Penrod and Sam – Chapter 19


The next day a new ambition entered into Penrod Schofield; it was heralded by a flourish of trumpets and set up a great noise within his being.

On his way home from Sunday-school he had paused at a corner to listen to a brass band, which was returning from a funeral, playing a medley of airs from “The Merry Widow,” and as the musicians came down the street, walking so gracefully, the sun picked out the gold braid upon their uniforms and splashed fire from their polished instruments. Penrod marked the shapes of the great bass horns, the suave sculpture of their brazen coils, and the grand, sensational flare of their mouths. And he saw plainly that these noble things, to be mastered, needed no more than some breath blown into them during the fingering of a few simple keys. Then obediently they gave forth those vast but dulcet sounds which stirred his spirit as no other sounds could stir it quite.

The leader of the band, walking ahead, was a pleasing figure, nothing more. Penrod supposed him to be a mere decoration, and had never sympathized with Sam Williams’ deep feeling about drum-majors. The cornets, the trombones, the smaller horns were rather interesting, of course; and the drums had charm, especially the bass drum, which must be partially supported by a youth in front; but, immeasurably above all these, what fascinated Penrod was the little man with the monster horn. There Penrod’s widening eyes remained transfixed—upon the horn, so dazzling, with its broad spaces of brassy highlights, and so overwhelming, with its mouth as wide as a tub; that there was something almost threatening about it.

The little, elderly band-musician walked manfully as he blew his great horn; and in that pompous engine of sound, the boy beheld a spectacle of huge forces under human control. To Penrod, the horn meant power, and the musician meant mastery over power, though, of course, Penrod did not know that this was how he really felt about the matter.

Grandiloquent sketches were passing and interchanging before his mind’s eye—Penrod, in noble raiment, marching down the staring street, his shoulders swaying professionally, the roar of the horn he bore submerging all other sounds; Penrod on horseback, blowing the enormous horn and leading wild hordes to battle, while Marjorie Jones looked on from the sidewalk; Penrod astounding his mother and father and sister by suddenly serenading them in the library. “Why, Penrod, where DID you learn to play like this?”

These were vague and shimmering glories of vision rather than definite plans for his life work, yet he did with all his will determine to own and play upon some roaring instrument of brass. And, after all, this was no new desire of his; it was only an old one inflamed to take a new form. Nor was music the root of it, for the identical desire is often uproarious among them that hate music. What stirred in Penrod was new neither in him nor in the world, but old—old as old Adam, old as the childishness of man. All children have it, of course: they are all anxious to Make a Noise in the World.

While the band approached, Penrod marked the time with his feet; then he fell into step and accompanied the musicians down the street, keeping as near as possible to the little man with the big horn. There were four or five other boys, strangers, also marching with the band, but these were light spirits, their flushed faces and prancing legs proving that they were merely in a state of emotional reaction to music. Penrod, on the contrary, was grave. He kept his eyes upon the big horn, and, now and then, he gave an imitation of it. His fingers moved upon invisible keys, his cheeks puffed out, and, from far down in his throat, he produced strange sounds: “Taw, p’taw-p’taw! Taw, p’taw-p’taw! PAW!”

The other boys turned back when the musicians ceased to play, but Penrod marched on, still keeping close to what so inspired him. He stayed with the band till the last member of it disappeared up a staircase in an office-building, down at the business end of the street; and even after that he lingered a while, looking at the staircase.

Finally, however, he set his face toward home, whither he marched in a procession, the visible part of which consisted of himself alone. All the way the rhythmic movements of his head kept time with his marching feet and, also, with a slight rise and fall of his fingers at about the median line of his abdomen. And pedestrians who encountered him in this preoccupation were not surprised to hear, as he passed, a few explosive little vocalizations: “Taw, p’taw-p’taw! TAW! Taw-aw-HAW!”

These were the outward symptoms of no fleeting impulse, but of steadfast desire; therefore they were persistent. The likeness of the great bass horn remained upon the retina of his mind’s eye, losing nothing of its brazen enormity with the passing of hours, nor abating, in his mind’s ear, one whit of its fascinating blatancy. Penrod might have forgotten almost anything else more readily; for such a horn has this double compulsion: people cannot possibly keep themselves from looking at its possessor—and they certainly have GOT to listen to him!

Penrod was preoccupied at dinner and during the evening, now and then causing his father some irritation by croaking, “Taw, p’taw-p’taw!” while the latter was talking. And when bedtime came for the son of the house, he mounted the stairs in a rhythmic manner, and p’tawed himself through the upper hall as far as his own chamber.

Even after he had gone to bed, there came a revival of these manifestations. His mother had put out his light for him and had returned to the library downstairs; three-quarters of an hour had elapsed since then, and Margaret was in her room, next to his, when a continuous low croaking (which she was just able to hear) suddenly broke out into loud, triumphal blattings:

“TAW, p’taw-p’taw-aw-HAW! P’taw-WAW-aw! Aw-PAW!”

