Chapter 18: Music
Boyhood is the longest time in life for a boy. The last term of the school-year is made of decades, not of weeks, and living through them is like waiting for the millennium. But they do pass, somehow, and at last there came a day when Penrod was one of a group that capered out from the gravelled yard of “Ward School, Nomber Seventh,” carolling a leave-taking of the institution, of their instructress, and not even forgetting Mr. Capps, the janitor.
“Good-bye, teacher! Good-bye, school!
Good-bye, Cappsie, dern ole fool!”
Penrod sang the loudest. For every boy, there is an age when he “finds his voice.” Penrod’s had not “changed,” but he had found it. Inevitably that thing had come upon his family and the neighbours; and his father, a somewhat dyspeptic man, quoted frequently the expressive words of the “Lady of Shalott,” but there were others whose sufferings were as poignant.
Vacation-time warmed the young of the world to pleasant languor; and a morning came that was like a brightly coloured picture in a child’s fairy story. Miss Margaret Schofield, reclining in a hammock upon the front porch, was beautiful in the eyes of a newly made senior, well favoured and in fair raiment, beside her. A guitar rested lightly upon his knee, and he was trying to play–a matter of some difficulty, as the floor of the porch also seemed inclined to be musical. From directly under his feet came a voice of song, shrill, loud, incredibly piercing and incredibly flat, dwelling upon each syllable with incomprehensible reluctance to leave it.
“I have lands and earthly pow-wur. I’d give all for a now-wur, Whi-ilst setting at my-y-y dear old mother’s knee-ee, So-o-o rem-mem-bur whilst you’re young—-”
Miss Schofield stamped heartily upon the musical floor.
“It’s Penrod,” she explained. “The lattice at the end of the porch is loose, and he crawls under and comes out all bugs. He’s been having a dreadful singing fit lately–running away to picture shows and vaudeville, I suppose.”
Mr. Robert Williams looked upon her yearningly. He touched a thrilling chord on his guitar and leaned nearer. “But you said you have missed me,” he began. I—-”
The voice of Penrod drowned all other sounds.
“So-o-o rem-mem-bur, whi-i-ilst you’re young, That the day-a-ys to you will come, When you’re o-o-old and only in the way, Do not scoff at them bee-cause—-”
“Penrod!” Miss Schofield stamped again.
“You did say you’d missed me,” said Mr. Robert Williams, seizing hurriedly upon the silence. “Didn’t you say—-”
A livelier tune rose upward.
“Oh, you talk about your fascinating beauties, Of your dem-O-zells, your belles, But the littil dame I met, while in the city, She’s par excellaws the queen of all the swells. She’s sweeter far—-”
Margaret rose and jumped up and down repeatedly in a well-calculated area, whereupon the voice of Penrod cried chokedly, “Quit that!” and there were subterranean coughings and sneezings.
“You want to choke a person to death?” he inquired severely, appearing at the end of the porch, a cobweb upon his brow. And, continuing, he put into practice a newly acquired phrase, “You better learn to be more considerick of other people’s comfort.”
Slowly and grievedly he withdrew, passed to the sunny side of the house, reclined in the warm grass beside his wistful Duke, and presently sang again.
“She’s sweeter far than the flower I named her after, And the memery of her smile it haunts me yet! When in after years the moon is soffly beamun’ And at eve I smell the smell of mignonette I will re-call that—-”
Mr. Schofield appeared at an open window upstairs, a book in his hand.
“Stop it!” he commanded. “Can’t I stay home with a headache one morning from the office without having to listen to–I never did hear such squawking!” He retired from the window, having too impulsively called upon his Maker. Penrod, shocked and injured, entered the house, but presently his voice was again audible as far as the front porch. He was holding converse with his mother, somewhere in the interior.
“Well, what of it? Sam Williams told me his mother said if Bob ever did think of getting married to Margaret, his mother said she’d like to know what in the name o’ goodness they expect to—-”
Bang! Margaret thought it better to close the front door.
The next minute Penrod opened it. “I suppose you want the whole family to get a sunstroke,” he said reprovingly. “Keepin’ every breath of air out o’ the house on a day like this!”
And he sat down implacably in the doorway.
The serious poetry of all languages has omitted the little brother; and yet he is one of the great trials of love–the immemorial burden of courtship. Tragedy should have found place for him, but he has been left to the haphazard vignettist of Grub Street. He is the grave and real menace of lovers; his head is sacred and terrible, his power illimitable. There is one way–only one–to deal with him; but Robert Williams, having a brother of Penrod’s age, understood that way.
