Penrod and Sam – Chapter 9

9

THE TONIC

These broodings helped a little; but it was a severe morning, and on his way home at noon he did not recover heart enough to practice the bullfrog’s croak, the craft that Sam Williams had lately mastered to inspiring perfection. This sonorous accomplishment Penrod had determined to make his own. At once guttural and resonant, impudent yet plaintive, with a barbaric twang like the plucked string of a Congo war-fiddle, the sound had fascinated him. It is made in the throat by processes utterly impossible to describe in human words, and no alphabet as yet produced by civilized man affords the symbols to vocalize it to the ear of imagination. “Gunk” is the poor makeshift that must be employed to indicate it.

Penrod uttered one half-hearted “Gunk” as he turned in at his own gate. However, this stimulated him, and he paused to practice. “Gunk!” he croaked. “Gunk-gunk-gunk-gunk!”

Mrs. Schofield leaned out of an open window upstairs.

“Don’t do that, Penrod,” she said anxiously. “Please don’t do that.”

“Why not?” Penrod asked, and, feeling encouraged by his progress in the new art, he continued: “Gunk—gunk-gunk! Gunk-gunk—”

“Please try not to do it,” she urged pleadingly. “You CAN stop it if you try. Won’t you, dear?”

But Penrod felt that he was almost upon the point of attaining a mastery equal to Sam Williams’s. He had just managed to do something in his throat that he had never done before, and he felt that unless he kept on doing it at this time, his new-born facility might evade him later. “Gunk!” he croaked. “Gunk—gunk-gunk!” And he continued to croak, persevering monotonously, his expression indicating the depth of his preoccupation.

His mother looked down solicitously, murmured in a melancholy undertone, shook her head; then disappeared from the window, and, after a moment or two, opened the front door.

“Come in, dear,” she said; “I’ve got something for you.”

Penrod’s look of preoccupation vanished; he brightened and ceased to croak. His mother had already given him a small leather pocketbook with a nickel in it, as a souvenir of her journey. Evidently she had brought another gift as well, delaying its presentation until now. “I’ve got something for you!” These were auspicious words.

“What is it, Mamma?” he asked, and, as she smiled tenderly upon him, his gayety increased. “Yay!” he shouted. “Mamma, is it that reg’lar carpenter’s tool chest I told you about?”

“No,” she said. “But I’ll show you, Penrod. Come on, dear.”

He followed her with alacrity to the dining-room, and the bright anticipation in his eyes grew more brilliant—until she opened the door of the china-closet, simultaneously with that action announcing cheerily:

“It’s something that’s going to do you lots of good, Penrod.”

He was instantly chilled, for experience had taught him that when predictions of this character were made, nothing pleasant need be expected. Two seconds later his last hope departed as she turned from the closet and he beheld in her hands a quart bottle containing what appeared to be a section of grassy swamp immersed in a cloudy brown liquor. He stepped back, grave suspicion in his glance.

“What IS that?” he asked, in a hard voice.

Mrs. Schofield smiled upon him. “It’s nothing,” she said. “That is, it’s nothing you’ll mind at all. It’s just so you won’t be so nervous.”

“I’m not nervous.”

“You don’t think so, of course, dear,” she returned, and, as she spoke, she poured some of the brown liquor into a tablespoon. “People often can’t tell when they’re nervous themselves; but your Papa and I have been getting a little anxious about you, dear, and so I got this medicine for you.”

“WHERE’D you get it?” he demanded.

Mrs. Schofield set the bottle down and moved toward him, insinuatingly extending the full tablespoon.

“Here, dear,” she said; “just take this little spoonful, like a goo—”

“I want to know where it came from,” he insisted darkly, again stepping backward.

“Where?” she echoed absently, watching to see that nothing was spilled from the spoon as she continued to move toward him. “Why, I was talking to old Mrs. Wottaw at market this morning, and she said her son Clark used to have nervous trouble, and she told me about this medicine and how to have it made at the drug store. She told me it cured Clark, and—”

“I don’t want to be cured,” Penrod said, adding inconsistently, “I haven’t got anything to be cured of.”

“Now, dear,” Mrs. Schofield began, “you don’t want your papa and me to keep on worrying about—”

“I don’t care whether you worry or not,” the heartless boy interrupted. “I don’t want to take any horrable ole medicine. What’s that grass and weeds in the bottle for?”

Mrs. Schofield looked grieved. “There isn’t any grass and there aren’t any weeds; those are healthful herbs.”

“I bet they’ll make me sick.”

She sighed. “Penrod, we’re trying to make you well.”

