THE HORN OF FAME
“Bet he won’t come back!” said Sam.
“Well, he might.”
“Well, if he does and he hasn’t got any horn, I got a right to call him anything I want to, and he’s got to stand it. And if he doesn’t come back,” Sam continued, as by the code, “then I got a right to call him whatever I like next time I ketch him out.”
“I expect he’ll have SOME kind of ole horn, maybe,” said Penrod.
“No,” the skeptical Sam insisted, “he won’t.”
But Roddy did. Twenty minutes elapsed, and both the waiting boys had decided that they were legally entitled to call him whatever they thought fitting, when he burst in, puffing; and in his hands he bore a horn. It was a “real” one, and of a kind that neither Penrod nor Sam had ever seen before, though they failed to realize this, because its shape was instantly familiar to them. No horn could have been simpler: it consisted merely of one circular coil of brass with a mouthpiece at one end for the musician, and a wide-flaring mouth of its own, for the noise, at the other. But it was obviously a second-hand horn; dents slightly marred it, here and there, and its surface was dull, rather greenish. There were no keys; and a badly faded green cord and tassel hung from the coil.
Even so shabby a horn as this electrified Penrod. It was not a stupendous horn, but it was a horn, and when a boy has been sighing for the moon, a piece of green cheese will satisfy him, for he can play that it is the moon.
“Gimme that HORN!” Penrod shouted, as he dashed for it.
“YAY!” Sam cried, and sought to wrest it from him. Roddy joined the scuffle, trying to retain the horn; but Penrod managed to secure it. With one free hand he fended the others off while he blew into the mouthpiece.
“Let me have it,” Sam urged. “You can’t do anything with it. Lemme take it, Penrod.”
“No!” said Roddy. “Let ME! My goodness! Ain’t I got any right to blow my own horn?”
They pressed upon Penrod, who frantically fended and frantically blew. At last he remembered to compress his lips, and force the air through the compression.
A magnificent snort from the horn was his reward. He removed his lips from the mouthpiece, and capered in pride.
“Hah!” he cried. “Hear that? I guess I can’t play this good ole horn! Oh, no!”
During his capers, Sam captured the horn. But Sam had not made the best of his opportunities as an observer of bands; he thrust the mouthpiece deep into his mouth, and blew until his expression became one of agony.
“No, no!” Penrod exclaimed. “You haven’t got the secret of blowin’ a horn, Sam. What’s the use your keepin’ hold of it, when you don’t know any more about it ‘n that? It ain’t makin’ a sound! You lemme have that good ole horn back, Sam. Haven’t you got sense enough to see I know how to PLAY?”
Laying hands upon it, he jerked it away from Sam, who was a little piqued over the failure of his own efforts, especially as Penrod now produced a sonarous blat—quite a long one. Sam became cross.
“My goodness!” Roddy Bitts said peevishly. “Ain’t I ever goin’ to get a turn at my own horn? Here you’ve had two turns, Penrod, and even Sam Williams—”
Sam’s petulance at once directed itself toward Roddy partly because of the latter’s tactless use of the word “even,” and the two engaged in controversy, while Penrod was left free to continue the experiments which so enraptured him.
“Your own horn!” Sam sneered. “I bet it isn’t yours! Anyway, you can’t prove it’s yours, and that gives me a right to call you any—”
“You better not! It is, too, mine. It’s just the same as mine!”
“No, sir,” said Sam; “I bet you got to take it back where you got it, and that’s not anything like the same as yours; so I got a perfect right to call you whatev—”
“I do NOT haf to take it back where I got it, either!” Roddy cried, more and more irritated by his opponent’s persistence in stating his rights in this matter.
“I BET they told you to bring it back,” said Sam tauntingly.
“They didn’t, either! There wasn’t anybody there.”
“Yay! Then you got to get it back before they know it’s gone.”
“I don’t either any such a thing! I heard my Uncle Ethelbert say Sunday he didn’t want it. He said he wished somebody’d take that horn off his hands so’s he could buy sumpthing else. That’s just exactly what he said. I heard him tell my mother. He said, ‘I guess I prackly got to give it away if I’m ever goin’ to get rid of it.’ Well, when my own uncle says he wants to give a horn away, and he wishes he could get rid of it, I guess it’s just the same as mine, soon as I go and take it, isn’t it? I’m goin’ to keep it.”
Sam was shaken, but he had set out to demonstrate those rights of his and did not mean to yield them.