Robert had one dollar in the world. He gave it to Penrod immediately.
Enslaved forever, the new Rockefeller rose and went forth upon the highway, an overflowing heart bursting the floodgates of song.
“In her eyes the light of love was soffly gleamun’, So sweetlay, So neatlay. On the banks the moon’s soff light was brightly streamun’, Words of love I then spoke to her. She was purest of the pew-er: ‘Littil sweetheart, do not sigh, Do not weep and do not cry. I will build a littil cottige just for yew-ew-ew and I.'”
In fairness, it must be called to mind that boys older than Penrod have these wellings of pent melody; a wife can never tell when she is to undergo a musical morning, and even the golden wedding brings her no security, a man of ninety is liable to bust-loose in song, any time.
Invalids murmured pitifully as Penrod came within hearing; and people trying to think cursed the day that they were born, when he went shrilling by. His hands in his pockets, his shining face uplifted to the sky of June, he passed down the street, singing his way into the heart’s deepest hatred of all who heard him.
“One evuning I was sturow-ling Midst the city of the dead, I viewed where all a-round me Their peace-full graves was spread. But that which touched me mostlay—-”
He had reached his journey’s end, a junk-dealer’s shop wherein lay the long-desired treasure of his soul–an accordion which might have possessed a high quality of interest for an antiquarian, being unquestionably a ruin, beautiful in decay, and quite beyond the sacrilegious reach of the restorer. But it was still able to disgorge sounds–loud, strange, compelling sounds, which could be heard for a remarkable distance in all directions; and it had one rich calf-like tone that had gone to Penrod’s heart. He obtained the instrument for twenty-two cents, a price long since agreed upon with the junk-dealer, who falsely claimed a loss of profit, Shylock that he was! He had found the wreck in an alley.
With this purchase suspended from his shoulder by a faded green cord, Penrod set out in a somewhat homeward direction, but not by the route he had just travelled, though his motive for the change was not humanitarian. It was his desire to display himself thus troubadouring to the gaze of Marjorie Jones. Heralding his advance by continuous experiments in the music of the future, he pranced upon his blithesome way, the faithful Duke at his heels. (It was easier for Duke than it would have been for a younger dog, because, with advancing age, he had begun to grow a little deaf.)
Turning the corner nearest to the glamoured mansion of the Joneses, the boy jongleur came suddenly face to face with Marjorie, and, in the delicious surprise of the encounter, ceased to play, his hands, in agitation, falling from the instrument.
Bareheaded, the sunshine glorious upon her amber curls, Marjorie was strolling hand-in-hand with her baby brother, Mitchell, four years old. She wore pink that day–unforgettable pink, with a broad, black patent-leather belt, shimmering reflections dancing upon its surface. How beautiful she was! How sacred the sweet little baby brother, whose privilege it was to cling to that small hand, delicately powdered with freckles.
“Hello, Marjorie,” said Penrod, affecting carelessness.
“Hello!” said Marjorie, with unexpected cordiality. She bent over her baby brother with motherly affectations. “Say ‘howdy’ to the gentymuns, Mitchy-Mitch,” she urged sweetly, turning him to face Penrod.
“Won’t!” said Mitchy-Mitch, and, to emphasize his refusal, kicked the gentymuns upon the shin.
Penrod’s feelings underwent instant change, and in the sole occupation of disliking Mitchy-Mitch, he wasted precious seconds which might have been better employed in philosophic consideration of the startling example, just afforded, of how a given law operates throughout the universe in precisely the same manner perpetually. Mr. Robert Williams would have understood this, easily.
“Oh, oh!” Marjorie cried, and put Mitchy-Mitch behind her with too much sweetness. “Maurice Levy’s gone to Atlantic City with his mamma,” she remarked conversationally, as if the kicking incident were quite closed.
“That’s nothin’,” returned Penrod, keeping his eye uneasily upon Mitchy-Mitch. “I know plenty people been better places than that–Chicago and everywhere.”
There was unconscious ingratitude in his low rating of Atlantic City, for it was largely to the attractions of that resort he owed Miss Jones’ present attitude of friendliness.
Of course, too, she was curious about the accordion. It would be dastardly to hint that she had noticed a paper bag which bulged the pocket of Penrod’s coat, and yet this bag was undeniably conspicuous–“and children are very like grown people sometimes!”
