THE WRONG TWIN
BY HARRY LEON WILSON
TO HELEN AND LEON
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"The girl now glowered at each of them in turn. 'I don't care!' she muttered. 'I will, too, run away!'"
"'I can always find a little time for bankers. I never kept one waiting yet and I won't begin now.'"
"The girl was already reading Wilbur's palm, disclosing to him that he had a deep vein of cruelty in his nature."
"The malign eye was worn so proudly that the wearer bubbled vaingloriously of how he had achieved the stigma."
An establishment in Newbern Center, trading under the name of the Foto Art Shop, once displayed in its window a likeness of the twin sons of Dave Cowan. Side by side, on a lavishly fringed plush couch, they confronted the camera with differing aspects. One sat forward with a decently, even blandly, composed visage, nor had he meddled with his curls. His mate sat back, scowling, and fought the camera to the bitter end. His curls, at the last moment, had been mussed by a raging hand.
This was in the days of an earlier Newbern, when the twins were four and Winona Penniman began to be their troubled mentor—troubled lest they should not grow up to be refined persons; a day when Dave Cowan, the widely travelled printer, could rightly deride its citizenry as small-towners; a day when the Whipples were Newbern's sole noblesse and the Cowan twins not yet torn asunder.
The little town lay along a small but potent river that turned a few factory wheels with its eager current, and it drew sustenance from the hill farms that encircled it for miles about. You had to take a dingy way train up to the main line if you were going the long day's journey to New York, so that the Center of the name was often construed facetiously by outlanders.
Now Newbern Center is modern, and grows callous. Only the other day a wandering biplane circled the second nine of its new golf course, and of the four players on the tenth green but one paid it the tribute of an upward glance. Even this was a glance of resentment, for his partner at that instant eyed the alignment for a three-foot putt and might be distracted. The annoyed player flung up a hostile arm at the thing and waved it from the course. Seemingly abashed, the machine slunk off into a cloud bank.
Old Sharon Whipple, the player who putted, never knew that above him had gone a thing he had very lately said could never be. Sharon has grown modern with the town. Not so many years ago he scoffed at rumours of a telephone. He called it a contraption, and said it would be against the laws of God and common sense. Later he proscribed the horseless carriage as an impracticable toy. Of flying he had affirmed that the fools who tried it would deservedly break their necks, and he had gustily raged at the waste of a hundred and seventy-five acres of good pasture land when golf was talked.
Yet this very afternoon the inconsequent dotard had employed a telephone to summon his car to transport him to the links, and had denied even a glance of acknowledgment at the wonder floating above him. Much like that is growing Newbern. There was gasping aplenty when Winona Penniman abandoned the higher life and bought a flagrant pair of satin dancing slippers, but now the town lets far more sensational doings go almost unremarked.
The place tosses even with the modern fever of unrest. It has its bourgeoisie, its proletariat, its radicals, but also a city-beautiful association and a rather captious sanitary league. Lately a visiting radical, on the occasion of a certain patriotic celebration, expressed a conventional wish to spit upon the abundantly displayed flag. A knowing friend was quick to dissuade him.
"Don't do it! Don't try it! Here, now, you got no freedom! Should you spit only on their sidewalk, they fine the heart's blood out of you."
* * * * *
Midway between these periods of very early and very late Newbern there was once a shining summer morning on which the Cowan twins, being then nine years old, set out from the Penniman home to pick wild blackberries along certain wooded lanes that environed the town. They were bare-footed, wearing knee pants buttoned to calico waists, these being patterned with small horseshoes which the twins had been told by their father would bring them good luck. They wore cloth caps, and carried tin pails for their berries. These would be sold to the Pennimans at an agreed price of five cents a quart, and it was Winona's hope that the money thus earned on a beautiful Saturday morning would on Sunday be given to the visiting missionary lately returned from China. Winona had her doubts, however, chiefly of Wilbur Cowan's keenness for proselyting, on his own income, in foreign lands. Too often with money in hand, he had yielded to the grosser tyranny of the senses.
The twins ran races in the soft dust of the highway until they reached the first outlying berry patch. Here they became absorbed in their work. They were finding well-laden bushes along the fence of what to-day is known as the old graveyard.
Newbern now has a sophisticated new cemetery, with carved marble and tall shafts of polished granite, trimmed shrubs, and garnished mounds, contrasting—as the newer town to the old—with the dingy inclosure where had very simply been inhumed the dead of that simpler day. In the new cemetery blackberry bushes would not be permitted. Along the older plot they flourished. The place itself is over-grown with rank grasses, with ivy run wild, with untended shrubs, often hiding the memorials, which are mostly of brown sandstone or gray slate. It lies in deep shadow under cypress and willow. It is very still under the gloom of its careless growths—a place not reassuring to the imaginative.
The bottoms of the tin pails had been covered with berries found outside the board fence, and now a hunt for other laden bushes led the twins to a trove of ripened fruit partly outside and partly inside that plot where those of old Newbern had been chested and laid unto their fathers. There was, of course, no question as to the ownership of that fruit out here. It was any one's. There followed debate on a possible right to that which grew abundantly beyond the fence. By some strange but not unprecedented twisting of the mature mind of authority, might it not belong to those inside, or to those who had put them there? Further, would Mrs. Penniman care to make pies of blackberries—even the largest and ripest yet found—that had grown in a graveyard?
"They taste just the same," announced the Wilbur twin, having, after a cautious survey, furtively reached through two boards of the fence to retrieve a choice cluster.
"I guess nobody would want 'em that owns 'em," conceded Wilbur.
"Well, you climb over first."
"We better both go together at the same time."
"No, one of us better try it first and see; then, if it's all right, I'll climb over, too."
"Aw, I know a better patch up over West Hill in the Whipple woods."
"What you afraid of? Nobody would care about a few old blackberries."
"I ain't afraid."
"You act like it, I must say. If you wasn't afraid you'd climb that fence pretty quick, wouldn't you? Looky, the big ones!"
The Wilbur twin reflected on this. It sounded plausible. If he wasn't afraid, of course he would climb that fence pretty quick. It stood to reason. It did not occur to him that any one else was afraid. He decided that neither was he.
"Well, I'm afraid of things that ain't true that scare you in the dark," he admitted, "but I ain't afraid like that now. Not one bit!"
"Well, I dare you to go."
"Well, of course I'll go. I was just resting a minute. I got to rest a little, haven't I?"
"Well, I guess you're rested. I guess you can climb a plain and simple fence, can't you? You can rest over there, can't you—just as well as what you can rest here?"
The resting one looked up and down the lane, then peered forward into the shadowy tangle of green things with its rows of headstones. Then, inhaling deeply, he clambered to the top of the fence and leaped to the ground beyond.
"Gee, gosh!" he cried, for he had landed on a trailing branch of blackberry vine.
He sat down and extracted a thorn from the leathery sole of his bare foot. The prick of the thorn had cleaned his mind of any merely fanciful fears. A surpassing lot of berries was there for the bold to take. His brother stared not too boldly through the fence at the pioneer.
"Go on and try picking some," he urged in the subdued tones of extreme caution.
The other calmly set to work. The watcher awaited some mysterious punishment for this desecration. Presently, nothing having happened, he glowed with a boldness of his own and mounted to the top of the fence, where he again waited. He whistled, affecting to be at ease, but with a foot on the safe side of the fence. The busy worker inside paid him no attention. Presently Merle yawned.
"Well, I guess I'll come in there myself and pick a few berries," he said very loudly.
He was giving fair notice to any malign power that might be waiting to blast him. After a fitting interval, he joined his brother and fell to work.
"Well, I must say!" he chattered. "Who's afraid to come into a graveyard when they can get berries like this? We can fill the pails, and that's thirty cents right here."
The fruit fell swiftly. The Wilbur twin worked in silence. But Merle appeared rather to like the sound of a human voice. He was aimlessly loquacious. His nerves were not entirely tranquil.
"They're growing right over this old one," announced Wilbur presently. Merle glanced up to see him despoiling a bush that embowered one of the brown headstones and an all but obliterated mound.
"You better be careful," he warned.
"I guess I'm careful enough for this old one," retorted the bolder twin, and swept the trailing bush aside to scan the stone. It was weather-worn and lichened, but the carving was still legible.
"It says, 'Here lies Jonas Whipple, aged eighty-seven,' and it says, 'he passed to his reward April 23, 1828,' and here's his picture."
He pointed to the rounded top of the stone where was graven a circle inclosing primitive eyes, a nose, and mouth. From the bottom of the circle on either side protruded wings.
Merle drew near to scan the device. He was able to divine that the intention of the artist had not been one of portraiture.
"That ain't either his picture," he said, heatedly. "That's a cupid!"
"Ho, gee, gosh! Ain't cupids got legs? Where's its legs?"
"Then it's an angel."
"Angels are longer. I know now—it's a goop. And here's some more reading."
He ran his fingers along the worn lettering, then brought his eyes close and read—glibly in the beginning:
Behold this place as you pass by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you must be. Prepare for death, and follow me.
The reader's voice lost in fullness and certainty as he neared the end of this strophe.
"Say, we better get right out of here," said Merle, stepping toward the fence. Even Wilbur was daunted by the blunt warning from beyond.
"Here's another," called Merle, pausing on his way toward the fence. In hushed, fearful tones he declaimed:
Dear companion in your bloom, Behold me moldering in the tomb, For Death is a debt to Nature due, Which I have paid, and so must you.
"There, now, I must say!" called Merle. "We better hurry out!"
But the Wilbur twin lingered. Ripe berries still glistened about the stone of the departed Jonas Whipple.
"Aw, gee, gosh, they're just old ones!" he declared. "It says this one passed to his reward in 1828, and we wasn't born then, so he couldn't be meaning us, could he? We ain't passed to our reward yet, have we? I simply ain't going to pay the least attention to it."
A bit nervously he fell again to picking the berries. The mere feel of them emboldened him.
"Gee, gosh! We ain't followed him yet, have we?"
"'As I am now, so you must be!'" quoted the other in warning.
"Well, my sakes, don't everyone in town know that? But it don't mean we're going to be—be it—right off."
