THE HEART OF MARJORIE JONES
“Well, what you want?” Penrod asked, brusquely.
Marjorie’s wonderful eyes were dark and mysterious, like still water at twilight.
“What makes you behave so AWFUL?” she whispered.
“I don’t either! I guess I got a right to do the way I want to, haven’t I?”
“Well, anyway,” said Marjorie, “you ought to quit bumping into people so it hurts.”
“Poh! It wouldn’t hurt a fly!”
“Yes, it did. It hurt when you bumped Maurice and me that time.”
“It didn’t either. WHERE’D it hurt you? Let’s see if it—”
“Well, I can’t show you, but it did. Penrod, are you going to keep on?”
Penrod’s heart had melted within him; but his reply was pompous and cold. “I will if I feel like it, and I won’t if I feel like it. You wait and see.”
But Marjorie jumped up and ran around to him abandoning her escort. All the children were leaving their chairs and moving toward the dancing-rooms; the orchestra was playing dance-music again.
“Come on, Penrod!” Marjorie cried. “Let’s go dance this together. Come on!”
With seeming reluctance, he suffered her to lead him away. “Well, I’ll go with you; but I won’t dance,” he said “I wouldn’t dance with the President of the United States”
“Well—because well, I won’t DO it!”
“All right. I don’t care. I guess I’ve danced plenty, anyhow. Let’s go in here.” She led him into a room too small for dancing, used ordinarily by Miss Amy Rennsdale’s father as his study, and now vacant. For a while there was silence; but finally Marjorie pointed to the window and said shyly:
“Look, Penrod, it’s getting dark. The party’ll be over pretty soon, and you’ve never danced one single time!”
“Well, I guess I know that, don’t I?”
He was unable to cast aside his outward truculence though it was but a relic. However, his voice was gentler, and Marjorie seemed satisfied. From the other rooms came the swinging music, shouts of “Gotcher bumpus!” sounds of stumbling, of scrambling, of running, of muffled concus signs and squeals of dismay. Penrod’s followers were renewing the wild work, even in the absence of their chief.
“Penrod Schofield, you bad boy,” said Marjorie, “you started every bit of that! You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“I didn’t do anything,” he said—and he believed it. “Pick on me for everything!”
“Well, they wouldn’t if you didn’t do so much,” said Marjorie.
“They would, too.”
“They wouldn’t, either. Who would?”
“That Miss Lowe,” he specified bitterly. “Yes, and Baby Rennsdale’s aunts. If the house’d burn down, I bet they’d say Penrod Schofield did it! Anybody does anything at ALL, they say, ‘Penrod Schofield, shame on you!’ When you and Carlie were dan—”
“Penrod, I just hate that little Carlie Chitten. P’fesser Bartet made me learn that dance with him; but I just hate him.”
Penrod was now almost completely mollified; nevertheless, he continued to set forth his grievance. “Well, they all turned around to me and they said, ‘Why, Penrod Schofield, shame on you!’ And I hadn’t done a single thing! I was just standin’ there. They got to blame ME, though!”
Marjorie laughed airily. “Well, if you aren’t the foolishest—”
“They would, too,” he asserted, with renewed bitterness. “If the house was to fall down, you’d see! They’d all say—”
Marjorie interrupted him. She put her hand on the top of her head, looking a little startled.
“What’s that?” she said.
“Like rain!” Marjorie cried. “Like it was raining in here! A drop fell on my—”
“Why, it couldn’t—” he began. But at this instant a drop fell upon his head, too, and, looking up, they beheld a great oozing splotch upon the ceiling. Drops were gathering upon it and falling; the tinted plaster was cracking, and a little stream began to patter down and splash upon the floor. Then there came a resounding thump upstairs, just above them, and fragments of wet plaster fell.
“The roof must be leaking,” said Marjorie, beginning to be alarmed.
“Couldn’t be the roof,” said Penrod. “Besides there ain’t any rain outdoors.”
As he spoke, a second slender stream of water began to patter upon the floor of the hall outside the door.
“Good gracious!” Marjorie cried, while the ceiling above them shook as with earthquake—or as with boys in numbers jumping, and a great uproar burst forth overhead.
“I believe the house IS falling down, Penrod!” she quavered.
“Well, they’ll blame ME for it!” he said. “Anyways, we better get out o’ here. I guess sumpthing must be the matter.”
His guess was accurate, so far as it went. The dance-music had swung into “Home Sweet Home” some time before, the children were preparing to leave, and Master Chitten had been the first boy to ascend to the gentlemen’s dressing-room for his cap, overcoat and shoes, his motive being to avoid by departure any difficulty in case his earlier activities should cause him to be suspected by the other boys. But in the doorway he halted, aghast.
The lights had not been turned on; but even the dim windows showed that the polished floor gave back reflections no floor-polish had ever equalled. It was a gently steaming lake, from an eighth to a quarter of an inch deep. And Carlie realized that he had forgotten to turn off the faucets in the bathroom.
For a moment, his savoir faire deserted him, and he was filled with ordinary, human-boy panic. Then, at a sound of voices behind him, he lost his head and rushed into the bathroom. It was dark, but certain sensations and the splashing of his pumps warned him that the water was deeper in there. The next instant the lights were switched on in both bathroom and dressing-room, and Carlie beheld Sam Williams in the doorway of the former.
“Oh, look, Maurice!” Sam shouted, in frantic excitement. “Somebody’s let the tub run over, and it’s about ten feet deep! Carlie Chitten’s sloshin’ around in here. Let’s hold the door on him and keep him in!”
