THE DEPARTING GUEST
By the time Penrod returned from chasing Duke to the next corner, Verman had the long, black snake down from the rafter where its active head had taken refuge, with the rest of it dangling; and both boys agreed that Mrs. Williams’s cat must certainly be able to “see SOME, anyway”, through the meshes of the stocking.
“Well,” said Penrod, “it’s gettin’ pretty near dark, what with all this bother and mess we been havin’ around here, and I expeck as soon as I get this good ole broom-handle fixed out of the rake for you, Verman, it’ll be about time to begin what we had to go and take all this trouble FOR.”
…. Mr. Schofield had brought an old friend home to dinner with him: “Dear old Joe Gilling,” he called this friend when introducing him to Mrs. Schofield. Mr. Gilling, as Mrs. Schofield was already informed by telephone, had just happened to turn up in town that day, and had called on his classmate at the latter’s office. The two had not seen each other in eighteen years.
Mr. Gilling was a tall man, clad highly in the mode, and brought to a polished and powdered finish by barber and manicurist; but his colour was peculiar, being almost unhumanly florid, and, as Mrs. Schofield afterward claimed to have noticed, his eyes “wore a nervous, apprehensive look”, his hands were tremulous, and his manner was “queer and jerky”—at least, that is how she defined it.
She was not surprised to hear him state that he was travelling for his health and not upon business. He had not been really well for several years, he said.
At that, Mr. Schofield laughed and slapped him heartily on the back.
“Oh, mercy!” Mr. Gilling cried, leaping in his chair. “What IS the matter?”
“Nothing!” Mr. Schofield laughed. “I just slapped you the way we used to slap each other on the campus. What I was going to say was that you have no business being a bachelor. With all your money, and nothing to do but travel and sit around hotels and clubs, no wonder you’ve grown bilious.”
“Oh, no; I’m not bilious,” Mr. Gilling said uncomfortably. “I’m not bilious at all.”
“You ought to get married,” Mr. Schofield returned. “You ought—” He paused, for Mr. Gilling had jumped again. “What’s the trouble, Joe?”
“Nothing. I thought perhaps—perhaps you were going to slap me on the back again.”
“Not this time,” Mr. Schofield said, renewing his laughter. “Well, is dinner about ready?” he asked, turning to his wife. “Where are Margaret and Penrod?”
“Margaret’s just come in,” Mrs. Schofield answered. “She’ll be down in a minute, and Penrod’s around somewhere.”
“Penrod?” Mr. Gilling repeated curiously, in his nervous, serious way. “What is Penrod?”
And at this, Mrs. Schofield joined in her husband’s laughter. Mr. Schofield explained.
“Penrod’s our young son,” he said. “He’s not much for looks, maybe; but he’s been pretty good lately, and sometimes we’re almost inclined to be proud of him. You’ll see him in a minute, old Joe!”
Old Joe saw him even sooner. Instantly, as Mr. Schofield finished his little prediction, the most shocking uproar ever heard in that house burst forth in the kitchen. Distinctly Irish shrieks unlimited came from that quarter—together with the clashing of hurled metal and tin, the appealing sound of breaking china, and the hysterical barking of a dog.
The library door flew open, and Mrs. Cullen appeared as a mingled streak crossing the room from one door to the other. She was followed by a boy with a coal-black nose and between his feet, as he entered, there appeared a big long, black, horrible snake, with frantic legs springing from what appeared to be its head; and it further fulfilled Mrs. Cullen’s description by making a fizzin’ noise. Accompanying the snake, and still faithfully endeavouring to guide it with the detached handle of a rake, was a small black demon with a gassly white forehead and gasslier white hair. Duke evidently still feeling his bath, was doing all in his power to aid the demon in making the snake step lively. A few kitchen implements followed this fugitive procession through the library doorway.
The long, black snake became involved with a leg of the heavy table in the centre of the room. The head developed spasms of agility; there were clangings and rippings, then the foremost section of the long, black snake detached itself, bounded into the air, and, after turning a number of somersaults, became, severally, a torn stocking, excelsior, and a lunatic cat. The ears of this cat were laid back flat upon its head and its speed was excessive upon a fairly circular track it laid out for itself in the library. Flying round this orbit, it perceived the open doorway; passed through it, thence to the kitchen, and outward and onward—Della having left the kitchen door open in her haste as she retired to the backyard.
The black demon with the gassly white forehead and hair, finding himself in the presence of grown people who were white all over, turned in his tracks and followed Mrs. Williams’s cat to the great outdoors. Duke preceded Verman. Mrs. Cullen vanished. Of the apparition, only wreckage and a rightfully apprehensive Penrod were left.
“But where,” Mrs. Schofield began, a few minutes later, looking suddenly mystified—”where—where—”
“Where what?” Mr. Schofield asked testily. “What are you talking about?” His nerves were jarred, and he was rather hoarse after what he had been saying to Penrod. (That regretful necromancer was now upstairs doing unhelpful things to his nose over a washstand.) “What do you mean by, ‘Where, where, where?'” Mr. Schofield demanded. “I don’t see any sense to it.”
“But where is your old classmate?” she cried. “Where’s Mr. Gilling?”
She was the first to notice this striking absence.
“By George!” Mr. Schofield exclaimed. “Where IS old Joe?”
Margaret intervened. “You mean that tall, pale man who was calling?” she asked.
“Pale, no!” said her father. “He’s as flushed as—”
“He was pale when I saw him,” Margaret said. “He had his hat and coat, and he was trying to get out of the front door when I came running downstairs. He couldn’t work the catch for a minute; but before I got to the foot of the steps he managed to turn it and open the door. He went out before I could think what to say to him, he was in such a hurry. I guess everything was so confused you didn’t notice—but he’s certainly gone.”
Mrs. Schofield turned to her husband.
“But I thought he was going to stay to dinner!” she cried.
Mr. Schofield shook his head, admitting himself floored. Later, having mentally gone over everything that might shed light on the curious behaviour of old Joe, he said, without preface:
“He wasn’t at all dissipated when we were in college.”
Mrs. Schofield nodded severely. “Maybe this was just the best thing could have happened to him, after all,” she said.
“It may be,” her husband returned. “I don’t say it isn’t. BUT that isn’t going to make any difference in what I’m going to do to Penrod!”