"You better come just the samey!"
But the worker was stubborn.
"Ho, I guess I ain't afraid of any old Whipple as old as what this one is!"
"Well, anyway," called Merle, still in hushed tones, "I guess I got enough berries from this place."
"Aw, come on!" urged the worker.
In a rush of bravado he now extemporized a chant of defiance:
Old Jonas Whipple Was an old cripple! Old Jonas Whipple Was an old cripple!
The Merle twin found this beyond endurance. He leaped for the fence and gained its top, looking back with a blanched face to see the offender smitten. He wanted to go at once, but this might be worth waiting for.
Wilbur continued to pick berries. Again he chanted loudly, mocking the solemnities of eternity:
Old Jonas Whipple Was an old cripple! Was an old—
The mockery died in his throat, and he froze to a statue of fear. Beyond the headstone of Jonas Whipple, and toward the centre of the plot, a clump of syringa was plainly observed to sway with the movements of a being unseen.
"I told you!" came the hoarse whisper of Merle, but he, too, was chained by fright to the fence top.
They waited, breathless, in the presence of the king of terrors. Again the bush swayed with a sinister motion. A deeper hush fell about them; the breeze died and song birds stilled their notes. A calamity was imminent. Neither watcher now doubted that a mocked Jonas Whipple would terribly issue from the tangle of shrubbery.
The bushes were again agitated; then at the breaking, point of fear for the Cowan twins the emergent figure proved to be not Jonas but a trifling and immature female descendant of his, who now sped rapidly toward them across the intervening glade, nor were the low mounds sacred to her in her progress. Her short shirt of a plaid gingham flopped above her thin, bony legs as she ran, and she grasped a wide-brimmed straw hat in one hand.
* * * * *
It should be said that this girl appalled the twins hardly less than would an avenging apparition of the outraged Jonas Whipple. Beings of a baser extraction, they had looked upon Whipples only from afar and with awe. Upon this particular Whipple they had looked with especial awe. Other known members of the tribe were inhumanly old and gray and withered, not creatures with whom the most daring fancy could picture the Cowan twins sustaining any sane human relationship. But this one was young and moderately understandable. Observed from across the room of the Methodist Sunday-school, she was undoubtedly human like them; but always so befurbished with rare and shining garments, with glistening silks and costly velvets and laces, with bonnets of pink rosebuds and gloves of kid, that the thought of any secular relationship had been preposterous. Yet she was young, an animal of their own age, whose ways could be comprehended.
She halted her mad flight when she discovered them, then turned to survey the way she had come. She was panting. The twins regarded her stonily, shaping defenses if she brought up anything regarding any one who might have mocked Jonas Whipple.
When again she could breathe evenly, she said: "It was Cousin Juliana driving by was why I dashed in here. I think I have foiled her."
She was not now the creature of troubled elegance that Sabbaths had revealed her. The gingham dress was such as a daughter of the people might have worn, and the straw hat, though beribboned, was not impressive. She was a bony little girl, with quick, greenish eyes and a meagre pigtail of hair of the hue that will often cause a girl to be called Carrots. Her thin, eager face was lavishly freckled; her nose was trivial to the last extreme. Besides her hat, she carried and now nonchalantly drew refreshment from a stick of spirally striped candy inserted for half its length through the end of a lemon. The candy was evidently of a porous texture, so that the juice of the fruit would reach the consumer's pursed lips charmingly modified by its passage along the length of the sweet. One needed but to approximate a vacuum at the upper end of the candy, and the mighty and mysterious laws of atmospheric pressure completed the benign process.
It should be said for the twins that they were not social climbers. In their instant infatuation for this novel device they quite lost the thrill that should have been theirs from the higher aspects of the encounter. They were not impressed at meeting a Whipple on terms of seeming equality. They had eyes and desire solely for this delectable refection. Again and again the owner enveloped the top of the candy with prehensile lips; deep cavities appeared in her profusely spangled cheeks. Her eyes would close in an ecstasy of concentration. The twins stared, and at intervals were constrained to swallow.
"Gee, gosh!" muttered the Wilbur twin, helpless in the sight of so fierce a joy. His brother descended briskly from the fence.
"I bet that's good," he said, genially, and taking the half-filled pail from his brother's unresisting grasp he approached the newcomer. "Try some of these nice ripe blackberries," he royally urged.
"Thanks a lot!" said the girl, and did so. But the hospitality remained one-sided.
"I have to keep up my strength," she explained. "I have a long, hard journey before me. I'm running away."
Blackberry juice now stained her chin, enriching a colour scheme already made notable by dye from the candy.
"Running away!" echoed the twins. This, also, was sane.
"Where to?" demanded Wilbur.
"Far, far off to the great city with all its pitfalls."
"New York?" demanded Merle. "What's a pitfall?"
"The way Ben Blunt did when his cruel stepmother beat him because he wouldn't steal and bring it home."
"Ben Blunt?" questioned both twins.
"That's whom I am going to be. That's whom I am now—or just as soon as I change clothes with some unfortunate. It's in a book. 'Ben Blunt, the Newsboy; or, From Rags to Riches.' He run off because his cruel stepmother beat him black and blue, and he become a mere street urchin, though his father, Mr. Blunt, was a gentleman in good circumstances; and while he was a mere street urchin he sold papers and blacked boots, and he was an honest, manly lad and become adopted by a kind, rich old gentleman named Mr. Pettigrew, that he saved from a gang of rowdies that boded him no good, and was taken to his palatial mansion and given a kind home and a new suit of clothes and a good Christian education, and that's how he got from rags to riches. And I'm going to be it; I'm going to be a mere street urchin and do everything he did."
"Ho!" The Wilbur twin was brutal. "You're nothing but a girl!"
The runaway flashed him a hostile glance.
"Don't be silly! What difference does it make? Haven't I a cruel stepmother that is constantly making scenes if I do the least little thing, especially since Miss Murtree went home because her mother has typhoid in Buffalo. You wait till I get the right clothes."
"Does she beat you something awful?" demanded the Merle twin unctuously.
The victim hesitated.
"Well, you might call it that."
"What kind of right clothes?" asked his brother.
"Boy's clothes; filthy rags of boy's clothes—like yours," she concluded. Her appraising glance rested on the garments of the questioning twin. Both became conscious of their mean attire, and squirmed uneasily.
"These are just everyday clothes," muttered the Wilbur twin.
"We have fine new Sunday suits at home," boasted Merle. "Too fine to wear every day. If you saw those clothes once I guess you'd talk different. Shoes and stockings, too."
The girl effaced his grandeur with a shrug.
"That's nothing—everyone has mere Sunday clothes."
"Is Miss Murtree that old lady that brings you to the Sunday-school?" demanded Wilbur.
"Yes; she's my governess, and had to go to her dying mother, and I hope she gets a cruel stepmother that will be harsh to her childish sports, like that Mrs. Blunt was. But she isn't old. It's her beard makes her look so mature."
"Aw!" cried both twins, denoting incredulity.
"She has, too, a beard! A little moustache and some growing on her chin. When I first got 'Ben Blunt, or from Rags to Riches,' out of the Sunday-school library I asked her how she made it grow, because I wanted one to grow on me, but she made a scene and never did tell me. I wish it would come out on me that way." She ran questing fingers along her brief upper lip and round her pointed chin. "But prob'ly I ain't old enough."
"You're only a girl," declared the Wilbur twin, "and you won't ever have a beard, and you couldn't be Ben Blunt."
"Only a girl!" she flashed, momentarily stung into a defense of her sex. "Huh! I guess I'd rather be a girl than a nasty little boy with his hands simply covered with warts."
The shamed hands of Wilbur Cowan sought the depths of his pockets, but he came up from the blow.
"Yes, you'd rather be a girl!" he retorted, with ponderous irony. "It's a good thing you wasn't born in China. Do you know what? If you'd been born in China, when they seen what it was they'd simply have chucked you into the river to drown'd."
"The idea! They would not!"
"Ho! You're so smart! I guess you think you know more than that missionary that told us so at the meeting. I guess you think he was telling lies. They'd have drownded you as soon as they seen it was a girl. But boys they keep."
"I don't listen to gossip," said the girl, loftily.
"And besides," continued the inquisitor, "if you think boys are such bad ones, what you trying to be one for, and be Ben Blunt and all like that?"
"You're too young to understand if I told you," she replied with a snappish dignity.
The Merle twin was regretting these asperities. His eyes clung constantly to the lemon and candy.
"She can be Ben Blunt if she wants to," he now declared in a voice of authority. "I bet she'll have a better moustache than that old Miss Murphy's."
"Murtree," she corrected him, and spoke her thanks with a brightening glance. "Here," she added, proffering her treasure, "take a good long suck if you want to."
He did want to. His brother beheld him with anguished eyes. As Merle demonstrated the problem in hydraulics the girl studied him more attentively, then gleamed with a sudden new radiance.
"Oh, I'll tell you what let's do!" she exclaimed. "We'll change clothes with each other, and then I'll be Ben Blunt without waiting till I get to the great city. Cousin Juliana could pass me right by on the street and never know me." She clapped her small brown hands. "Goody!" she finished.
But the twins stiffened. The problem was not so simple.
"How do you mean—change clothes?" demanded Merle.
"Why, just change! I'll put on your clothes and look like a mere street urchin right away."
"But what am I going to—"
"Put on my clothes, of course. I explained that."
"Be dressed like a girl?"
"Only till you get home; then you can put on your Sunday clothes."
"But they wouldn't be Sunday clothes if I had to wear 'em every day, and then I wouldn't have any Sunday clothes."
"Stupid! You can buy new ones, can't you?"
"Well, I don't know."
"I'd give you a lot of money to buy some."
"Let's see it."
Surprisingly the girl stuck out a foot. Her ankle seemed badly swollen; she seemed even to reveal incipient elephantiasis.
"Money!" she announced. "Busted my bank and took it all. And I put it in my stocking the way Miss Murtree did when she went to Buffalo to visit her dying mother. But hers was bills, and mine is nickels and dimes and quarters and all like that—thousands of dollars' worth of 'em, and they're kind of disagreeable. They make me limp—kind of. I'll give you a lot of it to buy some new clothes. Let's change quick." She turned and backed up to the Merle twin. "Unbutton my waist," she commanded.
