GEORGIE BECOMES A MEMBER
But Georgie did. It is difficult to imagine how cause and effect could be more closely and patently related. Inevitably, Georgie did come poking around. How was he to refrain when daily, up and down the neighbourhood, the brothers strutted with mystic and important airs, when they whispered together and uttered words of strange import in his presence? Thus did they defeat their own object. They desired to keep Georgie at a distance, yet they could not refrain from posing before him. They wished to impress upon him the fact that he was an outsider, and they but succeeded in rousing his desire to be an insider, a desire that soon became a determination. For few were the days until he not only knew of the shack but had actually paid it a visit. That was upon a morning when the other boys were in school, Georgie having found himself indisposed until about ten o’clock, when he was able to take nourishment and subsequently to interest himself in this rather private errand. He climbed the Williams’ alley fence, and, having made a modest investigation of the exterior of the shack, which was padlocked, retired without having disturbed anything except his own peace of mind. His curiosity, merely piqued before, now became ravenous and painful. It was not allayed by the mystic manners of the members or by the unnecessary emphasis they laid upon their coldness toward himself; and when a committee informed him darkly that there were “secret orders” to prevent his coming within “a hundred and sixteen feet”—such was Penrod’s arbitrary language—of the Williams’ yard, “in any direction”, Georgie could bear it no longer, but entered his own house, and, in burning words, laid the case before a woman higher up. Here the responsibility for things is directly traceable to grown people. Within that hour, Mrs. Bassett sat in Mrs. Williams’s library to address her hostess upon the subject of Georgie’s grievance.
“Of course, it isn’t Sam’s fault,” she said, concluding her interpretation of the affair. “Georgie likes Sam, and didn’t blame him at all. No; we both felt that Sam would always be a polite, nice boy—Georgie used those very words—but Penrod seems to have a VERY bad influence. Georgie felt that Sam would WANT him to come and play in the shack if Penrod didn’t make Sam do everything HE wants. What hurt Georgie most is that it’s SAM’S shack, and he felt for another boy to come and tell him that he mustn’t even go NEAR it—well, of course, it was very trying. And he’s very much hurt with little Maurice Levy, too. He said that he was sure that even Penrod would be glad to have him for a member of their little club if it weren’t for Maurice—and I think he spoke of Roddy Bitts, too.”
The fact that the two remaining members were coloured was omitted from this discourse which leads to the deduction that Georgie had not mentioned it.
“Georgie said all the other boys liked him very much,” Mrs. Bassett continued, “and that he felt it his duty to join the club, because most of them were so anxious to have him, and he is sure he would have a good influence over them. He really did speak of it in quite a touching way, Mrs. Williams. Of course, we mothers mustn’t brag of our sons too much, but Georgie REALLY isn’t like other boys. He is so sensitive, you can’t think how this little affair has hurt him, and I felt that it might even make him ill. You see, I HAD to respect his reason for wanting to join the club. And if I AM his mother”—she gave a deprecating little laugh—”I must say that it seems noble to want to join not really for his own sake but for the good that he felt his influence would have over the other boys. Don’t you think so, Mrs. Williams?”
Mrs. Williams said that she did, indeed. And the result of this interview was another, which took place between Sam and his father that evening, for Mrs. Williams, after talking to Sam herself, felt that the matter needed a man to deal with it. The man did it man-fashion.
“You either invite Georgie Bassett to play in the shack all he wants to,” the man said, “or the shack comes down.”
“Take your choice. I’m not going to have neighbourhood quarrels over such—”
“That’s enough! You said yourself you haven’t anything against Georgie.”
“You said you didn’t like him, but you couldn’t tell why. You couldn’t state a single instance of bad behaviour against him. You couldn’t mention anything he ever did which wasn’t what a gentleman should have done. It’s no use, I tell you. Either you invite Georgie to play in the shack as much as he likes next Saturday, or the shack comes down.”
“I’m not going to talk any more about it. If you want the shack pulled down and hauled away, you and your friends continue to tantalize this inoffensive little boy the way you have been. If you want to keep it, be polite and invite him in.”
“That’s ALL, I said!”
Sam was crushed.
