Duke, hastening to place himself upon the stone slab, raged at his enemy in safety; and presently the indomitable Gipsy could be heard from the darkness below, turning on the bass of his siren, threatening the water that enveloped him, returning Duke’s profanity with interest, and cursing the general universe.
“You hush!” Penrod stormed, rushing at Duke. “You go ‘way from here! You DUKE!”
And Duke, after prostrating himself, decided that it would be a relief to obey and to consider his responsibilities in this matter at an end. He withdrew beyond a corner of the house, thinking deeply.
“Why’n’t you let him bark at the ole cat?” Sam Williams inquired, sympathizing with the oppressed. “I guess you’d want to bark if a cat had been treatin’ you the way this one did Duke.”
“Well, we got to get this cat out o’ here, haven’t we?” Penrod demanded crossly.
“What fer?” Herman asked. “Mighty mean cat! If it was me, I let ‘at ole cat drownd.”
“My goodness,” Penrod cried. “What you want to let it drown for? Anyways, we got to use this water in our house, haven’t we? You don’t s’pose people like to use water that’s got a cat drowned in it, do you? It gets pumped up into the tank in the attic and goes all over the house, and I bet you wouldn’t want to see your father and mother usin’ water a cat was drowned in. I guess I don’t want my father and moth—”
“Well, how CAN we get it out?” Sam asked, cutting short this virtuous oration. “It’s swimmin’ around down there,” he continued, peering into the cistern, “and kind of roaring, and it must of dropped its fishbone, ’cause it’s spittin’ just awful. I guess maybe it’s mad ’cause it fell in there.”
“I don’t know how it’s goin’ to be got out,” said Penrod; “but I know it’s GOT to be got out, and that’s all there is to it! I’m not goin’ to have my father and mother—”
“Well, once,” said Sam, “once when a kitten fell down OUR cistern, Papa took a pair of his trousers, and he held ’em by the end of one leg, and let ’em hang down through the hole till the end of the other leg was in the water, and the kitten went and clawed hold of it, and he pulled it right up, easy as anything. Well, that’s the way to do now, ’cause if a kitten could keep hold of a pair of trousers, I guess this ole cat could. It’s the biggest cat I ever saw! All you got to do is to go and ast your mother for a pair of your father’s trousers, and we’ll have this ole cat out o’ there in no time.”
Penrod glanced toward the house perplexedly.
“She ain’t home, and I’d be afraid to—”
“Well, take your own, then,” Sam suggested briskly.
“You take ’em off in the stable, and wait in there, and I and Herman’ll get the cat out.”
Penrod had no enthusiasm for this plan; but he affected to consider it.
“Well, I don’t know ’bout that,” he said, and then, after gazing attentively into the cistern and making some eye measurements of his knickerbockers, he shook his head. “They’d be too short. They wouldn’t be NEAR long enough!”
“Then neither would mine,” said Sam promptly.
“Herman’s would,” said Penrod.
“No, suh!” Herman had recently been promoted to long trousers, and he expressed a strong disinclination to fall in with Penrod’s idea. “My Mammy sit up late nights sewin’ on ‘ese britches fer me, makin’ ’em outen of a pair o’ pappy’s, an’ they mighty good britches. Ain’ goin’ have no wet cat climbin’ up ’em! No, suh!”
Both boys began to walk toward him argumentatively, while he moved slowly backward, shaking his head and denying them.
“I don’t keer how much you talk!” he said. “Mammy gave my OLE britches to Verman, an’ ‘ese here ones on’y britches I got now, an’ I’m go’ to keep ’em on me—not take ’em off an’ let ole wet cat splosh all over ’em. My Mammy, she sewed ’em fer ME, I reckon—d’in’ sew ’em fer no cat!”
“Oh, PLEASE, come on, Herman!” Penrod begged pathetically. “You don’t want to see the poor cat drown, do you?”
“Mighty mean cat!” Herman said. “Bet’ let ‘at ole pussy-cat ‘lone whur it is.”
“Why, it’ll only take a minute,” Sam urged. “You just wait inside the stable and you’ll have ’em back on again before you could say ‘Jack Robinson.'”
“I ain’ got no use to say no Jack Robason,” said Herman. “An’ I ain’ go’ to han’ over my britches fer NO cat!”
“Listen here, Herman,” Penrod began pleadingly. “You can watch us every minute through the crack in the stable door, can’t you? We ain’t goin’ to HURT ’em any, are we? You can see everything we do, can’t you? Look at here, Herman: you know that little saw you said you wished it was yours, in the carpenter shop? Well, honest, if you’ll just let us take your trousers till we get this poor ole cat out the cistern, I’ll give you that little saw.”
Herman was shaken; he yearned for the little saw.
“You gimme her to keep?” he asked cautiously. “You gimme her befo’ I han’ over my britches?”