The Merle twin backed swiftly away. This was too summary a treatment of a situation that still needed thought.
"Let's see your money," he demanded.
"Very well!" She sat on the grassy low mound above her forebear, released the top of the long black stocking from the bite of a hidden garter and lowered it to the bulky burden. "Give me your cap," she said, and into Merle's cap spurted a torrent of coins. When this had become reduced to a trickle, and then to odd pieces that had worked down about the heel, the cap held a splendid treasure. Both twins bent excitedly above it. Never had either beheld so vast a sum. It was beyond comprehension. The Wilbur twin plunged a hand thrillingly into the heap.
"Gee, gosh!" he murmured from the sheer loveliness of it. Shining silver—thousands of dollars of it, the owner had declared.
"Now I guess you'll change," said the girl, observing the sensation she had made.
The twins regarded each other eloquently. It seemed to be acknowledged between them that anything namable would be done to obtain a share of this hoard. Still it was a monstrous infamy, this thing she wanted. Merle filtered coins through his fingers for the wondrous feel of them.
"Well, mebbe we better," he said at last.
"How much do we get?" demanded Wilbur, exalted but still sane.
"Oh, a lot!" said the girl, carelessly. Plainly she was not one to haggle. "Here, I'll give you two double handfuls—see, like that," and she measured the price into the other cap, not skimping. They were generous, heaping handfuls, and they reduced her horde by half. "Now!" she urged. "And hurry! I must be far by nightfall. I'll keep my shoes and stockings and not go barefoot till I reach the great city. But I'll take your clothes and your cap. Unbutton my waist."
Again she backed up to Merle. He turned to Wilbur.
"I guess we better change with her for all that money. Get your pants and waist off and I'll help button this thing on you."
It was characteristic of their relations that there was no thought of Merle being the victim of this barter. The Wilbur twin did not suggest it, but he protested miserably.
"I don't want to wear a girl's clothes."
"Silly!" said the girl. "It's for your own good."
"You only put it on for a minute, and sneak home quick," reminded his brother, "and look at all the money we'll have! Here, show him again all that money we'll have!"
And the girl did even so, holding up to him riches beyond the dreams of avarice. There was bitterness in the eyes of the Wilbur twin even as they gloated on the bribe. The ordeal would be fearful. He was to become a thing—not a girl and still not a boy—a thing somehow shameful. At last the alternative came to him.
"You change with her," he said, brightening. "My pants got a tear here on the side, and my waist ain't so clean as yours."
"Now don't begin that!" said his brother, firmly. "We don't want a lot of silly arguments about it, do we? Look at all the money we'll have!"
"Your clothes are the best," said the girl. "I must be filthy and ragged. Oh, please hurry!" Then to Merle: "Do unbutton my waist. Start it at the top and I can finish."
Gingerly he undid the earliest buttons on that narrow back of checked gingham, and swiftly the girl completed the process to her waist. Then the waist was off her meagre shoulders and she stepped from the hated garment. The Wilbur twin was aghast at her downright methods. He had a feeling that she should have retired for this change. How was he to know that an emergency had lifted her above prejudices sacred to the meaner souled? But now he raised a new objection, for beneath her gown the girl had been still abundantly and intricately clad, girded, harnessed.
"I can't ever put on all those other things," he declared, indicating the elaborate underdressing.
"Very well, I'll keep 'em on under the pants and waist till I get to the great city," said the girl, obligingly. "But why don't you hurry?"
She tossed him the discarded dress. He was seized with fresh panic as he took the thing.
"I don't like to," he said, sullenly.
"Look at all the money we'll have!" urged the brother.
"Here," said the girl, beguilingly, "when you've done it I'll give you two long sucks of my lemon candy."
She took the enticing combination from Merle and held it fair before his yearning eyes; the last rite of a monstrous seduction was achieved. The victim wavered and was lost. He took the dress.
"Whistle if any one comes," he said, and withdrew behind the headstone of the late Jonas Whipple. He—of the modest sex—would not disrobe in public. At least it was part modesty; in part the circumstance that his visible garments were precisely all he wore. He would not reveal to this child of wealth that the Cowans had not the habit of multifarious underwear. Over the headstone presently came the knee pants, the faded calico waist with bone buttons. The avid buyer seized and apparelled herself in them with a deft facility. The Merle twin was amazed that she should so soon look so much like a boy. From behind the headstone came the now ambiguous and epicene figure of the Wilbur twin, contorted to hold together the back of his waist.
"I can't button it," he said in deepest gloom.
"Here!" said the girl.
It seemed to him that this would somehow further degrade him. At least another male should fasten this infamous thing about him. When the buttoning was done he demanded the promised candy and lemon. He glutted himself with the stimulant. He had sold his soul and was taking the price. His wrists projected far from the gingham sleeves, and in truth he looked little enough like a girl. The girl looked much more like a boy. The further price of his shame was paid in full.
"I'd better take charge of it," said Merle, and did so with an air of large benevolence. "I just don't know what all we'll spend it for," he added.
The Wilbur twin's look of anguish deepened.
"I got a pocket in this dress to hold my money," he suggested.
"You might lose it," objected Merle. "I better keep it for us."
The girl had transferred her remaining money to the pockets which, as a boy, she now possessed. Then she tried on the cap. But it proved to be the cap of Merle.
"No; you must take Wilbur's cap," he said, "because you got his clothes."
"And he can wear my hat," said the girl.
The Wilbur twin viciously affirmed that he would wear no girl's hat, yet was presently persuaded that he would, at least when he sneaked home. It was agreed by all finally that this would render him fairly a girl in the eyes of the world. But he would not yet wear it. He was beginning to hate this girl. He shot hostile glances at her as—with his cap on her head, her hands deep in the money-laden pockets—she swaggered and swanked before them.
"I'm Ben Blunt—I'm Ben Blunt," she muttered, hoarsely, and swung her shoulders and brandished her thin legs to prove it.
He laughed with scorn.
"Yes, you are!" he gibed. "Look at your hair! I guess Ben Blunt didn't have long girl's hair, did he—stringy old red hair?"
Her hands flew to her pigtail.
"My hair is not red," she told him. "It's just a decided blonde." Then she faltered, knowing full well that Ben Blunt's hair was not worn in a braid. "Of course I'm going to cut it off," she said. "Haven't you boys got a knife?"
They had a knife. It was Wilbur's, but Merle quite naturally took it from him and assumed charge of the ensuing operation. Wilbur Cowan had to stand by with no place to put his hands—a mere onlooker. Yet it was his practical mind that devised the method at last adopted, for the early efforts of his brother to sever the braid evoked squeals of pain from the patient. At Wilbur's suggestion she was backed up to the fence and the braid brought against a board, where it could be severed strand by strand. It was not neatly done, but it seemed to suffice. When the cap was once more adjusted, rather far back on the shorn head, even the cynical Wilbur had to concede that the effect was not bad. The severed braid, a bow of yellow ribbon at the end, now engaged the notice of its late owner.
"The officers of the law might trace me by it," she said, "so we must foil them."
"Tie a stone to it and sink it in the river," urged Wilbur.
"Hide it in those bushes," suggested Merle.
But the girl was inspired by her surroundings.
"Bury it!" she ordered.
The simple interment was performed. With the knife a shallow grave was opened close to the stone whereon old Jonas Whipple taunted the living that they were but mortal, and in it they laid the pigtail to its last rest, patting the earth above it and replacing the turf against possible ghouls.
Again the girl swaggered broadly before them, swinging her shoulders, flaunting her emancipated legs in a stride she considered masculine. Then she halted, hands in pockets, rocked easily upon heel and toe, and spat expertly between her teeth. For the first time she impressed the Wilbur twin, extorting his reluctant admiration. He had never been able to spit between his teeth. Still, there must be things she couldn't do.
"You got to smoke and chew and curse," he warned her.
"I won't, either! It says Ben Blunt was a sturdy lad of good habits. Besides, I could smoke if I wanted to. I already have. I smoked Harvey D.'s pipe."
"Who's Harvey D.?"
"My father. I smoked his pipe repeatedly."
"Well, I smoked it twice. That's repeatedly, ain't it? I'd have done it more repeatedly, but Miss Murtree sneaked in and made a scene."
"Did you swallow the smoke through your nose?"
"I—I guess so. It tasted way down on my insides."
Plainly there was something to the girl after all. The Wilbur twin here extracted from the dress pocket, to which he had transferred his few belongings, the half of something known to Newbern as a pennygrab. It was a slender roll of quite inferior dark tobacco, and the original purchaser had probably discarded it gladly. The present owner displayed it to the girl.
"I'll give you a part of this, and we'll light up."
"Well, I don't know. It says Ben Blunt was a sturdy lad of good——"
"I bet you never did smoke repeatedly!"
Her manhood was challenged.
"I'll show you!" she retorted, grim about the lips.
With his knife he cut the evil thing in fair halves. The girl received her portion with calmness, if not with gratitude, and lighted it from the match he gallantly held for her. And so they smoked. The Merle twin never smoked for two famous Puritan reasons—it was wrong for boys to smoke and it made him sick. He eyed the present saturnalia with strong disapproval. The admiration of the Wilbur twin—now forgetting his ignominy—was frankly worded. Plainly she was no common girl.
"I bet you'll be all right in the big city," he said.
"Of course I will," said the girl.
She spat between her teeth with a fine artistry. In truth she was spitting rather often, and had more than once seemed to strangle, but she held her weed jauntily between the first and second fingers and contrived an air of relish for it.
"Anyway," she went on, "it'll be better than here where I suffered so terribly with everybody making the vilest scenes about any little thing that happened. After they find it's too late they'll begin to wish they'd acted kinder. But I won't ever come back, not if they beg me to with tears streaming down their faces, after the vile way they acted; saying maybe I could have a baby brother after Harvey D. got that stepmother, but nothing was ever done about it, and just because I tried to hide Mrs. Wadley's baby that comes to wash, and then because I tried to get that gypsy woman's baby, because everyone knows they're always stealing other people's babies, and she made a vile scene, too, and everyone tortured me beyond endurance."