Next day he communicated the bitter substance of the edict to the other members, and gloom became unanimous. So serious an aspect did the affair present that it was felt necessary to call a special meeting of the order after school. The entire membership was in attendance; the door was closed, the window covered with a board, and the candle lighted. Then all of the brothers—except one—began to express their sorrowful apprehensions. The whole thing was spoiled, they agreed, if Georgie Bassett had to be taken in. On the other hand, if they didn’t take him in, “there wouldn’t be anything left.” The one brother who failed to express any opinion was little Verman. He was otherwise occupied.
Verman had been the official paddler during the initiations of Roddy Bitts and Maurice Levy; his work had been conscientious, and it seemed to be taken by consent that he was to continue in office. An old shingle from the woodshed roof had been used for the exercise of his function in the cases of Roddy and Maurice; but this afternoon he had brought with him a new one that he had picked up somewhere. It was broader and thicker than the old one and, during the melancholy prophecies of his fellows, he whittled the lesser end of it to the likeness of a handle. Thus engaged, he bore no appearance of despondency; on the contrary, his eyes, shining brightly in the candlelight, indicated that eager thoughts possessed him, while from time to time the sound of a chuckle issued from his simple African throat. Gradually the other brothers began to notice his preoccupation, and one by one they fell silent, regarding him thoughtfully. Slowly the darkness of their countenances lifted a little; something happier and brighter began to glimmer from each boyish face. All eyes remained fascinated upon Verman.
“Well, anyway,” said Penrod, in a tone that was almost cheerful, “this is only Tuesday. We got pretty near all week to fix up the ‘nishiation for Saturday.”
And Saturday brought sunshine to make the occasion more tolerable for both the candidate and the society. Mrs. Williams, going to the window to watch Sam when he left the house after lunch, marked with pleasure that his look and manner were sprightly as he skipped down the walk to the front gate. There he paused and yodelled for a time. An answering yodel came presently; Penrod Schofield appeared, and by his side walked Georgie Bassett. Georgie was always neat; but Mrs. Williams noticed that he exhibited unusual gloss and polish to-day. As for his expression, it was a shade too complacent under the circumstances, though, for that matter, perfect tact avoids an air of triumph under any circumstances. Mrs. Williams was pleased to observe that Sam and Penrod betrayed no resentment whatever; they seemed to have accepted defeat in a good spirit and to be inclined to make the best of Georgie. Indeed, they appeared to be genuinely excited about him—it was evident that their cordiality was eager and wholehearted.
The three boys conferred for a few moments; then Sam disappeared round the house and returned, waving his hand and nodding. Upon that, Penrod took Georgie’s left arm, Sam took his right, and the three marched off to the backyard in a companionable way that made Mrs. Williams feel it had been an excellent thing to interfere a little in Georgie’s interest.
Experiencing the benevolent warmth that comes of assisting in a good action, she ascended to an apartment upstairs, and, for a couple of hours, employed herself with needle and thread in sartorial repairs on behalf of her husband and Sam. Then she was interrupted by the advent of a coloured serving-maid.
“Miz Williams, I reckon the house goin’ fall down!” this pessimist said, arriving out of breath. “That s’iety o’ Mist’ Sam’s suttenly tryin’ to pull the roof down on ow haids!”
“The roof?” Mrs. Williams inquired mildly. “They aren’t in the attic, are they?”
“No’m; they in the celluh, but they REACHIN’ fer the roof! I nev’ did hear no sech a rumpus an’ squawkin’ an’ squawlin’ an’ fallin’ an’ whoopin’ an’ whackin’ an’ bangin’! They troop down by the outside celluh do’, n’en—bang!—they bus’ loose, an’ been goin’ on ev’ since, wuss’n Bedlun! Ef they anything down celluh ain’ broke by this time, it cain’ be only jes’ the foundashum, an’ I bet THAT ain’ goin’ stan’ much longer! I’d gone down an’ stop ’em, but I’m ‘fraid to. Hones’, Miz Williams, I’m ‘fraid o’ my life go down there, all that Bedlun goin’ on. I thought I come see what you say.”
Mrs. Williams laughed.