“You’ll see!” Penrod ran into the stable, came back with the little saw, and placed it in Herman’s hand. Herman could resist no longer, and two minutes later he stood in the necessary negligee within the shelter of the stable door, and watched, through the crack, the lowering of the surrendered garment into the cistern. His gaze was anxious, and surely nothing could have been more natural, since the removal had exposed Herman’s brown legs, and, although the weather was far from inclement, November is never quite the month for people to be out of doors entirely without leg-covering. Therefore, he marked with impatience that Sam and Penrod, after lowering the trousers partway to the water, had withdrawn them and fallen into an argument.
“Name o’ goo’ness!” Herman shouted. “I ain’ got no time fer you all do so much talkin’. If you go’ git ‘at cat out, why’n’t you GIT him?”
“Wait just a minute,” Penrod called, and he came running to the stable, seized upon a large wooden box, which the carpenters had fitted with a lid and leather hinges, and returned with it cumbersomely to the cistern. “There!” he said. “That’ll do to put it in. It won’t get out o’ that, I bet you.”
“Well, I’d like to know what you want to keep it for,” Sam said peevishly, and, with the suggestion of a sneer, he added, “I s’pose you think somebody’ll pay about a hunderd dollars reward or something, on account of a cat!”
“I don’t, either!” Penrod protested hotly. “I know what I’m doin’, I tell you.”
“Well, what on earth—”
“I’ll tell you some day, won’t I?” Penrod cried. “I got my reasons for wantin’ to keep this cat, and I’m goin’ to keep it. YOU don’t haf to ke—”
“Well, all right,” Sam said shortly. “Anyways, it’ll be dead if you don’t hurry.”
“It won’t, either,” Penrod returned, kneeling and peering down upon the dark water. “Listen to him! He’s growlin’ and spittin’ away like anything! It takes a mighty fine-blooded cat to be as fierce as that. I bet you most cats would ‘a’ given up and drowned long ago. The water’s awful cold, and I expect he was perty supprised when he lit in it.”
“Herman’s makin’ a fuss again,” Sam said. “We better get the ole cat out o’ there if we’re goin’ to.”
“Well, this is the way we’ll do,” Penrod said authoritatively: “I’ll let you hold the trousers, Sam. You lay down and keep hold of one leg, and let the other one hang down till its end is in the water. Then you kind of swish it around till it’s somewheres where the cat can get hold of it, and soon as he does, you pull it up, and be mighty careful so’s it don’t fall off. Then I’ll grab it and stick it in the box and slam the lid down.”
Rather pleased to be assigned to the trousers, Sam accordingly extended himself at full length upon the slab and proceeded to carry out Penrod’s instructions. Meanwhile, Penrod, peering from above, inquired anxiously for information concerning this work of rescue.
“Can you see it, Sam? Why don’t it grab hold? What’s it doin’ now, Sam?”
“It’s spittin’ at Herman’s trousers,” said Sam. “My gracious, but it’s a fierce cat! If it’s mad all the time like this, you better not ever try to pet it much. Now it’s kind o’ sniffin’ at the trousers. It acks to me as if it was goin’ to ketch hold. Yes, it’s stuck one claw in ’em—OW!”
Sam uttered a blood-curdling shriek and jerked convulsively. The next instant, streaming and inconceivably gaunt, the ravening Gipsy appeared with a final bound upon Sam’s shoulder. It was not in Gipsy’s character to be drawn up peaceably; he had ascended the trousers and Sam’s arm without assistance and in his own way. Simultaneously—for this was a notable case of everything happening at once—there was a muffled, soggy splash, and the unfortunate Herman, smit with prophecy in his seclusion, uttered a dismal yell. Penrod laid hands upon Gipsy, and, after a struggle suggestive of sailors landing a man-eating shark, succeeded in getting him into the box, and sat upon the lid thereof.
Sam had leaped to his feet, empty handed and vociferous.
“Ow ow, OUCH!” he shouted, as he rubbed his suffering arm and shoulder. Then, exasperated by Herman’s lamentations, he called angrily: “Oh, what I care for your ole britches? I guess if you’d ‘a’ had a cat climb up YOU, you’d ‘a’ dropped ’em a hunderd times over!”
However, upon excruciating entreaty, he consented to explore the surface of the water with a clothes-prop, but reported that the luckless trousers had disappeared in the depths, Herman having forgotten to remove some “fishin’ sinkers” from his pockets before making the fated loan.
Penrod was soothing a lacerated wrist in his mouth.
“That’s a mighty fine-blooded cat,” he remarked. “I expect it’d got away from pretty near anybody, ‘specially if they didn’t know much about cats. Listen at him, in the box, Sam. I bet you never heard a cat growl as loud as that in your life. I shouldn’t wonder it was part panther or sumpthing.”
Sam began to feel more interest and less resentment.
“I tell you what we can do, Penrod,” he said: “Let’s take it in the stable and make the box into a cage. We can take off the hinges and slide back the lid a little at a time, and nail some o’ those laths over the front for bars.”
“That’s just exackly what I was goin’ to say!” Penrod exclaimed. “I already thought o’ that, Sam. Yessir, we’ll make it just like a reg’lar circus-cage, and our good ole cat can look out from between the bars and growl. It’ll come in pretty handy if we ever decide to have another show. Anyways, we’ll have her in there, good and tight, where we can watch she don’t get away. I got a mighty good reason to keep this cat, Sam. You’ll see.”