“Penrod,” Margaret called, “stop that! I’m trying to write letters. If you don’t quit and go to sleep, I’ll call papa up, and you’ll SEE!”

The noise ceased, or, rather, it tapered down to a desultory faint croaking which finally died out; but there can be little doubt that Penrod’s last waking thoughts were of instrumental music. And in the morning, when he woke to face the gloomy day’s scholastic tasks, something unusual and eager fawned in his face with the return of memory. “Taw-p’taw!” he began. “PAW!”

All day, in school and out, his mind was busy with computations—not such as are prescribed by mathematical pedants, but estimates of how much old rags and old iron would sell for enough money to buy a horn. Happily, the next day, at lunch, he was able to dismiss this problem from his mind: he learned that his Uncle Joe would be passing through town, on his way from Nevada, the following afternoon, and all the Schofield family were to go to the station to see him. Penrod would be excused from school.

At this news his cheeks became pink, and for a moment he was breathless. Uncle Joe and Penrod did not meet often, but when they did, Uncle Joe invariably gave Penrod money. Moreover, he always managed to do it privately so that later there was no bothersome supervision. Last time he had given Penrod a silver dollar.

At thirty-five minutes after two, Wednesday afternoon, Uncle Joe’s train came into the station, and Uncle Joe got out and shouted among his relatives. At eighteen minutes before three he was waving to them from the platform of the last car, having just slipped a two-dollar bill into Penrod’s breast-pocket. And, at seven minutes after three, Penrod opened the door of the largest “music store” in town.

A tall, exquisite, fair man, evidently a musical earl, stood before him, leaning whimsically upon a piano of the highest polish. The sight abashed Penrod not a bit—his remarkable financial condition even made him rather peremptory.

“See here,” he said brusquely: “I want to look at that big horn in the window.”

“Very well,” said the earl; “look at it.” And leaned more luxuriously upon the polished piano.

“I meant—” Penrod began, but paused, something daunted, while an unnamed fear brought greater mildness into his voice, as he continued, “I meant—I—How much IS that big horn?”

“How much?” the earl repeated.

“I mean,” said Penrod, “how much is it worth?”

“I don’t know,” the earl returned. “Its price is eighty-five dollars.”

“Eighty-fi—” Penrod began mechanically, but was forced to pause and swallow a little air that obstructed his throat, as the difference between eighty-five and two became more and more startling. He had entered the store, rich; in the last ten seconds he had become poverty-stricken. Eighty-five dollars was the same as eighty-five millions.

“Shall I put it aside for you,” asked the salesman-earl, “while you look around the other stores to see if there’s anything you like better?”

“I guess—I guess not,” said Penrod, whose face had grown red. He swallowed again, scraped the floor with the side of his right shoe, scratched the back of his neck, and then, trying to make his manner casual and easy, “Well I can’t stand around here all day,” he said. “I got to be gettin’ on up the street.”

“Business, I suppose?”

Penrod, turning to the door, suspected jocularity, but he found himself without recourse; he was nonplussed.

“Sure you won’t let me have that horn tied up in nice wrapping-paper in case you decide to take it?”

Penrod was almost positive that the spirit of this question was satirical; but he was unable to reply, except by a feeble shake of the head—though ten minutes later, as he plodded forlornly his homeward way, he looked over his shoulder and sent backward a few words of morose repartee:

“Oh, I am, am I?” he muttered, evidently concluding a conversation which he had continued mentally with the salesman. “Well, you’re double anything you call me, so that makes you a smart Aleck twice! Ole double smart Aleck!”

After that, he walked with the least bit more briskness, but not much. No wonder he felt discouraged: there are times when eighty-five dollars can be a blow to anybody! Penrod was so stunned that he actually forgot what was in his pocket. He passed two drug stores, and they had absolutely no meaning to him. He walked all the way without spending a cent.

At home he spent a moment in the kitchen pantry while the cook was in the cellar; then he went out to the stable and began some really pathetic experiments. His materials were the small tin funnel which he had obtained in the pantry, and a short section of old garden hose. He inserted the funnel into one end of the garden hose, and made it fast by wrappings of cord. Then he arranged the hose in a double, circular coil, tied it so that it would remain coiled, and blew into the other end.

He blew and blew and blew; he set his lips tight together, as he had observed the little musician with the big horn set his, and blew and sputtered, and sputtered and blew, but nothing of the slightest importance happened in the orifice of the funnel. Still he blew. He began to be dizzy; his eyes watered; his expression became as horrible as a strangled person’s. He but blew the more. He stamped his feet and blew. He staggered to the wheelbarrow, sat, and blew—and yet the funnel uttered nothing; it seemed merely to breathe hard.

It would not sound like a horn, and, when Penrod finally gave up, he had to admit piteously that it did not look like a horn. No boy over nine could have pretended that it was a horn.

He tossed the thing upon the floor, and leaned back in the wheelbarrow, inert.

“Yay, Penrod!”

Sam Williams appeared in the doorway, and, behind Sam, Master Roderick Magsworth Bitts, Junior.