Carlie rushed to prevent the execution of this project; but he slipped and went swishing full length along the floor, creating a little surf before him as he slid, to the demoniac happiness of Sam and Maurice. They closed the door, however, and, as other boys rushed, shouting and splashing, into the flooded dressing-room, Carlie began to hammer upon the panels. Then the owners of shoes, striving to rescue them from the increasing waters, made discoveries.
The most dangerous time to give a large children’s party is when there has not been one for a long period. The Rennsdale party had that misfortune, and its climax was the complete and convulsive madness of the gentlemen’s dressing-room during those final moments supposed to be given to quiet preparations, on the part of guests, for departure.
In the upper hall and upon the stairway, panic-stricken little girls listened, wild-eyed, to the uproar that went on, while waiters and maid servants rushed with pails and towels into what was essentially the worst ward in Bedlam. Boys who had behaved properly all afternoon now gave way and joined the confraternity of lunatics. The floors of the house shook to tramplings, rushes, wrestlings, falls and collisions. The walls resounded to chorused bellowings and roars. There were pipings of pain and pipings of joy; there was whistling to pierce the drums of ears; there were hootings and howlings and bleatings and screechings, while over all bleated the heathen battle-cry incessantly: “GOTCHER BUMPUS! GOTCHER BUMPUS!” For the boys had been inspired by the unusual water to transform Penrod’s game of “Gotcher bumpus” into an aquatic sport, and to induce one another, by means of superior force, dexterity, or stratagems, either to sit or to lie at full length in the flood, after the example of Carlie Chitten.
One of the aunts Rennsdale had taken what charge she could of the deafened and distracted maids and waiters who were working to stem the tide, while the other of the aunts Rennsdale stood with her niece and Miss Lowe at the foot of the stairs, trying to say good-night reassuringly to those of the terrified little girls who were able to tear themselves away. This latter aunt Rennsdale marked a dripping figure that came unobtrusively, and yet in a self-contained and gentlemanly manner, down the stairs.
“Carlie Chitten!” she cried. “You poor dear child, you’re soaking! To think those outrageous little fiends wouldn’t even spare YOU!” As she spoke, another departing male guest came from behind Carlie and placed in her hand a snakelike article—a thing that Miss Lowe seized and concealed with one sweeping gesture.
“It’s some false hair somebody must of put in my overcoat pocket,” said Roderick Magsworth Bitts. “Well, ‘g-night. Thank you for a very nice time.”
“Good-night, Miss Rennsdale,” said Master Chitten demurely. “Thank you for a—”
But Miss Rennsdale detained him. “Carrie,” she said earnestly, “you’re a dear boy, and I know you’ll tell me something. It was all Penrod Schofield, wasn’t it?”
“You mean he left the—”
“I mean,” she said, in a low tone, not altogether devoid of ferocity. “I mean it was Penrod who left the faucets running, and Penrod who tied the boys’ shoes together, and filled some of them with soap and mucilage, and put Miss Lowe’s hair in Roddy Bitts’s overcoat. No; look me in the eye, Carlie! They were all shouting that silly thing he started. Didn’t he do it?”
Carlie cast down thoughtful eyes. “I wouldn’t like to tell, Miss Rennsdale,” he said. “I guess I better be going or I’ll catch cold. Thank you for a very nice time.”
“There!” said Miss Rennsdale vehemently, as Carlie went on his way. “What did I tell you? Carlie Chitten’s too manly to say it, but I just KNOW it was that terrible Penrod Schofield.”
Behind her, a low voice, unheard by all except the person to whom it spoke, repeated a part of this speech: “What did I tell you?”
This voice belonged to one Penrod Schofield.
Penrod and Marjorie had descended by another stairway, and he now considered it wiser to pass to the rear of the little party at the foot of the stairs. As he was still in his pumps, his choked shoes occupying his overcoat pockets, he experienced no difficulty in reaching the front door, and getting out of it unobserved, although the noise upstairs was greatly abated. Marjorie, however, made her curtseys and farewells in a creditable manner.
“There!” Penrod said again, when she rejoined him in the darkness outside. “What did I tell you? Didn’t I say I’d get the blame of it, no matter if the house went and fell down? I s’pose they think I put mucilage and soap in my own shoes.”
Marjorie delayed at the gate until some eagerly talking little girls had passed out. The name “Penrod Schofield” was thick and scandalous among them.
“Well,” said Marjorie, “I wouldn’t care, Penrod. ‘Course, about soap and mucilage in YOUR shoes, anybody’d know some other boy must of put ’em there to get even for what you put in his.”
“But I DIDN’T!” he cried. “I didn’t do ANYTHING! That ole Miss Rennsdale can say what she wants to, I didn’t do—”
“Well, anyway, Penrod,” said Marjorie, softly, “they can’t ever PROVE it was you.”
He felt himself suffocating in a coil against which no struggle availed.
“But I never DID it!” he wailed, helplessly. “I never did anything at all!”
She leaned toward him a little, and the lights from her waiting carriage illumined her dimly, but enough for him to see that her look was fond and proud, yet almost awed.
“Anyway, Penrod,” she whispered, “I don’t believe there’s any other boy in the whole world could of done HALF as much!”
And with that, she left him, and ran out to the carriage.
But Penrod remained by the gate to wait for Sam, and the burden of his sorrows was beginning to lift. In fact, he felt a great deal better, in spite of his having just discovered why Marjorie loved him.