This was interesting. It left the twins wishing to ask questions.
"Did that stepmother beat you good?" again demanded Merle.
"Well, not the way Ben Blunt's stepmother did, but she wanted to know what I meant by it and all like that. Of course she's cruel. Don't you know that all stepmothers are cruel? Did you ever read a story about one that wasn't vile and cruel and often tried to leave the helpless children in the woods to be devoured by wolves? I should say not!"
"Where did you hide that Wadley baby?"
"Up in the storeroom in a nice big trunk, where I fixed a bed and everything for it, while its mother was working down in the laundry, and I thought they'd look a while and give it up, but this Mrs. Wadley is kind of simple-minded or something. She took on so I had to say maybe somebody had put it in this trunk where it could have a nice time. And this stepmother taking on almost as bad."
"Did you nearly get a gypsy woman's baby?"
"Nearly. They're camped in the woods up back of our place, and I went round to see their wagons, and the man had some fighting roosters that would fight anybody else's roosters, and they had horses to race, and the gypsy woman would tell the future lives of anybody and what was going to happen to them, and so I saw this lovely, lovely baby asleep on a blanket under some bushes, and probably they had stole it from some good family, so while they was busy I picked it up and run."
"Did they chase you?"
Wilbur Cowan was by now almost abject in his admiration of this fearless spirit.
"Not at first; but when I got up to our fence I heard some of 'em yelling like very fiends, and they came after me through the woods, but I got inside our yard, and the baby woke up and yelled like a very fiend, and Nathan Marwick came running out of our barn and says: 'What in time is all this?' And someone told folks in the house and out comes Harvey D.'s stepmother that he got married to, and Grandpa Gideon and Cousin Juliana that happened to be there, and all the gypsies rushed up the hill and everyone made the vilest scene and I had to give back this lovely baby to the gypsy woman that claimed it. You'd think it was the only baby in the wide world, the way she made a scene, and not a single one would listen to reason when I tried to explain. They acted simply crazy, that's all."
"Gee, gosh!" muttered the Wilbur twin. This was indeed a splendid and desperate character, and he paid her the tribute of honest envy. He wished he might have a cruel stepmother of his own, and so perhaps be raised to this eminence of infamy. "I bet they did something with you!" he said.
The girl waved it aside with a gesture of repugnance, as if some things were too loathsome for telling. He perceived that she had, like so many raconteurs, allowed her cigar to go out.
"Here's a match," he said, and courteously cupped his hands about its flame. The pennygrab seemed to have become incombustible, and the match died futilely. "That's my last match," he said.
"Maybe I better keep this till I get to the great city."
But he would not have it so.
"You can light it from mine," and he brought the ends of the two penny grabs together.
"First thing you know you'll be dizzy," warned the moralist, Merle.
"Ho, I will not!"
She laughed in scorn, and valiantly puffed on the noisome thing. Thus stood Ben Blunt and the Wilbur twin, their faces together about this business of lighting up; and thus stood the absorbed Merle, the moral perfectionist, earnestly hoping his words of warning would presently become justified. It did not seem right to him that others should smoke when it made him sick.
At last smoke issued from the contorted face of Ben Blunt, and some of this being swallowed, strangulation ensued. When the paroxysm of coughing was past the hero revealed running eyes, but the tears were of triumph, as was the stoic smile that accompanied them.
And then, while the reformer Merle awaited the calamity he had predicted, while Wilbur surrendered anew to infatuation for this intrepid soul that would dare any crime, while Ben Blunt rocked on spread feet, the glowing pennygrab cocked at a rakish angle, while, in short, vice was crowned and virtue abased, there rang upon the still air the other name of Ben Blunt in cold and fateful emphasis. The group stiffened with terror. Again the name sounded along those quiet aisles of the happy dead. The voice was one of authority—cool, relentless, awful.
"Patricia Whipple!" said the voice.
The twins knew it for the voice of Miss Juliana Whipple, who had remotely been a figure of terror to them even when voiceless. Juliana was thirty, tall, straight, with capable shoulders, above which rose her capable face on a straight neck. She wore a gray skirt and a waist of white, with a severely starched collar about her throat, and a black bow tie. Her straw hat was narrow of brim, banded with a black ribbon. Her steely eyes flashed from beneath the hat. Once before the twins had encountered her and her voice, and the results were blasting, though the occasion was happier. Indeed, the intention of Juliana had been wholly amiable, for it was at the picnic of the Methodist Sunday-school.
She came upon the twins in a fair dell, where they watched other children at a game, and she took very civil notice of them, saying, "How do you do, young gentlemen?" in deep, thrilling tones, and though they had been doing very well until that moment, neither of the twins had recovered strength to say so. To them she had been more formidable than a schoolteacher. Their throats had closed upon all utterance. Now as she faced them, a dozen feet away, even though the words "Patricia Whipple" applied to but one of their number, the twins took the challenge to themselves and quailed. They knew that deep and terrible voice menaced themselves as well as the late Ben Blunt—for that mere street urchin, blown upon by the winds of desolation, had shrivelled and passed. In his place drooped a girl in absurd boy's clothes, her hair messily cut off, smoking something she plainly did not wish to smoke. The stricken lily of vice drooped upon its stem.
One by one the three heads turned to regard the orator. How had she contrived that noiseless approach? How had she found them at all in this seclusion? The heads having turned to regard her, turned back and bowed in stony glares at the rich Whipple-nourished turf. They felt her come toward them; her shadow from the high sun blended with theirs. And again the voice, that fearsome organ on which she managed such dread effects:
"Patricia Whipple, what does this mean?"
She confronted them, a spare, grim figure, tall, authoritative, seeming to be old as Time itself. How were they to know that Juliana was still youthful, even attired youthfully, though by no means frivolously, or that her heart was gentle? She might, indeed, have danced to them as Columbine, and her voice would still have struck them with terror. She brought her deepest tones to those simple words, "What does this mean?" All at once it seemed to them that something had been meant, something absurd, monstrous, lawless, deserving a ghastly punishment.
The late Ben Blunt squirmed and bored a heel desperately into the turf above a Whipple whose troubles had ceased in 1828. She made a rough noise in her throat, but it was not informing. The Wilbur twin, forgetting his own plight, glanced warm encouragement to her.
"I guess she's got aright to run away," he declared, brazenly.
But in this burst of bravado he had taken too little account of his attire. He recalled it now, for the frosty gray eyes of Juliana ran about him and came to rest upon his own eyes. For the taut moment that he braved her glance it unaccountably seemed to him that the forbidding mouth of the woman twitched nervously into the beginning of a smile. It was a fleeting effect, but it did seem as if she had almost laughed, then caught herself. And there was a tremolo defect in the organ tone with which she now again demanded in blistering politeness, "May I ask what this means?"
The quick-thinking Merle twin had by now devised an exit from any complicity in whatever was meant. He saw his way out. He spoke up brightly and with no shadow of guilt upon his fair young face.
"I told her it was wrong for the young to smoke; it stunts their growth and leads to evil companions. But she wouldn't listen to me."
There was a nice regret in his tone.
Miss Juliana ignored him.
"Patricia!" she said, terribly.
But the late Ben Blunt, after the first devastating shock, had been recovering vitality for this ordeal.
"I don't care!" she announced. "I'll run away if I want to!" And again, bitterly, "I don't care!"
Juliana fairly bayed the words. She made running away seem to be something nice people never, never did.
"I don't care!" repeated the fugitive, dully.
There was a finality about it that gave Juliana pause. She had expected a crumpling, but the offender did not crumple. It seemed another tack must be taken.
"Indeed?" she inquired, almost cooingly. "And may I ask if this absurd young creature was to accompany you on your—your travels?" She indicated the gowned Wilbur, who would then have gone joyously to his reward, even as had Jonas Whipple. His look of dumb suffering would have stayed a judge less conscientious. "I presume this is some young lady of your acquaintance—one of your little girl friends," she continued, though it was plain to all that she presumed nothing of the sort.
"He is not!" The look of dumb suffering had stoutened one heart to new courage. "He's a very nice little boy, and he gave me these ragged clothes to run away in, and now he'll have to wear his Sunday clothes. And you know he's a boy as well as I do!"
"She made him take a lot of money for it," broke in the Merle twin. "I was afraid she wasn't doing right, but she wouldn't listen to me, so she gave him the money and I took charge of it for him."
He beamed virtuously at Miss Juliana, who now rewarded him with a hurried glance of approval. It seemed to Miss Juliana and to him that he had been on the side of law and order, condemning and seeking to dissuade the offenders from their vicious proceedings. He felt that he was a very good little boy, indeed, and that the tall lady was understanding it. He had been an innocent bystander.
Miss Juliana again eyed the skirted Wilbur, and the viewless wind of a smile's beginning blew across the lower half of her accusing face. Then she favoured the mere street urchin with a glance of extreme repugnance.
"I shall have to ask all of you to come with me," she said, terribly.
"Where to?" demanded the chief culprit.
"You know well enough."
This was all too true.
"Me?" demanded the upright Merle, as if there must have been some mistake. Surely no right-thinking person could implicate him in this rowdy affair!
"You, if you please," said Miss Juliana, but she smiled beautifully upon him. He felt himself definitely aligned with the forces of justice. He all at once wanted to go. He would go as an assistant prosecuting attorney.
"Not—not me?" stammered the stricken Wilbur.
"By all means—you!" Miss Juliana sharpened her tone She added, mysteriously: "It would be good without you—good, but not perfect."
"Now I guess you'll learn how to behave yourself in future!" admonished Merle, the preacher, and edged toward Miss Juliana as one withdrawing from contamination.
"Oh, not me!" pleaded the voice of Wilbur.
"I think you heard me," said Miss Juliana. "Come!"
She uttered "come" so that not mountains would have dared stay, much less a frightened little boy in a girl's dress. In his proper garb there had been instant and contemptuous flight. But the dress debased all his manly instincts. He came crawling, as the worm. The recent Ben Blunt pulled a cap over a shorn head and advanced stoically before the group.
