," said Sam, in a voice of equal plaintiveness. "Yes; and I bet he was listenin' out here, too!"
"Lemme up!" begged Maurice, half stifled. "I didn't do any harm to your old secrets, did I? Anyways, I just as soon be 'nishiated myself. I ain't afraid. So if you 'nishiate me, what difference will it make if I did hear a little?"
Struck with this idea, which seemed reasonable; Penrod obtained silence from every one except Roddy, and it was decided to allow Maurice to rise and retire to the front yard. The brother members then withdrew within the shack, elected Maurice to the fellowship, and completed the initiation of Mr. Bitts. After that, Maurice was summoned and underwent the ordeal with fortitude, though the newest brother—still tingling with his own experiences—helped to make certain parts of the rixual unprecedentedly severe.
Once endowed with full membership, Maurice and Roddy accepted the obligations and privileges of the order with enthusiasm. Both interested themselves immediately in improvements for the shack, and made excursions to their homes to obtain materials. Roddy returned with a pair of lensless mother-of-pearl opera-glasses, a contribution that led to the creation of a new office, called the "warner". It was his duty to climb upon the back fence once every fifteen minutes and search the horizon for intruders or "anybody that hasn't got any biznuss around here." This post proved so popular, at first, that it was found necessary to provide for rotation in office, and to shorten the interval from fifteen minutes to an indefinite but much briefer period, determined principally by argument between the incumbent and his successor.
And Maurice Levy contributed a device so pleasant, and so necessary to the prevention of interruption during meetings, that Penrod and Sam wondered why they had not thought of it themselves long before. It consisted of about twenty-five feet of garden hose in fair condition. One end of it was introduced into the shack through a knothole, and the other was secured by wire round the faucet of hydrant in the stable. Thus, if members of the order were assailed by thirst during an important session, or in the course of an initiation, it would not be necessary for them all to leave the shack. One could go, instead, and when he had turned on the water at the hydrant, the members in the shack could drink without leaving their places. It was discovered, also, that the section of hose could be used as a speaking-tube; and though it did prove necessary to explain by shouting outside the tube what one had said into it, still there was a general feeling that it provided another means of secrecy and an additional safeguard against intrusion. It is true that during the half-hour immediately following the installation of this convenience, there was a little violence among the brothers concerning a question of policy. Sam, Roddy and Verman—Verman especially—wished to use the tube "to talk through" and Maurice, Penrod and Herman wished to use it "to drink through." As a consequence of the success of the latter party, the shack became too damp for habitation until another day, and several members, as they went home at dusk, might easily have been mistaken for survivors of some marine catastrophe.
Still, not every shack is equipped with running water, and exuberance befitted the occasion. Everybody agreed that the afternoon had been one of the most successful and important in many weeks. The Order of the In-Or-In was doing splendidly, and yet every brother felt, in his heart, that there was one thing that could spoil it. Against that fatality, all were united to protect themselves, the shack, the rixual, the opera-glasses and the water-and-speaking tube. Sam spoke not only for himself but for the entire order when he declared, in speeding the last parting guest:
"Well, we got to stick to one thing or we might as well quit! GEORGIE BASSETT better not come pokin' around!"
"No, SIR!" said Penrod.
CHAPTER VI. GEORGIE BECOMES A MEMBER
But Georgie did. It is difficult to imagine how cause and effect could be more closely and patently related. Inevitably, Georgie did come poking around. How was he to refrain when daily, up and down the neighbourhood, the brothers strutted with mystic and important airs, when they whispered together and uttered words of strange import in his presence? Thus did they defeat their own object. They desired to keep Georgie at a distance, yet they could not refrain from posing before him. They wished to impress upon him the fact that he was an outsider, and they but succeeded in rousing his desire to be an insider, a desire that soon became a determination. For few were the days until he not only knew of the shack but had actually paid it a visit. That was upon a morning when the other boys were in school, Georgie having found himself indisposed until about ten o'clock, when he was able to take nourishment and subsequently to interest himself in this rather private errand. He climbed the Williams' alley fence, and, having made a modest investigation of the exterior of the shack, which was padlocked, retired without having disturbed anything except his own peace of mind. His curiosity, merely piqued before, now became ravenous and painful. It was not allayed by the mystic manners of the members or by the unnecessary emphasis they laid upon their coldness toward himself; and when a committee informed him darkly that there were "secret orders" to prevent his coming within "a hundred and sixteen feet"—such was Penrod's arbitrary language—of the Williams' yard, "in any direction", Georgie could bear it no longer, but entered his own house, and, in burning words, laid the case before a woman higher up. Here the responsibility for things is directly traceable to grown people. Within that hour, Mrs. Bassett sat in Mrs. Williams's library to address her hostess upon the subject of Georgie's grievance.
"Of course, it isn't Sam's fault," she said, concluding her interpretation of the affair. "Georgie likes Sam, and didn't blame him at all. No; we both felt that Sam would always be a polite, nice boy—Georgie used those very words—but Penrod seems to have a VERY bad influence. Georgie felt that Sam would WANT him to come and play in the shack if Penrod didn't make Sam do everything HE wants. What hurt Georgie most is that it's SAM'S shack, and he felt for another boy to come and tell him that he mustn't even go NEAR it—well, of course, it was very trying. And he's very much hurt with little Maurice Levy, too. He said that he was sure that even Penrod would be glad to have him for a member of their little club if it weren't for Maurice—and I think he spoke of Roddy Bitts, too."
The fact that the two remaining members were coloured was omitted from this discourse which leads to the deduction that Georgie had not mentioned it.
"Georgie said all the other boys liked him very much," Mrs. Bassett continued, "and that he felt it his duty to join the club, because most of them were so anxious to have him, and he is sure he would have a good influence over them. He really did speak of it in quite a touching way, Mrs. Williams. Of course, we mothers mustn't brag of our sons too much, but Georgie REALLY isn't like other boys. He is so sensitive, you can't think how this little affair has hurt him, and I felt that it might even make him ill. You see, I HAD to respect his reason for wanting to join the club. And if I AM his mother"—she gave a deprecating little laugh—"I must say that it seems noble to want to join not really for his own sake but for the good that he felt his influence would have over the other boys. Don't you think so, Mrs. Williams?"