Penrod brought forth the bag, purchased on the way at a drug store, and till this moment unopened, which expresses in a word the depth of his sentiment for Marjorie. It contained an abundant fifteen-cents’ worth of lemon drops, jaw-breakers, licorice sticks, cinnamon drops, and shopworn choclate creams.
“Take all you want,” he said, with off-hand generosity.
“Why, Penrod Schofield,” exclaimed the wholly thawed damsel, “you nice boy!”
“Oh, that’s nothin’,” he returned airily. “I got a good deal of money, nowadays.”
“Oh–just around.” With a cautious gesture he offered a jaw-breaker to Mitchy-Mitch, who snatched it indignantly and set about its absorption without delay.
“Can you play on that?” asked Marjorie, with some difficulty, her cheeks being rather too hilly for conversation.
“Want to hear me?”
She nodded, her eyes sweet with anticipation.
This was what he had come for. He threw back his head, lifted his eyes dreamily, as he had seen real musicians lift theirs, and distended the accordion preparing to produce the wonderful calf-like noise which was the instrument’s great charm.
But the distention evoked a long wail which was at once drowned in another one.
“Ow! Owowaoh! Wowohah! Waowwow!” shrieked Mitchy-Mitch and the accordion together.
Mitchy-Mitch, to emphasize his disapproval of the accordion, opening his mouth still wider, lost therefrom the jaw-breaker, which rolled in the dust. Weeping, he stooped to retrieve it, and Marjorie, to prevent him, hastily set her foot upon it. Penrod offered another jaw-breaker; but Mitchy-Mitch struck it from his hand, desiring the former, which had convinced him of its sweetness.
Marjorie moved inadvertently; whereupon Mitchy-Mitch pounced upon the remains of his jaw-breaker and restored them, with accretions, to his mouth. His sister, uttering a cry of horror, sprang to the rescue, assisted by Penrod, whom she prevailed upon to hold Mitchy-Mitch’s mouth open while she excavated. This operation being completed, and Penrod’s right thumb severely bitten, Mitchy-Mitch closed his eyes tightly, stamped, squealed, bellowed, wrung his hands, and then, unexpectedly, kicked Penrod again.
Penrod put a hand in his pocket and drew forth a copper two-cent piece, large, round, and fairly bright.
He gave it to Mitchy-Mitch.
Mitchy-Mitch immediately stopped crying and gazed upon his benefactor with the eyes of a dog.
Thereafter did Penrod–with complete approval from Mitchy-Mitch–play the accordion for his lady to his heart’s content, and hers. Never had he so won upon her; never had she let him feel so close to her before. They strolled up and down upon the sidewalk, eating, one thought between them, and soon she had learned to
play the accordion almost as well as he. So passed a happy hour, which the Good King Rene of Anjou would have envied them, while Mitchy-Mitch made friends with Duke, romped about his sister and her swain, and clung to the hand of the latter, at intervals, with fondest affection and trust.
The noon whistles failed to disturb this little Arcady; only the sound of Mrs. Jones’ voice for the third time summoning Marjorie and Mitchy-Mitch to lunch–sent Penrod on his way.
“I could come back this afternoon, I guess,” he said, in parting.
“I’m not goin’ to be here. I’m goin’ to Baby Rennsdale’s party.”
Penrod looked blank, as she intended he should. Having thus satisfied herself, she added:
“There aren’t goin’ to be any boys there.”
He was instantly radiant again.
“Do you wish I was goin’ to be there?”
She looked shy, and turned away her head.
“Marjorie Jones!” (This was a voice from home.) “How many more times shall I have to call you?”
Marjorie moved away, her face still hidden from Penrod.
“Do you?” he urged.
At the gate, she turned quickly toward him, and said over her shoulder, all in a breath: “Yes! Come again to-morrow morning and I’ll be on the corner. Bring your ‘cordion!”
And she ran into the house, Mitchy-Mitch waving a loving hand to the boy on the sidewalk until the front door closed.
Chapter 19:. The Inner Boy
Penrod went home in splendour, pretending that he and Duke were a long procession; and he made enough noise to render the auricular part of the illusion perfect. His own family were already at the lunch-table when he arrived, and the parade halted only at the door of the dining-room.
“Oh something!” shouted Mr. Schofield, clasping his bilious brow with both hands. “Stop that noise! Isn’t it awful enough for you to sing? Sit down! Not with that thing on! Take that green rope off your shoulder! Now take that thing out of the dining-room and throw it in the ash-can! Where did you get it?”
