Georgie Bassett was a boy set apart. Not only that; Georgie knew that he was a boy set apart. He would think about it for ten or twenty minutes at a time, and he could not look at himself in a mirror and remain wholly without emotion. What that emotion was, he would have been unable to put into words; but it helped him to understand that there was a certain noble something about him that other boys did not possess.
Georgie’s mother had been the first to discover that Georgie was a boy set apart. In fact, Georgie did not know it until one day when he happened to overhear his mother telling two of his aunts about it. True, he had always understood that he was the best boy in town and he intended to be a minister when he grew up; but he had never before comprehended the full extent of his sanctity, and, from that fraught moment onward, he had an almost theatrical sense of his set-apartness.
Penrod Schofield and Sam Williams and the other boys of the neighbourhood all were conscious that there was something different and spiritual about Georgie, and, though this consciousness of theirs may have been a little obscure, it was none the less actual. That is to say, they knew that Georgie Bassett was a boy set apart; but they did not know that they knew it. Georgie’s air and manner at all times demonstrated to them that the thing was so, and, moreover, their mothers absorbed appreciation of Georgie’s wonderfulness from the very fount of it, for Mrs. Bassett’s conversation was of little else. Thus, the radiance of his character became the topic of envious parental comment during moments of strained patience in many homes, so that altogether the most remarkable fact to be stated of Georgie Bassett is that he escaped the consequences as long as he did.
Strange as it may seem, no actual violence was done him, except upon the incidental occasion of a tar-fight into which he was drawn by an obvious eccentricity on the part of destiny. Naturally, he was not popular with his comrades; in all games he was pushed aside, and disregarded, being invariably the tail-ender in every pastime in which leaders “chose sides”; his counsels were slighted as worse than weightless, and all his opinions instantly hooted. Still, considering the circumstances fairly and thoughtfully, it is difficult to deny that his boy companions showed creditable moderation in their treatment of him. That is, they were moderate up to a certain date, and even then they did not directly attack him—there was nothing cold—blooded about it at all. The thing was forced upon them, and, though they all felt pleased and uplifted—while it was happening—they did not understand precisely why. Nothing could more clearly prove their innocence of heart than this very ignorance, and yet none of the grown people who later felt themselves concerned in the matter was able to look at it in that light. Now, here was a characteristic working of those reactions that produce what is sometimes called “the injustice of life”, because the grown people were responsible for the whole affair and were really the guilty parties. It was from grown people that Georgie Bassett learned he was a boy set apart, and the effect upon him was what alienated his friends. Then these alienated friends were brought (by odious comparisons on the part of grown people) to a condition of mind wherein they suffered dumb annoyance, like a low fever, whenever they heard Georgie’s name mentioned, while association with his actual person became every day more and more irritating. And yet, having laid this fuse and having kept it constantly glowing, the grown people expected nothing to happen to Georgie.
The catastrophe befell as a consequence of Sam Williams deciding to have a shack in his backyard. Sam had somehow obtained a vasty piano-box and a quantity of lumber, and, summoning Penrod Schofield and the coloured brethren, Herman and Verman, he expounded to them his building-plans and offered them shares and benefits in the institution he proposed to found. Acceptance was enthusiastic; straightway the assembly became a union of carpenters all of one mind, and ten days saw the shack not completed but comprehensible. Anybody could tell, by that time, that it was intended for a shack.
There was a door on leather hinges; it drooped, perhaps, but it was a door. There was a window—not a glass one, but, at least, it could be “looked out of”, as Sam said. There was a chimney made of stovepipe, though that was merely decorative, because the cooking was done out of doors in an underground “furnace” that the boys excavated. There were pictures pasted on the interior walls, and, hanging from a nail, there was a crayon portrait of Sam’s grandfather, which he had brought down from the attic quietly, though, as he said, it “wasn’t any use on earth up there.” There were two lame chairs from Penrod’s attic and along one wall ran a low and feeble structure intended to serve as a bench or divan. This would come in handy, Sam said, if any of the party “had to lay down or anything”, and at a pinch (such as a meeting of the association) it would serve to seat all the members in a row.