“We have to stand a little noise in the house sometimes, Fanny, when there are boys. They’re just playing, and a lot of noise is usually a pretty safe sign.”
“Yes’m,” Fanny said. “It’s yo’ house, Miz Williams, not mine. You want ’em tear it down, I’m willin’.”
She departed, and Mrs. Williams continued to sew. The days were growing short, and at five o’clock she was obliged to put the work aside, as her eyes did not permit her to continue it by artificial light. Descending to the lower floor, she found the house silent, and when she opened the front door to see if the evening paper had come, she beheld Sam, Penrod and Maurice Levy standing near the gate engaged in quiet conversation. Penrod and Maurice departed while she was looking for the paper, and Sam came thoughtfully up the walk.
“Well, Sam,” she said, “it wasn’t such a bad thing, after all, to show a little politeness to Georgie Bassett, was it?”
Sam gave her a non-committal look—expression of every kind had been wiped from his countenance. He presented a blank surface.
“No’m,” he said meekly.
“Everything was just a little pleasanter because you’d been friendly, wasn’t it?”
“Has Georgie gone home?”
“I hear you made enough noise in the cellar—Did Georgie have a good time?”
“Did Georgie Bassett have a good time?”
“Well”—Sam now had the air of a person trying to remember details with absolute accuracy—”well, he didn’t say he did, and he didn’t say he didn’t.”
“Didn’t he thank the boys?”
“Didn’t he even thank you?”
“Why, that’s queer,” she said. “He’s always so polite. He SEEMED to be having a good time, didn’t he, Sam?”
“Didn’t Georgie seem to be enjoying himself?”
This question, apparently so simple, was not answered with promptness. Sam looked at his mother in a puzzled way, and then he found it necessary to rub each of his shins in turn with the palm of his right hand.
“I stumbled,” he said apologetically. “I stumbled on the cellar steps.”
“Did you hurt yourself?” she asked quickly.
“No’m; but I guess maybe I better rub some arnica—”
“I’ll get it,” she said. “Come up to your father’s bathroom, Sam. Does it hurt much?”
“No’m,” he answered truthfully, “it hardly hurts at all.”
And having followed her to the bathroom, he insisted, with unusual gentleness, that he be left to apply the arnica to the alleged injuries himself. He was so persuasive that she yielded, and descended to the library, where she found her husband once more at home after his day’s work.
“Well?” he said. “Did Georgie show up, and were they decent to him?”
“Oh, yes; it’s all right. Sam and Penrod were good as gold. I saw them being actually cordial to him.”
“That’s well,” Mr. Williams said, settling into a chair with his paper. “I was a little apprehensive, but I suppose I was mistaken. I walked home, and just now, as I passed Mrs. Bassett’s, I saw Doctor Venny’s car in front, and that barber from the corner shop on Second Street was going in the door. I couldn’t think what a widow would need a barber and a doctor for—especially at the same time. I couldn’t think what Georgie’d need such a combination for either, and then I got afraid that maybe—”
Mrs. Williams laughed. “Oh, no; it hasn’t anything to do with his having been over here. I’m sure they were very nice to him.”
“Well, I’m glad of that.”
“Yes, indeed—” Mrs. Williams began, when Fanny appeared, summoning her to the telephone.
It is pathetically true that Mrs. Williams went to the telephone humming a little song. She was detained at the instrument not more than five minutes; then she made a plunging return into the library, a blanched and stricken woman. She made strange, sinister gestures at her husband.
He sprang up, miserably prophetic. “Mrs. Bassett?”
“Go to the telephone,” Mrs. Williams said hoarsely “She wants to talk to you, too. She CAN’T talk much—she’s hysterical. She says they lured Georgie into the cellar and had him beaten! That’s not all—”
Mr. Williams was already on his way.
“You find Sam!” he commanded, over his shoulder.
Mrs. Williams stepped into the front hall. “Sam!” she called, addressing the upper reaches of the stairway. “Sam!”
Not even echo answered.