“Yes; you’ll have a NICE time,” he said, “next time your uncle goes to play on that horn and can’t find it. No, sir; I got a perfect ri—”
“My uncle don’t PLAY on it!” Roddy shrieked. “It’s an ole wore-out horn nobody wants, and it’s mine, I tell you! I can blow on it, or bust it, or kick it out in the alley and leave it there, if I want to!”
“No, you can’t!”
“I can, too!”
“No, you can’t. You can’t PROVE you can, and unless you prove it, I got a perf—”
Roddy stamped his foot. “I can, too!” he shrieked. “You ole durn jackass, I can, too! I can, can, can, can—”
Penrod suddenly stopped his intermittent production of blats, and intervened. “I know how you can prove it, Roddy,” he said briskly. “There’s one way anybody can always prove sumpthing belongs to them, so that nobody’d have a right to call them what they wanted to. You can prove it’s yours, EASY!”
“Well,” said Penrod, “if you give it away.”
“What you mean?” asked Roddy, frowning.
“Well, look here,” Penrod began brightly. “You can’t give anything away that doesn’t belong to you, can you?”
“So, then,” the resourceful boy continued, “f’r instance, if you give this ole horn to me, that’d prove it was yours, and Sam’d haf to say it was, and he wouldn’t have any right to—”
“I won’t do it!” said Roddy sourly. “I don’t want to give you that horn. What I want to give you anything at all for?”
Penrod sighed, as if the task of reaching Roddy’s mind with reason were too heavy for him. “Well, if you don’t want to prove it, and rather let us have the right to call you anything we want to—well, all right, then,” he said.
“You look out what you call me!” Roddy cried, only the more incensed, in spite of the pains Penrod was taking with him. “I don’t haf to prove it. It’s MINE!”
“What kind o’ proof is that?” Sam Williams demanded severely. “You GOT to prove it and you can’t do it!”
Roddy began a reply, but his agitation was so great that what he said had not attained coherency when Penrod again intervened. He had just remembered something important.
“Oh, I know, Roddy!” he exclaimed. “If you sell it, that’d prove it was yours almost as good as givin’ it away. What’ll you take for it?”
“I don’t want to sell it,” said Roddy sulkily.
“Yay! Yay! YAY!” shouted the taunting Sam Williams, whose every word and sound had now become almost unbearable to Master Bitts. Sam was usually so good-natured that the only explanation of his conduct must lie in the fact that Roddy constitutionally got on his nerves. “He KNOWS he can’t prove it! He’s a goner, and now we can begin callin’ him anything we can think of! I choose to call him one first, Penrod. Roddy, you’re a—”
“Wait!” shouted Penrod, for he really believed Roddy’s claims to be both moral and legal. When an uncle who does not even play upon an old second-hand horn wishes to get rid of that horn, and even complains of having it on his hands, it seems reasonable to consider that the horn becomes the property of a nephew who has gone to the trouble of carrying the undesired thing out of the house.
Penrod determined to deal fairly. The difference between this horn and the one in the “music-store” window seemed to him just about the difference between two and eighty-five. He drew forth the green bill from his pocket.
“Roddy,” he said, “I’ll give you two dollars for that horn.”
Sam Williams’s mouth fell open; he was silenced indeed. But for a moment, the confused and badgered Roddy was incredulous; he had not dreamed that Penrod possessed such a sum.
“Lemme take a look at that money!” he said.
If at first there had been in Roddy’s mind a little doubt about his present rights of ownership, he had talked himself out of it. Also, his financial supplies for the month were cut off, on account of the careless dog. Finally, he thought that the horn was worth about fifty cents.
“I’ll do it, Penrod!” he said with decision.
Thereupon Penrod shouted aloud, prancing up and down the carriage-house with the horn. Roddy was happy, too, land mingled his voice with Penrod’s.
“Hi! Hi! Hi!” shouted Roddy Bitts. “I’m goin’ to buy me an air-gun down at Fox’s hardware store!”
And he departed, galloping.
… He returned the following afternoon. School was over, and Penrod and Sam were again in the stable; Penrod “was practising” upon the horn, with Sam for an unenthusiastic spectator and auditor. Master Bitts’ brow was heavy; he looked uneasy.
“Penrod,” he began, “I got to—”
Penrod removed the horn briefly from his lips.
“Don’t come bangin’ around here and interrup’ me all the time,” he said severely. “I got to practice.”