"One moment," said Miss Juliana. "We seem to be forgetting something." She indicated the hat of Patricia Whipple lying on the ground near where smouldered the two ends of the abandoned pennygrab. "I think you might resume this, my dear, and restore the cap to its rightful owner." It was but a further play of her debased fancy. The mere street urchin was now decked in a girl's hat and a presumable girl wore an incongruous cap. "I will ask you two rare specimens to precede me," she said when the change was made. They preceded her.
"I don't care!" This was more bravado from the urchin.
"Well, don't you care!" Juliana said it, soothingly.
"I will, too, care!" retorted the urchin, betraying her sex.
"Will she take us to the jail?" whispered the trembling Wilbur.
"Worse!" said the girl. "She'll take us home!" Side by side they threaded an aisle between rows of the carefree dead, whom no malignant Miss Juliana could torture. Behind them marched their captor, Merle stepping blithely beside her.
"It's lovely weather for this time of year," they heard him say.
They came all too soon to a gate giving upon the public road and the world of the living who make remarks about strange sights they witness. Still it was a quiet street, and they were accorded no immediate reception. There stood the pony cart of Miss Juliana, and this, she made known, they were to enter. It was a lovely vehicle, drawn by a lovely fat pony, and the Wilbur twin had often envied those privileged to ride in it. Never had he dreamed so rich a treat could be his. Now it was to be his, but the thing was no longer a lovely pony cart; it was a tumbril—worse than a tumbril, for he was going to a fate worse than death.
The shameful skirt flopped about his bare legs as he awkwardly clambered into the rear seat beside the sex-muddled creature in a boy's suit and a girl's hat. Miss Juliana and the godly Merle in the front seat had very definitely drawn aloof from the outcasts. They chatted on matters at large in the most polite and social manner. They quite appeared to have forgotten that their equipage might attract the notice of the vulgar. When from time to time it actually did this the girl held her head brazenly erect and shot back stare for stare, but the Wilbur twin bowed low and suffered.
Sometimes it would merely be astounded adults who paused to regard them, to point canes or fingers at them. But again it would be the young who had never been disciplined to restrain their emotions in public. Some of these ran for a time beside the cart, with glad cries, their clear, ringing voices raised in comments of a professedly humorous character. Under Juliana's direction the cart did not progress too rapidly. At one crossing she actually stopped the thing until Ellis Bristow, who was blind, had with his knowing cane tapped a safe way across the street. The Wilbur twin at this moment frankly rejoiced in the infirmity of poor Ellis Bristow. It was sweet relief not to have him stop and stare and point. If given the power at this juncture he would have summarily blinded all the eyes of Newbern Center.
Up shaded streets they progressed, leaving a wake of purest joy astern. But at last they began the ascent of West Hill, that led to the Whipple New Place, leaving behind those streets that came alive at their approach. For the remainder of their dread progress they would elicit only the startled regard of an occasional adult farmer.
"What'll she do to us?" The Wilbur twin mumbled this under cover of sprightly talk from the front seat. His brother at the moment was boasting of his scholastic attainments. He had, it appeared, come on amazingly in long division.
"She won't do a thing!" replied his companion in shame. "Don't you be afraid!"
"I am afraid. But I wouldn't be afraid if I had my pants on again," explained the Wilbur twin, going accurately to the soul of his panic.
"I'll do it next time," said the girl. "I'll hurry. I won't stop at any old graveyard."
"Graveyard!" uttered the other, feelingly. "I should say not!" Never again was he to think of such places with any real pleasure.
"All she wants," explained the girl—"she wants to talk up in her nose like she was giving a lecture. She loves to. She'll make a vile scene."
Now they were through an imposing gate of masonry, and the pony languidly drew them along a wide driveway toward the Whipple mansion, an experience which neither of the twins had ever hoped to brave; but only one of them was deriving any pleasure from the social elevation. The Merle twin looked blandly over the wide expanse of lawn and flower beds and tenderly nursed shrubs, and then at the pile of red brick with its many windows under gay-striped awnings, and its surmounting white cupola, which he had often admired from afar. He glowed with rectitude. True, he suffered a brother lost to all sense of decent human values, but this could not dim the lustre of his own virtue or his pleasant suspicion that it was somehow going to be suitably rewarded. Was he not being driven by a grand-mannered lady up a beautiful roadway past millions of flowers and toward a wonderful house? It paid to be good.
The Wilbur twin had ceased to regard his surroundings. He gazed stolidly before him, nor made the least note of what his eyes rested upon. He was there, helpless. They had him!
The cart drew up beside steps leading to a wide porch shaded by a striped awning.
"Home at last," cooed Miss Juliana with false welcome.
A loutish person promptly abandoned a lawn mower in the near distance and came to stand by the head of the languid pony. He grinned horribly, and winked as the two figures descended from the rear of the cart. For a moment, halting on the first of the steps, the Wilbur twin became aware that just beyond him, almost to be grasped, was a veritable rainbow curved above a whirling lawn sprinkler. And he had learned that a rainbow is a thing of gracious promise. But probably they have to be natural rainbows; probably you don't get anything out of one you make yourself. Even as he looked, the shining omen vanished, somewhere shut off by an unseen power.
"This way, please," called Miss Juliana, cordially, and he followed her guiltily up the steps to the shaded porch.
The girl had preceded her. The Merle twin lingered back of them, shocked, austere, deprecating, and yet somehow bland withal, as if these little affairs were not without their compensating features.
The bowed Wilbur twin was startled by a gusty torrent of laughter. With torturing effort, he raised his eyes to a couple of elderly male Whipples. One sat erect on a cushioned bench, and one had lain at ease in a long, low thing of wicker. It was this one who made the ill-timed and tasteless demonstration that was still continuing. Ultimately the creature lost all tone from his laughter. It went on, soundless but uncannily poignant. Such was the effect that the Wilbur twin wondered if his own ears had been suddenly deafened. This Whipple continued to shake silently. The other, who had not laughed, whose face seemed ill-modelled for laughing, nevertheless turned sparkling eyes from under shelving brows upon Juliana and said in words stressed with emotion: "My dear, you have brightened my whole day."
The first Whipple, now recovered from his unseemly paroxysm, sat erect to study the newcomers in detail. He was a short, round-chested man with a round moon face marked by heavy brows like those of the other. He had fat wrists and stout, blunt fingers. With a stubby thumb he now pushed up the outer ends of the heavy brows as if to heighten the power of his vision for this cherished spectacle.
"I seem to recognize the lad," he murmured as if in privacy to his own hairy ears. "Surely I've seen the rascal about the place, perhaps helping Nathan at the stable; but that lovely little girl—I've not had the pleasure of meeting her before. Come, sissy"—he held out blandishing arms—"come here, Totte, and give the old man a kiss."
Could hate destroy, these had been the dying words of Sharon Whipple. But the Wilbur twin could manage only a sidelong glare insufficient to slay. His brother giggled until he saw that he made merry alone.
"What? Bless my soul, the minx is sulky!" roared the wit.
The other Whipple intervened.
"What was our pride and our joy bent upon this time?" he suavely demanded. "I take it you've thwarted her in some new plot against the public tranquillity."
"The young person you indicate," said Juliana, "was about to leave her home forever—going out to live her own life away from these distasteful surroundings."
"So soon? We should be proud of her! At that tender age, going out to make a name for herself!"
"I gather from this very intelligent young gentleman here that she had made the name for herself before even starting."
"It was Ben Blunt," remarked the young gentleman, helpfully.
"Hey!" Sharon Whipple affected dismay. "Then what about this young girl at his side? Don't tell me she was luring him from his home here?"
"It will surprise you to know," said Juliana in her best style, "that this young girl before you is not a girl."
Both Whipples ably professed amazement.
"Not a girl?" repeated the suave Whipple incredulously. "You do amaze me, Juliana! Not a girl, with those flower-like features, those starry eyes, that feminine allure? Preposterous! And yet, if he is not a girl he is, I take it, a boy."
"A boy who incited the light of our house to wayward courses by changing clothes with her."
The harsher Whipple spoke here in a new tone.
"Then she browbeat him into it. Scissors and white aprons—yes, I know her!"
"He didn't seem browbeaten. They were smoking quite companionably when I chanced upon them."
"Smoking! Our angel child smoking!"
This from Sharon Whipple in tones that every child present knew as a mere pretense of horror. Juliana shrugged cynically.
"They always go to the bad after they leave their nice homes," she said.
"Children should never smoke till they are twenty-one, and then they get a gold watch for it," interjected the orator, Merle. He had felt that he was not being made enough of. "It's bad for their growing systems," he added.
"And this?" asked Gideon Whipple, indicating the moralist.
"The brother of that"—Juliana pointed. "He did his best in the way of advice, I gather, but neither of the pair would listen to him. He seems to be safely conservative, but not to have much influence over his fellows."
"Willing to talk about it, though," said Sharon Whipple, pointedly.
The girl now glowered at each of them in turn.
"I don't care!" she muttered. "I will, too, run away! You see!"
"It's what they call a fixed idea," explained Juliana. "She doesn't care and she will, too, run away. But where is Mrs. Harvey?"
"Poor soul!" murmured Sharon. "Think what a lot she's missed already! Do call her, my dear!"
Juliana stepped to the doorway and called musically into the dusky hall: "Mrs. Harvey! Mrs. Harvey! Come quickly, please! We have something lovely to show you!"
The offenders were still to be butchered to make a Whipple holiday.
"Coming!" called a high voice from far within.
The Wilbur twin sickeningly guessed this would be the cruel stepmother. Real cruelty would now begin. Beating, most likely. But when, a moment later, she stood puzzling in the doorway, he felt an instant relief. She did not look cruel. She was not even bearded. She was a plump, meekly prettyish woman with a quick, flustered manner and a soft voice. She brought something the culprits had not found in their other judges.
"Why, you poor, dear, motherless thing!" she cried when she had assured herself of the girl's identity, and with this she enfolded her. "I'd like to know what they've been doing to my pet!" she declared, aggressively.