A faint clearing of somebody’s throat was heard behind her, a sound so modest and unobtrusive it was no more than just audible, and, turning, the mother beheld her son sitting upon the floor in the shadow of the stairs and gazing meditatively at the hatrack. His manner indicated that he wished to produce the impression that he had been sitting there, in this somewhat unusual place and occupation, for a considerable time, but without overhearing anything that went on in the library so close by.
“Sam,” she cried, “what have you DONE?”
“Well—I guess my legs are all right,” he said gently. “I got the arnica on, so probably they won’t hurt any m—”
“Stand up!” she said.
“March into the library!”
Sam marched—slow-time. In fact, no funeral march has been composed in a time so slow as to suit this march of Sam’s. One might have suspected that he was in a state of apprehension.
Mr. Williams entered at one door as his son crossed the threshold of the other, and this encounter was a piteous sight. After one glance at his father’s face, Sam turned desperately, as if to flee outright. But Mrs. Williams stood in the doorway behind him.
“You come here!” And the father’s voice was as terrible as his face. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO GEORGIE BASSETT?”
“Nothin’,” Sam gulped; “nothin’ at all.”
“We just—we just ‘nishiated him.”
Mr. Williams turned abruptly, walked to the fireplace, and there turned again, facing the wretched Sam. “That’s all you did?”
“Georgie Bassett’s mother has just told me over the telephone,” Mr. Williams said, deliberately, “that you and Penrod Schofield and Roderick Bitts and Maurice Levy LURED GEORGIE INTO THE CELLAR AND HAD HIM BEATEN!”
At this, Sam was able to hold up his head a little and to summon a rather feeble indignation.
“It ain’t so,” he declared. “We didn’t any such thing lower him into the cellar. We weren’t goin’ NEAR the cellar with him. We never THOUGHT of goin’ down cellar. He went down there himself, first.”
“So! I suppose he was running away from you, poor thing! Trying to escape from you, wasn’t he?”
“He wasn’t,” Sam said doggedly. “We weren’t chasin’ him—or anything at all.”
“Then why did he go in the cellar?”
“Well, he didn’t exactly GO in the cellar,” Sam said reluctantly.
“Well, how did he GET in the cellar, then?”
“He—he fell in,” said Sam.
“HOW did he fall in?”
“Well, the door was open, and—well, he kept walkin’ around there, and we hollered at him to keep away, but just then he kind of—well, the first I noticed was I couldn’t SEE him, and so we went and looked down the steps, and he was sitting down there on the bottom step and kind of shouting, and—”
“See here!” Mr. Williams interrupted. “You’re going to make a clean breast of this whole affair and take the consequences. You’re going to tell it and tell it ALL. Do you understand that?”
“Then you tell me how Georgie Bassett fell down the cellar steps—and tell me quick!”
“He—he was blindfolded.”
“Aha! NOW we’re getting at it. You begin at the beginning and tell me just what you did to him from the time he got here. Understand?”
“Go on, then!”
“Well, I’m goin’ to,” Sam protested. “We never hurt him at all. He wasn’t even hurt when he fell down cellar. There’s a lot of mud down there, because the cellar door leaks, and—”
“Sam!” Mr. Williams’s tone was deadly. “Did you hear me tell you to begin at the beginning?”
Sam made a great effort and was able to obey.
“Well, we had everything ready for the ‘nishiation before lunch,” he said. “We wanted it all to be nice, because you said we had to have him, papa, and after lunch Penrod went to guard him—that’s a new part in the rixual—and he brought him over, and we took him out to the shack and blindfolded him, and—well, he got kind of mad because we wanted him to lay down on his stummick and be tied up, and he said he wouldn’t, because the floor was a little bit wet in there and he could feel it sort of squashy under his shoes, and he said his mother didn’t want him ever to get dirty and he just wouldn’t do it; and we all kept telling him he had to, or else how could there be any ‘nishiation; and he kept gettin’ madder and said he wanted to have the ‘nishiation outdoors where it wasn’t wet and he wasn’t goin’ to lay down on his stummick, anyway.” Sam paused for wind, then got under way again: “Well, some of the boys were tryin’ to get him to lay down on his stummick, and he kind of fell up against the door and it came open and he ran out in the yard. He was tryin’ to get the blindfold off his eyes, but he couldn’t because it was a towel in a pretty hard knot; and he went tearin’ all around the backyard, and we didn’t chase him, or anything. All we did was just watch him—and that’s when he fell in the cellar. Well, it didn’t hurt him any. It didn’t hurt him at all; but he was muddier than what he would of been if he’d just had sense enough to lay down in the shack. Well, so we thought, long as he was down in the cellar anyway, we might as well have the rest of the ‘nishiation down there. So we brought the things down and—and ‘nishiated him—and that’s all. That’s every bit we did to him.”