And he again pressed the mouthpiece to his lips. He was not of those whom importance makes gracious.
“Look here, Penrod,” said Roddy, “I got to have that horn back.”
Penrod lowered the horn quickly enough at this.
“What you talkin’ about?” he demanded. “What you want to come bangin’ around here for and—”
“I came around here for that horn,” Master Bitts returned, and his manner was both dogged and apprehensive, the apprehension being more prevalent when he looked at Sam. “I got to have that horn,” he said.
Sam, who had been sitting in the wheelbarrow, jumped up and began to dance triumphantly.
“Yay! It WASN’T his, after all! Roddy Bitts told a big l—”
“I never, either!” Roddy almost wailed.
“Well, what you want the horn back for?” the terrible Sam demanded.
“Well, ’cause I want it. I got a right to want it if I want to, haven’t I?”
Penrod’s face had flushed with indignation.
“You look here, Sam,” he began hotly. “Didn’t you hear Roddy say this was his horn?”
“He said it!” Sam declared. “He said it a million times!”
“Well, and didn’t he sell this horn to me?”
“Didn’t I pay him money cash down for it?”
“Well, and ain’t it my horn now, Sam?”
“You bet you!”
“YES, sir!” Penrod went on with vigour. “It’s my horn now whether it belonged to you or not, Roddy, because you SOLD it to me and I paid my good ole money for it. I guess a thing belongs to th`, person that paid their own money for it, doesn’t it? I don’t haf to give up my own propaty, even if you did come on over here and told us a big l—”
“I NEVER!” shouted Roddy. “It was my horn, too, and I didn’t tell any such a thing!” He paused; then, reverting to his former manner, said stubbornly, “I got to have that horn back. I GOT to!”
“Why’n’t you tell us what FOR, then?” Sam insisted.
Roddy’s glance at this persecutor was one of anguish.
“I know my own biz’nuss!” he muttered.
And while Sam jeered, Roddy turned to Penrod desperately.
“You gimme that horn back! I got to have it.”
But Penrod followed Sam’s lead.
“Well, why can’t you tell us what FOR?” he asked.
Perhaps if Sam had not been there, Roddy could have unbosomed himself. He had no doubt of his own virtue in this affair, and he was conscious that he had acted in good faith throughout—though, perhaps, a little impulsively. But he was in a predicament, and he knew that if he became more explicit, Sam could establish with undeniable logic those rights about which he had been so odious the day before. Such triumph for Sam was not within Roddy’s power to contemplate; he felt that he would rather die, or sumpthing.
“I got to have that horn!” he reiterated woodenly.
Penrod had no intention to humour this preposterous boy, and it was only out of curiosity that he asked, “Well, if you want the horn back, where’s the two dollars?”
“I spent it. I bought an air-gun for a dollar and sixty-five cents, and three sodies and some candy with the rest. I’ll owe you the two dollars, Penrod. I’m willing to do that much.”
“Well, why don’t you give him the air-gun,” asked the satirical Sam, “and owe him the rest?”
“I can’t. Papa took the air-gun away from me because he didn’t like sumpthing I did with it. I got to owe you the whole two dollars, Penrod.”
“Look here, Roddy,” said Penrod. “Don’t you s’pose I’d rather keep this horn and blow on it than have you owe me two dollars?”
There was something about this simple question which convinced Roddy that his cause was lost. His hopes had been but faint from the beginning of the interview.
“Well—” said Roddy. For a time he scuffed the floor with his shoe. “Daw-gone it!” he said, at last; and he departed morosely.
Penrod had already begun to “practice” again, and Mr. Williams, after vain appeals to be permitted to practice in turn, sank into the wheelbarrow in a state of boredom, not remarkable under the circumstances. Then Penrod contrived—it may have been accidental—to produce at one blast two tones which varied in pitch.
His pride and excitement were extreme though not contagious. “Listen, Sam!” he shouted. “How’s THAT for high?”
The bored Sam made no response other than to rise languidly to his feet, stretch, and start for home.
Left alone, Penrod’s practice became less ardent; he needed the stimulus of an auditor. With the horn upon his lap he began to rub the greenish brass surface with a rag. He meant to make this good ole two-dollar horn of his LOOK like sumpthing!
Presently, moved by a better idea, he left the horn in the stable and went into the house, soon afterward appearing before his mother in the library.