"The pet did it all to herself," explained Gideon Whipple.
"I will, too, run away!" affirmed the girl, though some deeper conviction had faded from the threat.
"Still talking huge high," said Sharon. "But at your age, my young friend, running away is overchancy." Mrs. Harvey Whipple ignored this.
"Of course you will—run away all you like," she soothed. "It's good for people to run away." Then she turned amazingly to the Wilbur twin and spoke him fair as a fellow human. "And who is this dear little boy? I just know he was kind enough to change clothes with you so you could run away better! And here you're keeping him in that dress when you ought to know it makes him uncomfortable—doesn't it, little boy?"
The little boy movingly ogled her with a sidelong glance of gratitude for what at the moment seemed to be the first kind words he had ever heard.
"You have her give me back my pants!" said he. Then for the first time he faced his inquisitors eye to eye. "I want my own pants!" he declared, stoutly. Man spoke to man there, and both the male Whipples stirred guiltily; feeling base, perhaps, that mere sex loyalty had not earlier restrained them.
"Indeed, you blessed thing, you shall have them this moment!" said the cruel stepmother. "You two march along with me."
"And not keep them till Harvey D. comes home?" It was the implacable Juliana.
"Well"—Mrs. Harvey considered—"I'm sure he would adore to see the little imps, but really they can't stand it any longer, can you, dears? It would be bad for their nerves. We'll have to be satisfied with telling him. Come along quickly!"
"I will, too, run away!"
The girl flung it over her shoulder as she swaggered into the hall. The Wilbur twin trod incessantly on her heels.
"Wants his pants!" murmured Sharon Whipple. "Prunes and apricots! Wants his pants!"
"Mistake ever to part with 'em," observed Gideon. "Of course she browbeat him."
"My young friend here tells me she bribed him," explained Juliana.
"She gave him a lot of money and I'm keeping it for him," said her self-possessed young friend, and he indicated bulging pockets.
"Looted her bank," said Juliana.
"Forehanded little tike," said Sharon, admiringly. "And smart! She can outsmart us all any day in the week!"
* * * * *
In a dim upper bedroom in the big house Wilbur Cowan divested himself of woman's raiment for probably the last time in his life. He hurried more than he might have, because the room was full of large, strange, terrifying furniture. It was a place to get out of as soon as he could. Two buttons at the back of the dress he was unable to reach, but this trifling circumstance did not for more than a scant second delay his release. Then his own clothes were thrust in to him by the stepmother, who embarrassingly lingered to help him button his own waist with the faded horseshoes to the happily restored pants.
"There, there!" she soothed when he was again clad as a man child, and amazingly she kissed him.
Still tingling from this novel assault, he was led by the woman along a dim corridor to a rear stairway. Down this they went, along another corridor to a far door. She brought him to rest in a small, meagrely furnished but delightfully scented room. It was scented with a general aroma of cooked food, and there were many shelves behind glass doors on which dishes were piled. A drawer was opened, and almost instantly in his ready hands was the largest segment of yellow cake he had ever beheld. He had not dreamed that pieces of cake for human consumption could be cut so large. And it was lavishly gemmed with fat raisins. He held it doubtfully.
"Let's look again," said the preposterous woman. She looked again, pushing by a loose-swinging door to do it, and returned with a vast area of apple pie, its outer curve a full ninety degrees of the circle. "Now eat!" said the woman.
She was, indeed, a remarkable woman. She had not first asked him if he were hungry.
"I'm much obliged for my pants and this cake and pie," said the boy, so the woman said, "Yes, yes," and hugged him briefly as he ate.
Not until he had consumed the last morsel of these provisions and eke a bumper of milk did the woman lead him back to that shaded porch where he had lately been put to the torture. But now he was another being, clad not only as became a man among men but inwardly fortified by food. If stepmothers were like this he wished his own father would find one. The girl with her talk about cruelty—he still admired her, but she must be an awful liar. He faced the tormenting group on the porch with almost faultless self-possession. He knew they could not hurt him.
"Well, well, well!" roared Sharon Whipple, meaning again to be humorous. But the restored Wilbur eyed him coldly, with just a faint curiosity that withered the humorist in him. "Well, well!" he repeated, but in dry, businesslike tones, as if he had not meant to be funny in the first place.
"I guess we'll have to be going now," said the Wilbur twin. "And we must leave all that money. It wouldn't be honest to take it now."
The Merle twin at this looked across at him with marked disfavour.
"Nonsense!" said Miss Juliana.
"Nonsense!" said Sharon Whipple.
"Take it, of course!" said Gideon Whipple.
"He's earned it fairly," said Juliana. She turned to Merle. "Give it to him," she directed.
This was not as Merle would have wished. If the money had been earned he was still willing to take care of it, wasn't he?
"A beggarly pittance for what he did," said Gideon Whipple, warmly.
"Wouldn't do it myself for twice the amount, whatever it is," said Sharon.
Very slowly, under the Whipple regard, the Merle twin poured the price of his brother's shame into his brother's cupped hands. The brother felt religious at this moment. He remembered seriously those things they told you in Sunday-school—about a power above that watches over us and makes all come right. There must be something in that talk.
The fiscal transaction was completed. The twins looked up to become aware that their late confederate surveyed them from the doorway. Her eyes hinted of a recent stormy past, but once more she was decorously apparelled.
"Your little guests are leaving," said the stepmother. "You must bid them good-bye."
Her little guests became statues as the girl approached them.
"So glad you could come," she said, and ceremoniously shook the hand of each. The twins wielded arms rigid from the shoulder, shaking twice down and twice up. "It has been so pleasant to have you," said the girl.
"We've had a delightful time," said the Merle twin.
The other tried to echo this, but again his teeth were tightly locked, and he made but a meaningless squeak far back in his throat. He used this for the beginning of a cough, which he finished with a decent aplomb.
"You must come again," said the girl, mechanically.
"We shall be so glad to," replied the Merle twin, glancing a bright farewell to the group.
The other twin was unable to glance intelligently at any one. His eyes were now glazed. He stumbled against his well-mannered brother and heavily descended the steps.
"You earned your money!" called Sharon Whipple.
The Wilbur twin was in advance, and stayed so as they trudged down the roadway to the big gate. With his first free breath he had felt his importance as the lawful possessor of limitless wealth.
"Bright little skeesicks," said Sharon Whipple.
"But the brother is really remarkable," said Gideon—"so well-mannered, so sure of himself. He has quite a personality."
"Other has the gumption," declared Sharon.
"I've decided to have one of them for my brother," announced the girl.
"Indeed?" said Gideon.
"Well, everybody said I might have a brother, but nobody does anything about it. I will have one of those. I think the nice one that doesn't smoke."
"Poor motherless pet!" murmured the stepmother, helplessly.
"A brother is not what you need most at this time," broke in Juliana. "It's a barber."
* * * * *
Down the dusty road over West Hill went the twins, Wilbur still forcefully leading. His brother was becoming uneasy. There was a strange light in the other's eyes, an unwonted look of power. When they were off the hill and come to the upper end of shaded Fair Street, Merle advanced to keep pace beside his brother. The latter's rate of speed had increased as they neared the town.
"Hadn't I better take care of our money for us?" he at last asked in a voice oily with solicitude.
The "sir" was weighted with so heavy an emphasis that the tactful Merle merely said "Oh!" in a hurt tone.
"I can take care of my own money for me," added the speeding capitalist, seeming to wish that any possible misconception as to the ownership of the hoard might be definitely removed.
"Oh," said Merle again, this being all that with any dignity he could think of to say. They were now passing the quiet acre that had been the scene of the morning's unpleasantness. Their pails, half filled with berries, were still there, but the strangely behaving Wilbur refused to go for them. He eyed the place with disrelish. He would not again willingly approach that spot where he had gone down into the valley of shame. Reminded that the pails were not theirs, he brutally asked what did he care, adding that he could buy a million pails if he took a notion to. But presently he listened to reason, and made reasonable proposals. The Merle twin was to go back to the evil place, salvage the pails, leave them at the Penniman house, and hasten to a certain confectioner's at the heart of the town, where a lavish reward would be at once his. After troubled reflection he consented, and they went their ways. The Merle twin sped to the quiet nook where Jonas Whipple had been put away in 1828, and sped away from there as soon as he had the pails. Not even did he bend a moment above the little new-made grave where lay a part of all that was mortal of Patricia Whipple. He disliked graveyards on principle, and he wished his reward.
Wilbur Cowan kept his quick way down Fair Street. He had been lifted to pecuniary eminence, and incessantly the new wealth pressed upon his consciousness. The markets of the world were at his mercy. There were shop windows outside which he had long been compelled to linger in sterile choosing. Now he could enter and buy, and he was in a hurry to be at it. Something warned him to seize his golden moment on the wing. The day was Saturday, and he was pleasantly thrilled by the unwonted crowds on River Street, which he now entered. Farm horses were tethered thickly along hitching racks and shoppers thronged the marts of trade. He threaded a way among them till he stood before the establishment of Solly Gumble, confectioner. It brought him another thrill that the people all about should be unaware of his wealth—he, laden with unsuspected treasure that sagged cool and heavy on either thigh, while they could but suppose him to be a conventionally impoverished small boy.
He tried to be cool—to calculate sanely his first expenditure. But he contrived an air of careless indecision as he sauntered through the portals of the Gumble place and lingered before the counter of choicest sweets, those so desirable that they must be guarded under glass from a loftily sampling public.
"Two of those and two of those and one of them!"
It was his first order, and brought him, for five cents, two cocoanut creams, two candied plums, and a chocolate mouse. He stood eating these while he leisurely surveyed the neighbouring delicacies. Vaguely in his mind was the thought that he might buy the place and thereafter keep store. His cheeks distended by the chocolate mouse and the last of the cocoanut creams, he now bartered for a candy cigar. It was of brown material, at the blunt end a circle of white for the ash and at its centre a brilliant square of scarlet paper for the glow, altogether a charming feat of simulation, perhaps the most delightful humoresque in all confectionery. It was priced at two cents, but what was money now?