“But I AM well, I tell you!”

“No, dear; your papa’s been very much troubled about you. Come, Penrod; swallow this down and don’t make such a fuss about it. It’s just for your own good.”

And she advanced upon him again, the spoon extended toward his lips. It almost touched them, for he had retreated until his back was against the wall-paper. He could go no farther; but he evinced his unshaken repugnance by averting his face.

“What’s it taste like?” he demanded.

“It’s not unpleasant at all,” she answered, poking the spoon at his mouth. “Mrs. Wottaw said Clark used to be very fond of it. It doesn’t taste like ordinary medicine at all,’ she said.”

“How often I got to take it?” Penrod mumbled, as the persistent spoon sought to enter his mouth. “Just this once?”

“No, dear; three times a day.”

“I won’t do it!”

“Penrod!” She spoke sharply. “You swallow this down and stop making such a fuss. I can’t be all day. Hurry.”

She inserted the spoon between his lips, so that its rim touched his clenched teeth; he was still reluctant. Moreover, is reluctance was natural and characteristic, for a boy’s sense of taste is as simple and as peculiar as a dog’s, though, of course, altogether different from a dog’s. A boy, passing through the experimental age, may eat and drink astonishing things; but they must be of his own choosing. His palate is tender, and, in one sense, might be called fastidious; nothing is more sensitive or more easily shocked. A boy tastes things much more than grown people taste them: what is merely unpleasant to a man is sheer broth of hell to a boy. Therefore, not knowing what might be encountered, Penrod continued to be reluctant.

“Penrod,” his mother exclaimed, losing patience, “I’ll call your papa to make you take it, if you don’t swallow it right down! Open your mouth, Penrod! It isn’t going to taste bad at all. Open your mouth—THERE!”

The reluctant jaw relaxed at last, and Mrs. Schofield dexterously elevated the handle of the spoon so that the brown liquor was deposited within her son.

“There!” she repeated triumphantly. “It wasn’t so bad after all, was it?”

Penrod did not reply. His expression had become odd, and the oddity of his manner was equal to that of his expression. Uttering no sound, he seemed to distend, as if he had suddenly become a pneumatic boy under dangerous pressure. Meanwhile, his reddening eyes, fixed awfully upon his mother, grew unbearable.

“Now, it wasn’t such a bad taste,” Mrs. Schofield said rather nervously. “Don’t go acting THAT way, Penrod!”

But Penrod could not help himself. In truth, even a grown person hardened to all manner of flavours, and able to eat caviar or liquid Camembert, would have found the cloudy brown liquor virulently repulsive. It contained in solution, with other things, the vital element of surprise, for it was comparatively odourless, and, unlike the chivalrous rattlesnake, gave no warning of what it was about to do. In the case of Penrod, the surprise was complete and its effect visibly shocking.

The distention by which he began to express his emotion appeared to be increasing; his slender throat swelled as his cheeks puffed. His shoulders rose toward his ears; he lifted his right leg in an unnatural way and held it rigidly in the air.

“Stop that, Penrod!” Mrs. Schofield commanded. “You stop it!”

He found his voice.

“Uff! OOOFF!” he said thickly, and collapsed—a mere, ordinary, every-day convulsion taking the place of his pneumatic symptoms. He began to writhe, at the same time opening and closing his mouth rapidly and repeatedly, waving his arms, stamping on the floor.

“Ow! Ow-ow-OW!” he vociferated.

Reassured by these normal demonstrations, of a type with which she was familiar, Mrs. Schofield resumed her fond smile.

“YOU’RE all right, little boysie!” she said heartily. Then, picking up the bottle, she replenished the tablespoon, and told Penrod something she had considered it undiplomatic to mention before.

“Here’s the other one,” she said sweetly.

“Uuf!” he sputtered. “Other—uh—what?”

“Two tablespoons before each meal,” she informed him.

Instantly Penrod made the first of a series of passionate efforts to leave the room. His determination was so intense and the manifestations of it were so ruthless, that Mrs. Schofield, exhausted, found herself obliged to call for the official head of the house—in fact, she found herself obliged to shriek for him; and Mr. Schofield, hastily entering the room, beheld his wife apparently in the act of sawing his son back and forth across the sill of an open window.

Penrod made a frantic effort to reach the good green earth, even after his mother’s clutch upon his ankle had been reenforced by his father’s. Nor was the lad’s revolt subdued when he was deposited upon the floor and the window closed. Indeed, it may be said that he actually never gave up, though it is a fact that the second potion was successfully placed inside him. But by the time this feat was finally accomplished, Mr. Schofield had proved that, in spite of middle age, he was entitled to substantial claims and honours both as athlete and orator—his oratory being founded less upon the school of Webster and more upon that of Jeremiah.