For, coincidentally with the development of the shack, the builders became something more than partners. Later, no one could remember who first suggested the founding of a secret order, or society, as a measure of exclusiveness and to keep the shack sacred to members only; but it was an idea that presently began to be more absorbing and satisfactory than even the shack itself. The outward manifestations of it might have been observed in the increased solemnity and preoccupation of the Caucasian members and in a few ceremonial observances exposed to the public eye. As an instance of these latter, Mrs. Williams, happening to glance from a rearward window, about four o’clock one afternoon, found her attention arrested by what seemed to be a flag-raising before the door of the shack. Sam and Herman and Verman stood in attitudes of rigid attention, shoulder to shoulder, while Penrod Schofield, facing them, was apparently delivering some sort of exhortation, which he read from a scribbled sheet of foolscap. Concluding this, he lifted from the ground a long and somewhat warped clothes-prop, from one end of which hung a whitish flag, or pennon, bearing an inscription. Sam and Herman and Verman lifted their right hands, while Penrod placed the other end of the clothes-prop in a hole in the ground, with the pennon fluttering high above the shack. He then raised his own right hand, and the four boys repeated something in concert. It was inaudible to Mrs. Williams; but she was able to make out the inscription upon the pennon. It consisted of the peculiar phrase “In-Or-In” done in black paint upon a muslin ground, and consequently seeming to be in need of a blotter.
It recurred to her mind, later that evening, when she happened to find herself alone with Sam in the library, and, in merest idle curiosity, she asked: “Sam, what does ‘In-Or-In’ mean?”
Sam, bending over an arithmetic, uncreased his brow till it became of a blank and marble smoothness.
“What are those words on your flag?”
Sam gave her a long, cold, mystic look, rose to his feet and left the room with emphasis and dignity. For a moment she was puzzled. But Sam’s older brother was this year completing his education at a university, and Mrs. Williams was not altogether ignorant of the obligations of secrecy imposed upon some brotherhoods; so she was able to comprehend Sam’s silent withdrawal, and, instead of summoning him back for further questions, she waited until he was out of hearing and then began to laugh.
Sam’s action was in obedience to one of the rules adopted, at his own suggestion, as a law of the order. Penrod advocated it warmly. From Margaret he had heard accounts of her friends in college and thus had learned much that ought to be done. On the other hand, Herman subscribed to it with reluctance, expressing a decided opinion that if he and Verman were questioned upon the matter at home and adopted the line of conduct required by the new rule, it would be well for them to depart not only from the room in which the questioning took place but from the house, and hurriedly at that. “An’ STAY away!” he concluded.
Verman, being tongue-tied—not without advantage in this case, and surely an ideal qualification for membership—was not so apprehensive. He voted with Sam and Penrod, carrying the day.
New rules were adopted at every meeting (though it cannot be said that all of them were practicable) for, in addition to the information possessed by Sam and Penrod, Herman and Verman had many ideas of their own, founded upon remarks overheard at home. Both their parents belonged to secret orders, their father to the Innapenent ‘Nevolent Lodge (so stated by Herman) and their mother to the Order of White Doves.
From these and other sources, Penrod found no difficulty in compiling material for what came to be known as the “rixual”; and it was the rixual he was reading to the members when Mrs. Williams happened to observe the ceremonial raising of the emblem of the order.
The rixual contained the oath, a key to the secret language, or code (devised by Penrod for use in uncertain emergencies) and passwords for admission to the shack, also instructions for recognizing a brother member in the dark, and a rather alarming sketch of the things to be done during the initiation of a candidate.
This last was employed for the benefit of Master Roderick Magsworth Bitts, Junior, on the Saturday following the flag-raising. He presented himself in Sam’s yard, not for initiation, indeed—having no previous knowledge of the Society of the In-Or-In—but for general purposes of sport and pastime. At first sight of the shack he expressed anticipations of pleasure, adding some suggestions for improving the architectural effect. Being prevented, however, from entering, and even from standing in the vicinity of the sacred building, he plaintively demanded an explanation; whereupon he was commanded to withdraw to the front yard for a time, and the members held meeting in the shack. Roddy was elected, and consented to undergo the initiation.
He was not the only new member that day. A short time after Roddy had been taken into the shack for the reading of the rixual and other ceremonies, little Maurice Levy entered the Williams’ gate and strolled round to the backyard, looking for Sam. He was surprised and delighted to behold the promising shack, and, like Roddy, entertained fair hopes for the future.
The door of the shack was closed; a board covered the window, but a murmur of voices came from within. Maurice stole close and listened. Through a crack he could see the flicker of a candle-flame, and he heard the voice of Penrod Schofield:
“Roddy Bitts, do you solemnly swear?”
“Well, all right,” said the voice of Roddy, somewhat breathless.
“How many fingers you see before your eyes?”
“Can’t see any,” Roddy returned. “How could I, with this thing over my eyes, and laying down on my stummick, anyway?”
“Then the time has come,” Penrod announced in solemn tones. “The time has come.”
Evidently a broad and flat implement was thereupon applied to Roddy.
“OW!” complained the candidate.
“No noise!” said Penrod sternly, and added: “Roddy Bitts must now say the oath. Say exackly what I say, Roddy, and if you don’t—well, you better, because you’ll see! Now, say ‘I solemnly swear—'”
“I solemnly swear—” Roddy said.
“To keep the secrets—”
“To keep the secrets—” Roddy repeated.