“Where did I get what, papa?” asked Penrod meekly, depositing the accordion in the hall just outside the dining-room door.
“That da–that third-hand concertina.”
“It’s a ‘cordian,” said Penrod, taking his place at the table, and noticing that both Margaret and Mr. Robert Williams (who happened to be a guest) were growing red.
“I don’t care what you call it,” said Mr. Schofield irritably. “I want to know where you got it.”
Penrod’s eyes met Margaret’s: hers had a strained expression.
She very slightly shook her head. Penrod sent Mr. Williams a grateful look, and might have been startled if he could have seen himself in a mirror at that moment; for he regarded Mitchy-Mitch with concealed but vigorous aversion and the resemblance would have horrified him.
“A man gave it to me,” he answered gently, and was rewarded by the visibly regained ease of his patron’s manner, while Margaret leaned back in her chair and looked at her brother with real devotion.
“I should think he’d have been glad to,” said Mr. Schofield. “Who was he?”
“Sir?” In spite of the candy which he had consumed in company with Marjorie and Mitchy-Mitch, Penrod had begun to eat lobster croquettes earnestly.
“Who was he?”
“Who do you mean, papa?”
“The man that gave you that ghastly Thing!”
“Yessir. A man gave it to me.”
“I say, Who was he?” shouted Mr. Schofield.
“Well, I was just walking along, and the man came up to me–it was right down in front of Colgate’s, where most of the paint’s rubbed off the fence—-”
“Penrod!” The father used his most dangerous tone.
“Who was the man that gave you the concertina?”
“I don’t know. I was walking along—-”
“You never saw him before?”
“No, sir. I was just walk—-”
“That will do,” said Mr. Schofield, rising. “I suppose every family has its secret enemies and this was one of ours. I must ask to be excused!”
With that, he went out crossly, stopping in the hall a moment before passing beyond hearing. And, after lunch, Penrod sought in vain for his accordion; he even searched the library where his father sat reading, though, upon inquiry, Penrod explained that he was looking for a misplaced schoolbook. He thought he ought to study a little every day, he said, even during vacation-time. Much pleased, Mr. Schofield rose and joined the search, finding the missing work on mathematics with singular ease–which cost him precisely the price of the book the following September.
Penrod departed to study in the backyard. There, after a cautious survey of the neighbourhood, he managed to dislodge the iron cover of the cistern, and dropped the arithmetic within. A fine splash rewarded his listening ear. Thus assured that when he looked for that book again no one would find it for him, he replaced the cover, and betook himself pensively to the highway, discouraging Duke from following by repeated volleys of stones, some imaginary and others all too real.
Distant strains of brazen horns and the throbbing of drums were borne to him upon the kind breeze, reminding him that the world was made for joy, and that the Barzee and Potter Dog and Pony Show was exhibiting in a banlieue not far away. So, thither he bent his steps–the plentiful funds in his pocket burning hot holes all the way. He had paid twenty-two cents for the accordion, and fifteen for candy; he had bought the mercenary heart of Mitchy-Mitch for two: it certainly follows that there remained to him of his dollar, sixty-one cents–a fair fortune, and most unusual.
Arrived upon the populous and festive scene of the Dog and Pony Show, he first turned his attention to the brightly decorated booths which surrounded the tent. The cries of the peanut vendors, of the popcorn men, of the toy-balloon sellers, the stirring music of the band, playing before the performance to attract a crowd, the shouting of excited children and the barking of the dogs within the tent, all sounded exhilaratingly in Penrod’s ears and set his blood a-tingle. Nevertheless, he did not squander his money or fling it to the winds in one grand splurge. Instead, he began cautiously with the purchase of an extraordinarily large pickle, which he obtained from an aged woman for his odd cent, too obvious a bargain to be missed. At an adjacent stand he bought a glass of raspberry lemonade (so alleged) and sipped it as he ate the pickle. He left nothing of either.
Next, he entered a small restaurant-tent and for a modest nickel was supplied with a fork and a box of sardines, previously opened, it is true, but more than half full. He consumed the sardines utterly, but left the tin box and the fork, after which he indulged in an inexpensive half-pint of lukewarm cider, at one of the open booths. Mug in hand, a gentle glow radiating toward his surface from various centres of activity deep inside him, he paused for breath–and the cool, sweet cadences of the watermelon man fell delectably upon his ear:
“Ice-cole water-melon; ice-cole water-melon; the biggest slice of ice-cole, ripe, red, ice-cole, rich an’ rare; the biggest slice of ice-cole watermelon ever cut by the hand of man! Buy our ice-cole water-melon?”