“Yay, there!”

Penrod made no response.

The two came in, and Sam picked up the poor contrivance Penrod had tossed upon the floor.

“What’s this ole dingus?” Sam asked.


“Well, what’s it for?”

“Nothin’,” said Penrod. “It’s a kind of a horn.”

“What kind?”

“For music,” said Penrod simply.

Master Bitts laughed loud and long; he was derisive. “Music!” he yipped. “I thought you meant a cow’s horn! He says it’s a music-horn, Sam? What you think o’ that?”

Sam blew into the thing industriously.

“It won’t work,” he announced.

“Course it won’t!” Roddy Bitts shouted. “You can’t make it go without you got a REAL horn. I’m goin’ to get me a real horn some day before long, and then you’ll see me goin’ up and down here playin’ it like sixty! I’ll—”

“‘Some day before long!'” Sam mocked. “Yes, we will! Why’n’t you get it to-day, if you’re goin’ to?”

“I would,” said Roddy. “I’d go get the money from my father right now, only he wouldn’t give it to me.”

Sam whooped, and Penrod, in spite of his great depression, uttered a few jibing sounds.

“I’d get MY father to buy me a fire-engine and team o’ HORSES,” Sam bellowed, “only he wouldn’t!”

“Listen, can’t you?” cried Roddy. “I mean he would most any time, but not this month. I can’t have any money for a month beginning last Saturday, because I got paint on one of our dogs, and he came in the house with it on him, and got some on pretty near everything. If it hadn’t ‘a’ been for that—”

“Oh, yes!” said Sam. “If it hadn’t ‘a’ been for that! It’s always SUMPTHING!”

“It is not!”

“Well, then, why’n’t you go GET a real horn?”

Roddy’s face had flushed with irritation.

“Well, didn’t I just TELL you—” he began, but paused, while the renewal of some interesting recollection became visible in his expression. “Why, I COULD, if I wanted to,” he said more calmly. “It wouldn’t be a new one, maybe. I guess it would be kind of an old one, but—”

“Oh, a toy horn!” said Sam. “I expect one you had when you were three years old, and your mother stuck it up in the attic to keep till you’re dead, or sumpthing!”

“It’s not either any toy horn,” Roddy insisted. “It’s a reg’lar horn for a band, and I could have it as easy as anything.”

The tone of this declaration was so sincere that it roused the lethargic Penrod.

“Roddy, is that true?” he sat up to inquire piercingly.

“Of course it is!” Master Bitts returned. “What you take me for? I could go get that horn this minute if I wanted to.”

“A real one—honest?”

“Well, didn’t I say it was a real one?”

“Like in the BAND?”

“I said so, didn’t I?”

“I guess you mean one of those little ones,” said Penrod.

“No, sir!” Roddy insisted stoutly; “it’s a big one! It winds around in a big circle that would go all the way around a pretty fat man.”

“What store is it in?”

“It’s not in any store,” said Roddy. “It’s at my Uncle Ethelbert’s. He’s got this horn and three or four pianos and a couple o’ harps and—”

“Does he keep a music store?”

“No. These harps and pianos and all such are old ones—awful old.”

“Oh,” said Sam, “he runs a second-hand store!”

“He does not!” Master Bitts returned angrily. “He doesn’t do anything. He’s just got ’em. He’s got forty-one guitars.”

“Yay!” Sam whooped, and jumped up and down. “Listen to Roddy Bitts makin’ up lies!”

“You look out, Sam Williams!” said Roddy threateningly. “You look out how you call me names!”

“What name’d I call you?”

“You just the same as said I told lies. That’s just as good as callin’ me a liar, isn’t it?”

“No,” said Sam; “but I got a right to, if I want to. Haven’t I, Penrod?”

“How?” Roddy demanded hotly. “How you got a right to?”

“Because you can’t prove what you said.”

“Well,” said Roddy, “you’d be just as much of one if you can’t prove what I said WASN’T true.”

“No, sir! You either got to prove it or be a liar. Isn’t that so, Penrod.

“Yes, sir,” Penrod ruled, with a little importance, “that’s the way it is, Roddy.”

“Well, then,” said Roddy, “come on over to my Uncle Ethelbert’s, and I’ll show you!”

“No,” said Sam. “I wouldn’t walk over there just to find out sumpthing I already know isn’t so. Outside of a music store there isn’t anybody in the world got forty-one guitars! I’ve heard lots o’ people TALK, but I never heard such a big l—”

“You shut up!” shouted Roddy. “You ole—”

Penrod interposed.

“Why’n’t you show us the horn, Roddy?” he asked. “You said you could get it. You show us the horn and we’ll believe you. If you show us the horn, Sam’ll haf to take what he said back; won’t you, Sam?”

“Yes,” said Sam, and added. “He hasn’t got any. He went and told a—”

Roddy’s eyes were bright with rage; he breathed noisily.

“I haven’t?” he cried. “You just wait here, and I’ll show you!”

And he ran furiously from the stable.