So the thing was done, and the double dose put within the person of Penrod Schofield. It proved not ineffective there, and presently, as its new owner sat morosely at table, he began to feel slightly dizzy and his eyes refused him perfect service. This was natural, because two tablespoons of the cloudy brown liquor contained about the amount of alcohol to be found in an ordinary cocktail. Now a boy does not enjoy the effects of intoxication; enjoyment of that kind is obtained only by studious application. Therefore, Penrod spoke of his symptoms complainingly, and even showed himself so vindictive as to attribute them to the new medicine.

His mother made no reply. Instead, she nodded her head as if some inner conviction had proven well founded.

“BILIOUS, TOO,” she whispered to her husband.

That evening, during the half-hour preceding dinner, the dining-room was the scene of another struggle, only a little less desperate than that which had been the prelude to lunch, and again an appeal to the head of the house was found necessary. Muscular activity and a liberal imitation of the jeremiads once more subjugated the rebel—and the same rebellion and its suppression in a like manner took place the following morning before breakfast. But this was Saturday, and, without warning or apparent reason, a remarkable change came about at noon. However, Mr. and Mrs. Schofield were used to inexplicable changes in Penrod, and they missed its significance.

When Mrs. Schofield, with dread in her heart, called Penrod into the house “to take his medicine” before lunch, he came briskly, and took it like a lamb!

“Why, Penrod, that’s splendid!” she cried “You see it isn’t bad, at all.”

“No’m,” he said meekly. “Not when you get used to it.”

“And aren’t you ashamed, making all that fuss?” she went on happily.

“Yes’m, I guess so.”

“And don’t you feel better? Don’t you see how much good it’s doing you already?”

“Yes’m, I guess so.”

Upon a holiday morning, several weeks later, Penrod and Sam Williams revived a pastime that they called “drug store”, setting up display counters, selling chemical, cosmetic and other compounds to imaginary customers, filling prescriptions and variously conducting themselves in a pharmaceutical manner. They were in the midst of affairs when Penrod interrupted his partner and himself with a cry of recollection.

I know!” he shouted. “I got some mighty good ole stuff we want. You wait!” And, dashing to the house, he disappeared.

Returning immediately, Penrod placed upon the principal counter of the “drug store” a large bottle. It was a quart bottle, in fact; and it contained what appeared to be a section of grassy swamp immersed in a cloudy brown liquor.

“There!” Penrod exclaimed. “How’s that for some good ole medicine?”

“It’s good ole stuff,” Sam said approvingly. “Where’d you get it? Whose is it, Penrod?”

“It WAS mine,” said Penrod. “Up to about serreval days ago, it was. They quit givin’ it to me. I had to take two bottles and a half of it.”

“What did you haf to take it for?”

“I got nervous, or sumpthing,” said Penrod.

“You all well again now?”

“I guess so. Uncle Passloe and cousin Ronald came to visit, and I expect she got too busy to think about it, or sumpthing. Anyway, she quit makin’ me take it, and said I was lots better. She’s forgot all about it by this time.”

Sam was looking at the bottle with great interest.

“What’s all that stuff in there, Penrod?” he asked. “What’s all that stuff in there looks like grass?”

“It IS grass,” said Penrod.

“How’d it get there?”

“I stuck it in there,” the candid boy replied. “First they had some horrable ole stuff in there like to killed me. But after they got three doses down me, I took the bottle out in the yard and cleaned her all out and pulled a lot o’ good ole grass and stuffed her pretty full and poured in a lot o’ good ole hydrant water on top of it. Then, when they got the next bottle, I did the same way, and—”

“It don’t look like water,” Sam objected.

Penrod laughed a superior laugh.

“Oh, that’s nothin’,” he said, with the slight swagger of young and conscious genius. “Of course, I had to slip in and shake her up sometimes, so’s they wouldn’t notice.”

“But what did you put in it to make it look like that?”

Penrod, upon the point of replying, happened to glance toward the house. His gaze, lifting, rested for a moment upon a window. The head of Mrs. Schofield was framed in that window. She nodded gayly to her son. She could see him plainly, and she thought that he seemed perfectly healthy, and as happy as a boy could be. She was right.

“What DID you put in it?” Sam insisted.

And probably it was just as well that, though Mrs. Schofield could see her son, the distance was too great for her to hear him.

“Oh, nothin’,” Penrod replied. “Nothin’ but a little good ole mud.”

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