“Yes,” Mr. Williams said sardonically; “I see. What were the details of the initiation?”
“I want to know what else you did to him? What was the initiation?”
“It’s—it’s secret,” Sam murmured piteously.
“Not any longer, I assure you! The society is a thing of the past and you’ll find your friend Penrod’s parents agree with me in that. Mrs. Bassett had already telephoned them when she called us up. You go on with your story!”
Sam sighed deeply, and yet it may have been a consolation to know that his present misery was not altogether without its counterpart. Through the falling dusk his spirit may have crossed the intervening distance to catch a glimpse of his friend suffering simultaneously and standing within the same peril. And if Sam’s spirit did thus behold Penrod in jeopardy, it was a true vision.
“Go on!” Mr. Williams said.
“Well, there wasn’t any fire in the furnace because it’s too warm yet, and we weren’t goin’ to do anything’d HURT him, so we put him in there—”
“In the FURNACE?”
“It was cold,” Sam protested. “There hadn’t been any fire there since last spring. Course we told him there was fire in it. We HAD to do that,” he continued earnestly, “because that was part of the ‘nishiation. We only kept him in it a little while and kind of hammered on the outside a little and then we took him out and got him to lay down on his stummick, because he was all muddy anyway, where he fell down the cellar; and how could it matter to anybody that had any sense at all? Well, then we had the rixual, and—and—why, the teeny little paddlin’ he got wouldn’t hurt a flea! Well, and then things were kind of spoiled, anyway; so we didn’t do but just a little more—and that’s all.”
“Go on! What was the ‘just a little more?'”
“Well—we got him to swaller a little teeny bit of asafidity that Penrod used to have to wear in a bag around his neck. It wasn’t enough to even make a person sneeze—it wasn’t much more’n a half a spoonful—it wasn’t hardly a QUARTER of a spoonf—”
“Ha!” said Mr. Williams. “That accounts for the doctor. What else?”
“Well—we—we had some paint left over from our flag, and we put just a little teeny bit of it on his hair and—”
“Ha!” said Mr. Williams. “That accounts for the barber. What else?”
“That’s all,” Sam said, swallowing. “Then he got mad and went home.”
Mr. Williams walked to the door, and sternly motioned to the culprit to precede him through it. But just before the pair passed from her sight, Mrs. Williams gave way to an uncontrollable impulse.
“Sam,” she asked, “what does ‘In-Or-In’ stand for?”
The unfortunate boy had begun to sniffle.
“It—it means—Innapenent Order of Infadelaty,” he moaned—and plodded onward to his doom.
Not his alone: at that very moment Master Roderick Magsworth Bitts, Junior, was suffering also, consequent upon telephoning on the part of Mrs. Bassett, though Roderick’s punishment was administered less on the ground of Georgie’s troubles and more on that of Roddy’s having affiliated with an order consisting so largely of Herman and Verman. As for Maurice Levy, he was no whit less unhappy. He fared as ill.
Simultaneously, two ex-members of the In-Or-In were finding their lot fortunate. Something had prompted them to linger in the alley in the vicinity of the shack, and it was to this fated edifice that Mr. Williams, with demoniac justice, brought Sam for the deed he had in mind.
Herman and Verman listened—awe-stricken—to what went on within the shack. Then, before it was over, they crept away and down the alley toward their own home. This was directly across the alley from the Schofields’ stable, and they were horrified at the sounds that issued from the interior of the stable store-room. It was the St. Bartholomew’s Eve of that neighbourhood.
“Man, man!” said Herman, shaking his head. “Glad I ain’ no white boy!”
Verman seemed gloomily to assent.