“Mamma,” he said, complainingly, “Della won’t—”
But Mrs. Schofield checked him.
“Sh, Penrod; your father’s reading the paper.”
Penrod glanced at Mr. Schofield, who sat near the window, reading by the last light of the early sunset.
“Well, I know it,” said Penrod, lowering his voice. “But I wish you’d tell Della to let me have the silver polish. She says she won’t, and I want to—”
“Be quiet, Penrod, you can’t have the silver polish.”
“Not another word. Can’t you see you’re interrupting your father. Go on, papa.”
Mr. Schofield read aloud several despatches from abroad, and after each one of them Penrod began in a low but pleading tone:
“Mamma, I want—”
Mr. Schofield continued to read, and Penrod remained in the room, for he was determined to have the silver polish.
“Here’s something curious,” said Mr. Schofield, as his eye fell upon a paragraph among the “locals.”
“Valuable relic missing,” Mr. Schofield read. “It was reported at police headquarters to-day that a ‘valuable object had been stolen from the collection of antique musical instruments owned by E. Magsworth Bitts, 724 Central Avenue. The police insist that it must have been an inside job, but Mr. Magsworth Bitts inclines to think otherwise, as only one article was removed and nothing else found to be disturbed. The object stolen was an ancient hunting-horn dating from the eighteenth century and claimed to have belonged to Louis XV, King of France. It was valued at about twelve hundred and fifty dollars.”
Mrs. Schofield opened her mouth wide. “Why, that IS curious!” she exclaimed.
She jumped up. “Penrod!”
But Penrod was no longer in the room.
“What’s the matter?” Mr. Schofield inquired.
“Penrod!” said Mrs. Schofield breathlessly. “HE bought an old horn—like one in old hunting-pictures—yesterday! He bought it with some money Uncle Joe gave him! He bought it from Roddy Bitts!”
“Where’d he go?”
Together they rushed to the back porch.
Penrod had removed the lid of the cistern; he was kneeling beside it, and the fact that the diameter of the opening into the cistern was one inch less than the diameter of the coil of Louis the Fifteenth’s hunting-horn was all that had just saved Louis the Fifteenth’s hunting-horn from joining the drowned trousers of Herman.
Such was Penrod’s instinct, and thus loyally he had followed it.
… He was dragged into the library, expecting anything whatever. The dreadful phrases of the newspaper item rang through his head like the gongs of delirium: “Police headquarters!” “King of France!” “Valued at about twelve hundred and fifty dollars!”
Eighty-five dollars had dismayed him; twelve hundred and fifty was unthinkable. Nightmares were coming to life before his eyes.
But a light broke slowly; it came first to Mr. and Mrs. Schofield, and it was they who illuminated Penrod. Slowly, slowly, as they spoke more and more pleasantly to him, it began to dawn upon him that this trouble was all Roddy’s.
And when Mr. Schofield went to take the horn to the house of Mr. Ethelbert Magsworth Bitts, Penrod sat quietly with his mother. Mr. Schofield was gone an hour and a half. Upon his solemn return he reported that Roddy’s father had been summoned by telephone to bring his son to the house of Uncle Ethelbert. Mr. Bitts had forthwith appeared with Roddy, and, when Mr. Schofield came away, Roddy was still (after half an hour’s previous efforts) explaining his honourable intentions. Mr. Schofield indicated that Roddy’s condition was agitated, and that he was having a great deal of difficulty in making his position clear.
Penrod’s imagination paused outside the threshold of that room in Mr. Ethelbert Magsworth Bitts’ house, and awe fell upon him when he thought of it. Roddy seemed to have disappeared within a shrouding mist where Penrod’s mind refused to follow him.
“Well, he got back his ole horn!” said Sam after school the next afternoon. “I KNEW we had a perfect right to call him whatever we wanted to! I bet you hated to give up that good ole horn, Penrod.”
But Penrod was serene. He was even a little superior.
“Pshaw!” he said. “I’m goin’ to learn to play on sumpthing better’n any ole horn. It’s lots better, because you can carry it around with you anywhere, and you couldn’t a horn.”
“What is it?” Sam asked, not too much pleased by Penrod’s air of superiority and high content. “You mean a jew’s-harp?”
“I guess not! I mean a flute with all silver on it and everything. My father’s goin’ to buy me one.”
“I bet he isn’t!”
“He is, too,” said Penrod; “soon as I’m twenty-one years old.”