“Well, why don’t you—” Sam was interrupted by n vehement appeal from the stable. “Oh, we’re comin’!” he shouted. “We got to bring our cat in its cage, haven’t we?”
“Listen, Herman,” Penrod called absent-mindedly. “Bring us some bricks, or something awful heavy to put on the lid of our cage, so we can carry it without our good ole cat pushin’ the lid open.”
Herman explained with vehemence that it would not be right for him to leave the stable upon any errand until just restorations had been made. He spoke inimically of the cat that had been the occasion of his loss, and he earnestly requested that operations with the clothes-prop be resumed in the cistern. Sam and Penrod declined, on the ground that this was absolutely proven to be of no avail, and Sam went to look for bricks.
These two boys were not unfeeling. They sympathized with Herman; but they regarded the trousers as a loss about which there was no use in making so much outcry. To them, it was part of an episode that ought to be closed. They had done their best, and Sam had not intended to drop the trousers; that was something no one could have helped, and therefore no one was to be blamed. What they were now interested in was the construction of a circus-cage for their good ole cat.
“It’s goin’ to be a cage just exactly like circus-cages, Herman,” Penrod said, as he and Sam set the box down on the stable floor. “You can help us nail the bars and—”
“I ain’ studyin’ ’bout no bars!” Herman interrupted fiercely. “What good you reckon nailin’ bars go’ do me if Mammy holler fer me? You white boys sutn’y show me bad day! I try treat people nice, ‘n’en they go th’ow my britches down cistern!
“I did not!” Sam protested. “That ole cat just kicked ’em out o’ my hand with its hind feet while its front ones were stickin’ in my arm. I bet YOU’D of—”
“Blame it on cat!” Herman sneered. “‘At’s nice! Jes’ looky here minute: Who’d I len’ ’em britches to? D’ I len’ ’em britches to thishere cat? No, suh; you know I didn’! You know well’s any man I len’ ’em britches to you—an’ you tuck an’ th’owed ’em down cistern!”
“Oh, PLEASE hush up about your old britches!” Penrod said plaintively. “I got to think how we’re goin’ to fix our cage up right, and you make so much noise I can’t get my mind on it. Anyways, didn’t I give you that little saw?”
“Li’l saw!” Herman cried, unmollified. “Yes; an’ thishere li’l saw go’ do me lot o’ good when I got to go home!”
“Why, it’s only across the alley to your house, Herman!” said Sam. “That ain’t anything at all to step over there, and you’ve got your little saw.”
“Aw right! You jes’ take off you’ closes an’ step ‘cross the alley,” said Herman bitterly. “I give you li’l saw to carry!”
Penrod had begun to work upon the cage.
“Now listen here, Herman,” he said: “if you’ll quit talkin’ so much, and kind of get settled down or sumpthing, and help us fix a good cage for our panther, well, when mamma comes home about five o’clock, I’ll go and tell her there’s a poor boy got his britches burned up in a fire, and how he’s waitin’ out in the stable for some, and I’ll tell her I promised him. Well, she’ll give me a pair I wore for summer; honest she will, and you can put ’em on as quick as anything.”
“There, Herman,” said Sam; “now you’re all right again!”
“WHO all right?” Herman complained. “I like feel sump’m’ roun’ my laigs befo’ no five o’clock!”
“Well, you’re sure to get ’em by then,” Penrod promised. “It ain’t winter yet, Herman. Come on and help saw these laths for the bars, Herman, and Sam and I’ll nail ’em on. It ain’t long till five o’clock, Herman, and then you’ll just feel fine!”
Herman was not convinced; but he found himself at a disadvantage in the argument. The question at issue seemed a vital one to him—and yet his two opponents evidently considered it of minor importance. Obviously, they felt that the promise for five o’clock had settled the whole matter conclusively; but to Herman this did not appear to be the fact. However, he helplessly suffered himself to be cajoled back into carpentry, though he was extremely ill at ease and talked a great deal of his misfortune. He shivered and grumbled, and, by his passionate urgings, compelled Penrod to go into the house so many times to see what time it was by the kitchen clock that both his companions almost lost patience with him.
“There!” said Penrod, returning from performing this errand for the fourth time. “It’s twenty minutes after three, and I’m not goin’ in to look at that ole clock again if I haf to die for it! I never heard anybody make such a fuss in my life, and I’m gettin’ tired of it. Must think we want to be all night fixin’ this cage for our panther! If you ask me to go and see what time it is again, Herman, I’m a-goin’ to take back about askin’ mamma at five o’clock, and THEN where’ll you be?”
“Well, it seem like mighty long aft’noon to me,” Herman sighed. “I jes’ like to know what time it is gettin’ to be now!”
“Look out!” Penrod warned him. “You heard what I was just tellin’ you about how I’d take back.”
“Nemmine,” Herman said hurriedly. “I wasn’ astin’ you. I jes’ sayin’ sump’m’ kind o’ to myse’f like.”