“To keep the secrets in infadelaty and violate and sanctuary.”
“What?” Roddy naturally inquired.
“OW!” cried Roddy. “That’s no fair!”
“You got to say just what I say,” Penrod was heard informing him. “That’s the rixual, and anyway, even if you do get it right, Verman’s got to hit you every now and then, because that’s part of the rixual, too. Now go on and say it. ‘I solemnly swear to keep the secrets in infadelaty and violate and sanctuary.”‘
“I solemnly swear—” Roddy began.
But Maurice Levy was tired of being no party to such fascinating proceedings, and he began to hammer upon the door.
“Sam! Sam Williams!” he shouted. “Lemme in there! I know lots about ‘nishiatin’. Lemme in!”
The door was flung open, revealing Roddy Bitts, blindfolded and bound, lying face down upon the floor of the shack; but Maurice had only a fugitive glimpse of this pathetic figure before he, too, was recumbent. Four boys flung themselves indignantly upon him and bore him to earth.
“Hi!” he squealed. “What you doin’? Haven’t you got any SENSE?”
And, from within the shack, Roddy added his own protest.
“Let me up, can’t you?” he cried. “I got to see what’s goin’ on out there, haven’t I? I guess I’m not goin’ to lay here all DAY! What you think I’m made of?”
“You hush up!” Penrod commanded. “This is a nice biznuss!” he continued, deeply aggrieved. “What kind of a ‘nishiation do you expect this is, anyhow?”
“Well, here’s Maurice Levy gone and seen part of the secrets,” said Sam, in a voice of equal plaintiveness. “Yes; and I bet he was listenin’ out here, too!”
“Lemme up!” begged Maurice, half stifled. “I didn’t do any harm to your old secrets, did I? Anyways, I just as soon be ‘nishiated myself. I ain’t afraid. So if you ‘nishiate me, what difference will it make if I did hear a little?”
Struck with this idea, which seemed reasonable; Penrod obtained silence from every one except Roddy, and it was decided to allow Maurice to rise and retire to the front yard. The brother members then withdrew within the shack, elected Maurice to the fellowship, and completed the initiation of Mr. Bitts. After that, Maurice was summoned and underwent the ordeal with fortitude, though the newest brother—still tingling with his own experiences—helped to make certain parts of the rixual unprecedentedly severe.
Once endowed with full membership, Maurice and Roddy accepted the obligations and privileges of the order with enthusiasm. Both interested themselves immediately in improvements for the shack, and made excursions to their homes to obtain materials. Roddy returned with a pair of lensless mother-of-pearl opera-glasses, a contribution that led to the creation of a new office, called the “warner”. It was his duty to climb upon the back fence once every fifteen minutes and search the horizon for intruders or “anybody that hasn’t got any biznuss around here.” This post proved so popular, at first, that it was found necessary to provide for rotation in office, and to shorten the interval from fifteen minutes to an indefinite but much briefer period, determined principally by argument between the incumbent and his successor.
And Maurice Levy contributed a device so pleasant, and so necessary to the prevention of interruption during meetings, that Penrod and Sam wondered why they had not thought of it themselves long before. It consisted of about twenty-five feet of garden hose in fair condition. One end of it was introduced into the shack through a knothole, and the other was secured by wire round the faucet of hydrant in the stable. Thus, if members of the order were assailed by thirst during an important session, or in the course of an initiation, it would not be necessary for them all to leave the shack. One could go, instead, and when he had turned on the water at the hydrant, the members in the shack could drink without leaving their places. It was discovered, also, that the section of hose could be used as a speaking-tube; and though it did prove necessary to explain by shouting outside the tube what one had said into it, still there was a general feeling that it provided another means of secrecy and an additional safeguard against intrusion. It is true that during the half-hour immediately following the installation of this convenience, there was a little violence among the brothers concerning a question of policy. Sam, Roddy and Verman—Verman especially—wished to use the tube “to talk through” and Maurice, Penrod and Herman wished to use it “to drink through.” As a consequence of the success of the latter party, the shack became too damp for habitation until another day, and several members, as they went home at dusk, might easily have been mistaken for survivors of some marine catastrophe.
Still, not every shack is equipped with running water, and exuberance befitted the occasion. Everybody agreed that the afternoon had been one of the most successful and important in many weeks. The Order of the In-Or-In was doing splendidly, and yet every brother felt, in his heart, that there was one thing that could spoil it. Against that fatality, all were united to protect themselves, the shack, the rixual, the opera-glasses and the water-and-speaking tube. Sam spoke not only for himself but for the entire order when he declared, in speeding the last parting guest:
“Well, we got to stick to one thing or we might as well quit! GEORGIE BASSETT better not come pokin’ around!”
“No, SIR!” said Penrod.