Then, his eye roving to the loftier shelves, he spied remotely above him a stuffed blue jay mounted on a varnished branch of oak. This was not properly a part of the Gumble stock; it was a fixture, technically, giving an air to the place from its niche between two mounting rows of laden shelves.
"How much for that beautiful bird for my father?" demanded the nouveau riche.
His words were blurred by the still-resistant chocolate mouse, and he was compelled to point before Solly Gumble divined his wish. The merchant debated, removing his skullcap, smoothing his grizzled fringe of curls, fitting the cap on again deliberately. Then he turned to survey the bird, seemingly with an interest newly wakened. It was indeed a beautiful bird, brilliantly blue, with sparkling eyes; a bit dusty, but rarely desirable. The owner had not meant to part with it; still, trade was trade. He meditated, tapping his cheek with a pencil.
"How much for that beautiful bird for my father?"
He had swallowed strenuously and this time got out the words cleanly.
"Well, now, I don't hardly know. My Bertha had her cousin give her that bird. It's a costly bird. I guess you couldn't pay such a price. I guess it would cost a full half dollar, mebbe."
He had meant the price to be prohibitive, and it did shock the questioner, opulent though he was.
"Well, mebbe I will and mebbe I won't," he said, importantly. "Say, you keep him for me till I make my mind up. If anybody else comes along, don't you sell him to anybody else till I tell you, because prob'ly I'll simply buy him. My father, he loves animals."
Solly Gumble was impressed.
"Well, he's a first-class animal. He's been in that one place goin' on five years now."
"Give me two of those and two of those and one of them," said the Wilbur twin, pointing to new heart's desires.
"Say, now, you got a lot of money for a little boy," said Solly Gumble, not altogether at ease. This might be a case of embezzlement such as he had before known among his younger patrons. "You sure it's yours—yes?"
"Ho!" The Wilbur twin scorned the imputation. He was not going to tell how he had earned this wealth, but the ease of his simple retort was enough for the practical psychologist before him. "I could buy all the things in this store if I wanted to," he continued, and waved a patronizing hand to the shelves. "Give me two of those and two of those and one of them."
Solly Gumble put the latest purchase in a paper bag. Here was a patron worth conciliating. The patron sauntered to the open door to eat of his provender with lordly ease in the sight of an envious world. Calmly elate, on the cushion of advantage, he scanned the going and coming of lesser folk who could not buy at will of Solly Gumble. His fortune had gone to his head, as often it has overthrown the reason of the more mature indigent. It was thus his brother found him, and became instantly troubled at what seemed to be the insane glitter of his eyes.
He engulfed an entire chocolate mouse from his sticky left hand and with his right proffered the bag containing two of those and two of those and one of them. Merle accepted the boon silently. He was thrilled, yet distrustful. Until now his had been the leading mind, but his power was gone. He resented this, yet was sensible that no resentment must be shown. His talent as a tactician was to be sorely tested. He gently tried out this talent.
"Winona says you ought to come home to dinner."
The magnate replied as from another world.
"I couldn't eat a mouthful," he said, and crowded a cocoanut cream into an oral cavity already distended by a chocolate mouse.
"She says, now, you should save your money and buy some useful thing with it," again ventured the parasite. It was the sign of a nicely sensed acumen that he no longer called it "our" money.
"Ho! Gee, gosh!" spluttered the rich one, and that was all.
"What we going to have next?" demanded the wise one.
"I'll have to think up something." He did not invite suggestions and none were offered. Merle nicely sensed the arrogance of the newly rich. "I know," said the capitalist at length—"candy in a lemon."
"One for each?"
"Of course!" It was no time for petty economies.
Solly Gumble parted with two lemons and two sticks of spirally striped candy of porous fabric. Then the moneyed gourmet dared a new flight.
"Two more sticks," he commanded. "You suck one stick down, then you put another in the same old lemon," he explained.
"I must say!" exclaimed Merle. It was a high moment, but he never used strong language.
When the candy had been imbedded in the lemons they sauntered out to the street, Merle meekly in the rear, the master mind still coerced by brute wealth. They paused before other shop windows, cheeks hollowed above the savory mechanism invented by Patricia Whipple. Down one side of River Street to its last shop, and up the other, they progressed haltingly. At many of the windows the capitalist displayed interest only of the most academic character. At others he made sportive threats. Thus before the jewellery shop of Rapp Brothers he quite unnerved Merle by announcing that he could buy everything in that window if he wanted to—necklaces and rings and pins and gold watches—and he might do this. If, say, he did buy that black marble clock with the prancing gold horse on it, would Merle take it home for him? He had no intention of buying this object—he had never found clocks anything but a source of annoyance—but he toyed with the suggestion when he saw that it agitated his brother. Thereafter at other windows he wilfully dismayed his brother by pretending to consider the purchase of objects in no sense desirable to any one, such as boots, parasols, manicure sets, groceries, hardware. He played with the feel of his wealth, relishing the power it gave him over the moneyless.
And then purely to intensify this thrill of power he actually purchased at the hardware shop and carelessly bestowed upon the mendicant brother an elaborate knife with five blades and a thing which the vender said was to use in digging stones out of horses' feet. Merle was quite overcome by this gift, and neither of them suspected it to be the first step in the downfall of the capitalist. The latter, be it remembered, had bought and bestowed the knife that he might feel more acutely his power over this penniless brother, and this mean reward was abundantly his. Never before had he felt superior to the Merle twin.
But the penalties of giving are manifold, and he now felt a novel glow of sheer beneficence. He was a victim to the craze for philanthropy. Too young to realize its insidious character, he was to embark upon a ruinous career. Ever it is the first step that costs. That carelessly given knife—with something to dig stones out of a horse's foot—was to wipe out, ere night again shrouded Newbern Center, a fortune supposed to be as lasting as the eternal hills that encircled it.
They again crossed River Street, and stopped in front of the Cut-Rate Pharmacy. The windows of this establishment offered little to entice save the two mammoth chalices of green and crimson liquor. But these were believed to be of fabulous value. Even the Cut-Rate Pharmacy itself could afford but one of each. Inside the door a soda fountain hissed provocatively. They took lemon and vanilla respectively, and the lordly purchaser did not take up his change from the wet marble until he had drained his glass. He had become preoccupied. He was mapping out a career of benevolence, splendid, glittering, ostentatious—ruinous.
In a show case near the soda fountain his eye rested upon an object of striking beauty, a photograph album of scarlet plush with a silver clasp, and lest its purpose be misconstrued the word "Album" writ in purest silver across its front. Negotiations resulting in its sale were brief. The Merle twin was aghast, for the cost of this thing was a dollar and forty-nine cents. Even the buyer trembled when he counted out the price in small silver and coppers. But the result was a further uplift raising him beyond the loudest call of caution. The album was placed in the ornate box—itself no mean bibelot—and wrapped in paper.
"It's for Winona," the purchaser loftily explained to his white-faced brother.
"I must say!" exclaimed the latter, strongly moved.
"I'm going to buy a beautiful present for every one," added the now fatuous giver.
"Every one!" It was all Merle could manage, and even it caused him to gulp.
"Every one," repeated the hopeless addict.
And even as he said it he was snared again, this time by an immense advertising placard propped on the counter. It hymned the virtues of the Ajax Invigorator. To the left sagged a tormented male victim of many ailments meticulously catalogued below, but in too fine print for offhand reading by one in a hurry. The frame of the sufferer was bent, upheld by a cane, one hand poignantly resting on his back. The face was drawn with pain and despair. "For twenty years I suffered untold agonies," this person was made to confess in large print. It was heartrending. But opposite the moribund wretch was a figure of rich health, erect, smartly dressed, with a full, smiling face and happy eyes. Surprisingly this was none other than the sufferer. One could hardly have believed them the same, but so it was. "The Ajax Invigorator made a new man of me," continued the legend. There were further details which seemed negligible to the philanthropist, because the pictured hero of the invigorator already suggested Judge Penniman, the ever-ailing father of Winona. The likeness was not wholly fanciful. True, the judge was not so abject as the first figure, but then he was not so obtrusively vigorous as the second.
"A bottle of that," said Wilbur, and pointed to the card.
The druggist thrust out a bottle already wrapped in a printed cover, and the price, as became a cut-rate pharmacy, proved to be ninety-eight cents.
A wish was now expressed that the advertising placard might also be taken in order that Judge Penniman might see just what sort of new man the invigorator would make of him. But this proved impracticable; the placard must remain where it stood for the behoof of other invalids. But there were smaller portraits of the same sufferer, it seemed, in the literature inclosing the bottle. It was the Merle twin who carried the purchases as they issued from the pharmacy. This was fitting, inevitable. The sodden philanthropist must have his hands free to spend more money.
They rested again at the Gumble counter—and now they were not alone. The acoustics of the small town are faultless, and the activities of this spendthrift had been noised abroad. To the twins, as two of those and two of those and one of them were being ordered, came four other boys to linger cordially by and assist in the selections. Hospitality was not gracefully avoidable. The four received candy cigars and became mere hangers-on of the rich, lost to all self-respect, fawning, falsely solicitous, brightly expectant. Chocolate mice were next distributed. The four guests were now so much of the party as to manifest quick hostility to a fifth boy who had beamingly essayed to be numbered among them. They officiously snubbed and even covertly threatened this fifth boy, who none the less lingered very determinedly by the host, and was presently rewarded with sticky largesse; whereupon he was accepted by the four, and himself became hostile to another aspirant.
But mere candy began to cloy—Solly Gumble had opened the second box of chocolate mice—and the host even abandoned his reenforced lemon, which was promptly communized by the group. He tried to think of something to eat that wouldn't be candy, whereupon mounted in his mind the pyramid of watermelons a block down the street before the Bon Ton Grocery.
"We'll have a watermelon," he announced in tones of quiet authority, and his cohorts gurgled applause.
They pressed noisily about him as he went to the Bon Ton. They remembered a whale of a melon they had seen there, and said they would bet he never had enough money to buy that one. Maybe he could buy a medium-sized one, but not that. All of them kept a repellent manner for any passing boy who might be selfishly moved to join them. The spendthrift let them babble, preserving a rather grim silence. The whale of a melon was indeed a noble growth, and its price was thirty-five cents. The announcement of this caused a solemn hush to fall upon the sycophants; a hush broken by the cool, masterful tones of their host.
"I'll take her," he said, and paid the fearful price from a still weighty pocket. To the stoutest of the group went the honour of bearing off the lordly burden. They turned into a cool alley that led to the rear of the shops. Here in comparative solitude the whale of a melon could be consumed and the function be unmarred by the presence of volunteer guests.
"Open her," ordered the host, and the new knife was used to open her.
She proved to be but half ripe, but her size was held to atone for this defect. A small, unripe melon would have been returned to the dealer with loud complaining, but it seemed to be held that you couldn't expect everything from one of this magnitude. It was devoured to the rind, after which the convives reclined luxuriously upon a mound of excelsior beside an empty crate.
"Penny grabs!" cried the host with a fresh inspiration, and they cheered him.
One of the five volunteered to go for them and the money-drunken host confided the price of three of them to him. The messenger honorably returned, the pennygrabs were bisected with the new knife, and all of them but Merle smoked enjoyably. He, going back to his candy and lemon, admonished each and all that smoking would stunt their growth. It seemed not greatly to concern any of them. They believed Merle implicitly, but what cared they?
Now the messenger in buying the pennygrabs had gabbled wildly to another boy of the sensational expenditures under way, and this boy, though incredulous, now came to a point in the alley from which he could survey the fed group. The remains of the whale of a melon were there to convince him. They were trifling remains, but they sufficed, and the six fuming halves of pennygrabs were confirmatory. The scout departed rapidly, to return a moment later with two other boys. One of the latter led a dog.
The three newcomers, with a nice observance of etiquette, surveyed the revellers from a distance. Lacking decent provocation, they might not approach a group so plainly engaged upon affairs of its own—unless they went aggressively, and this it did not yet seem wise to do. The revellers became self-conscious under this scrutiny. They were moved to new displays of wealth.
"I smelled 'em cookin' bologna in the back room of Hire's butcher shop," remarked the bringer of the pennygrabs. "It smelt grand."
The pliant host needed no more. He was tinder to such a spark.
"Get a quarter's worth, Howard," and the slave bounded off, to return with a splendid rosy garland of the stuff, still warm and odorous.
Again the new knife of Merle was used. The now widely diffused scent of bologna reached the three watchers, and appeared to madden one of them beyond any restraint of good manners. He sauntered toward them, pretending not to notice the banquet until he was upon it. He was a desperate-appearing fellow—dark, saturnine, with a face of sullen menace.
"Give us a hunk," he demanded.
He should have put it more gently. He should have condescended a little to the amenities, for his imperious tone at once dried a generous spring of philanthropy. He was to regret this lack of a mere superficial polish that would have cost him nothing.
"Ho! Go buy it like we did!" retorted the host, crisply.
"Is that so?" queried the newcomer with rising warmth.
"Yes, sat's so!"
"Who says it's so?"
"I say it's so!"
This was seemingly futile; seemingly it got them nowhere, for the newcomer again demanded: "Is that so?"
They seemed to have followed a vicious circle. But in reality they were much farther along, for the mendicant had carelessly worked himself to a point where he could reach for the half circle of bologna still undivided, and the treasure was now snatched from this fate by the watchful legal owner.
"Hold that!" he commanded one of his creatures, and rose quickly to his feet.
"Is that so?" repeated the unimaginative newcomer.
"Yes, that's so!" affirmed the Wilbur twin once again.
"I guess I got as much right here as you got!"
This was a shifty attempt to cloud the issue. No one had faintly questioned his right to be there.
"Ho! Gee, gosh!" snapped the Wilbur twin, feeling vaguely that this was irrelevant talk.
"Think you own this whole town, don't you?" demanded the aggressor.
"Ho! I guess I own it as much as what you do!"
The Wilbur twin knew perfectly that this was not the true issue, yet he felt compelled to accept it.
"For two beans I'd punch you in the eye."
"Oh, you would, would you?" Each of the disputants here took a step backward.
"Yes, I would, would you!" This was a try at mockery.
"Yes, you would not!"
"Yes, I would!"
"You're a big liar!"
The newcomer at this betrayed excessive rage.
"What's that? You just say that again!" He seemed unable to believe his shocked ears.
"You heard what I said—you big liar, liar, liar!"
"You take that back!"
Here the newcomer flourished clinched fists and began to prance. The Wilbur twin crouched, but was otherwise motionless. The newcomer continued to prance alarmingly and to wield his arms as if against an invisible opponent. Secretly he had no mind to combat. His real purpose became presently clear. It was to intimidate and confuse until he should be near enough the desired delicacy to snatch it and run. He was an excellent runner. His opponent perceived this—the evil glance of desire and intention under all the flourish of arms. Something had to be done. Without warning he leaped upon the invader and bore him to earth. There he punched, jabbed, gouged, and scratched as they writhed together. A moment of this and the prostrate foe was heard to scream with the utmost sincerity. The Wilbur twin was startled, but did not relax his hold.
"You let me up from here!" the foe was then heard to cry.
The Wilbur twin watchfully rose from his mount, breathing heavily. He seized his cap and drew it tightly over dishevelled locks.
"I guess that'll teach you a good lesson!" he warned when he had breath for it.
The vanquished Hun got to his feet, one hand over an eye. He was abundantly blemished and his nose bled. His sense of dignity had been outraged and his head hurt.
"You get the hell and gone out of here!" shouted the Wilbur twin, quite as if he did own the town.
"I must say! Cursing and swearing!" shrilled the Merle twin, but none heeded him.
The repulsed enemy went slowly to the corner of the alley. Here he turned to recover a moment of dignity.
"You just wait till I catch you out some day!" he roared back with gestures meant to terrify. But this was his last flash. He went on his way, one hand still to the blighted eye.
Now it developed that the two boys who had waited the Hun had profited cunningly by the brawl. They had approached at its beginning—a fight was anybody's to watch—they had applauded its denouement with shrill and hearty cries, and they now felicitated the victor.
"Aw, that old Tod McNeil thinks he can fight!" said one, and laughed in harsh derision.
"I bet this kid could lick him any day in the week!" observed his companion.
This boy, it was now seen, led a dog on a rope, a half-grown dog that would one day be large. He was now heavily clad in silken wool of richly mixed colours—brown, yellow, and bluish gray—and his eyes were still the pale blue of puppyhood.
Both newcomers had learned the unwisdom of abrupt methods of approaching this wealthy group. They conducted themselves with modesty; they were polite, even servile, saying much in praise of the warrior twin. The one with the dog revealed genius for this sort of thing, and insisted on feeling the warrior's muscle. The flexed bicep appeared to leave him aghast at its hardness and immensity. He insisted that his companion should feel it, too.
"Have some bologna?" asked the warrior. He would doubtless have pressed bologna now on Tod McNeil had that social cull stayed by.
"Oh!" said the belated guests, surprised at the presence of bologna thereabouts.
They uttered profuse thanks for sizable segments of the now diminished circle. It was then that the Wilbur twin took pleased notice of the dog. He was a responsive animal, grateful for notice from any one. Receiving a morsel of the bologna he instantly engulfed it and overwhelmed the giver with rough but hearty attentions.
"Knows me already," said the now infatuated Wilbur.
"Sure he does!" agreed the calculating owner. "He's a smart dog. He's the smartest dog ever I see, and I seen a good many dogs round this town."
"Have some more bologna," said Wilbur.
"Thanks," said the dog owner, "just a mite."
The dog, receiving another bit, gave further signs of knowing the donor. No cynic was present to intimate that the animal would instantly know any giver of bologna.
"What's his name?" demanded Wilbur.
The owner hesitated. He had very casually acquired the animal but a few hours before; he now attached no value to him, and was minded to be rid of him, nor had the dog to his knowledge any name whatever.
"His name is Frank," he said, his imagination being slow to start.
"Here, Frank! Here, Frank!" called Wilbur, and the dog leaped for more bologna.
"See, he knows his name all right," observed the owner, pridefully.
"I bet you wouldn't sell him for anything," suggested Wilbur.
"Sell good old Frank?" The owner was painfully shocked. "No, I couldn't hardly do that," he said more gently. "He's too valuable. My little sister just worships him."
The other guests were bored at this hint of commerce. They had no wish to see good money spent for a dog that no one could eat.
"He don't look to me like so much of a dog," remarked one of these. "He looks silly to me."
The owner stared at the speaker unpleasantly.
"Oh, he does, does he? I guess that shows what you know about dogs. If you knew so much about 'em like you say I guess you'd know this kind always does look that way. It's—it's the way they look," he floundered, briefly, but recovered. "That's how you can tell 'em," he concluded.
The Wilbur twin was further impressed, though he had not thought the dog looked silly at all.
"I'll give you a quarter for him," he declared bluntly.
There was a sensation among the guests. Some of them made noises to show that they would regard this as a waste of money. But the owner was firm.
"Huh! I bet they ain't money enough in this whole crowd to buy that dog, even if I was goin' to sell him!"
The wishful Wilbur jingled coins in both pockets.
"I guess he wouldn't be much of a fighting dog," he said.
"Fight!" exploded the owner. "You talk about fight! Say, that's all he is—just a fighter! He eats 'em alive, that's all he does—eats 'em!" This was for some of them not easy at once to believe, for the dog's expression was one of simpering amiability. The owner seemed to perceive this discrepancy. "He looks peaceful, but you git him mad once, that's all! He's that kind—you got to git him mad first." This sounded reasonable, at least to the dog's warmest admirer.
"Yes, sir," continued the owner, "you'll be goin' along the street with George here—"
"George who?" demanded a skeptical guest.
For a moment the owner was disconcerted.
"Well, Frank is his right name, only my little sister calls him George sometimes, and I get mixed. Anyway, you'll be goin' along the street with Frank and another dog'll come up and he's afraid of Frank and mebbe he'll just kind of clear his throat or something on account of feeling nervous and not meaning anything, but Frank'll think he's growling, and that settles it. Eats 'em alive! I seen some horrible sights, I want to tell you!"