Penrod, having drained the last drop of cider, complied with the watermelon man’s luscious entreaty, and received a round slice of the fruit, magnificent in circumference and something over an inch in thickness. Leaving only the really dangerous part of the rind behind him, he wandered away from the vicinity of the watermelon man and supplied himself with a bag of peanuts, which, with the expenditure of a dime for admission, left a quarter still warm in his pocket. However, he managed to “break” the coin at a stand inside the tent, where a large, oblong paper box of popcorn was handed him, with twenty cents change. The box was too large to go into his pocket, but, having seated himself among some wistful Polack children, he placed it in his lap and devoured the contents at leisure during the performance. The popcorn was heavily larded with partially boiled molasses, and Penrod sandwiched mouthfuls of peanuts with gobs of this mass until the peanuts were all gone. After that, he ate with less avidity; a sense almost of satiety beginning to manifest itself to him, and it was not until the close of the performance that he disposed of the last morsel.
He descended a little heavily to the outflowing crowd in the arena, and bought a caterwauling toy balloon, but showed no great enthusiasm in manipulating it. Near the exit, as he came out, was a hot-waffle stand which he had overlooked, and a sense of duty obliged him to consume the three waffles, thickly powdered with sugar, which the waffle man cooked for him upon command.
They left a hottish taste in his mouth; they had not been quite up to his anticipation, indeed, and it was with a sense of relief that he turned to the “hokey-pokey” cart which stood close at hand, laden with square slabs of “Neapolitan ice-cream” wrapped in paper. He thought the ice-cream would be cooling, but somehow it fell short of the desired effect, and left a peculiar savour in his throat.
He walked away, too languid to blow his balloon, and passed a fresh-taffy booth with strange indifference. A bare-armed man was manipulating the taffy over a hook, pulling a great white mass to the desired stage of “candying,” but Penrod did not pause to watch the operation; in fact, he averted his eyes (which were slightly glazed) in passing. He did not analyze his motives: simply, he was conscious that he preferred not to look at the mass of taffy.
For some reason, he put a considerable distance between himself and the taffy-stand, but before long halted in the presence of a red-faced man who flourished a long fork over a small cooking apparatus and shouted jovially: “Winnies! Here’s your hot winnies! Hot winny-wurst! Food for the over-worked brain, nourishing for the weak stummick, entertaining for the tired business man! Here’s your hot winnies, three for a nickel, a half-a-dime, the twentieth-pot-of- a-dollah!”
This, above all nectar and ambrosia, was the favourite dish of Penrod Schofield. Nothing inside him now craved it–on the contrary! But memory is the great hypnotist; his mind argued against his inwards that opportunity knocked at his door: “winny-wurst” was rigidly forbidden by the home authorities. Besides, there was a last nickel in his pocket; and nature protested against its survival. Also, the redfaced man had himself proclaimed his wares nourishing for the weak stummick.
Penrod placed the nickel in the red hand of the red-faced man. He ate two of the three greasy, cigarlike shapes cordially pressed upon him in return. The first bite convinced him that he had made a mistake; these winnies seemed of a very inferior flavour, almost unpleasant, in fact. But he felt obliged to conceal his poor opinion of them, for fear of offending the red-faced man. He ate without haste or eagerness–so slowly, indeed, that he began to think the redfaced man might dislike him, as a deterrent of trade. Perhaps Penrod’s mind was not working well, for he failed to
remember that no law compelled him to remain under the eye of the red-faced man, but the virulent repulsion excited by his attempt to take a bite of the third sausage inspired him with at least an excuse for postponement.
“Mighty good,” he murmured feebly, placing the sausage in the pocket of his jacket with a shaking hand. “Guess I’ll save this one to eat at home, after–after dinner.”
He moved sluggishly away, wishing he had not thought of dinner. A side-show, undiscovered until now, failed to arouse his interest, not even exciting a wish that he had known of its existence when he had money. For a time he stared without attraction; the weather-worn colours conveying no meaning to comprehension at a huge canvas poster depicting the chief his torpid eye. Then, little by little, the poster became more vivid to his consciousness. There was a greenish-tinted person in the tent, it seemed, who thrived upon a reptilian diet.
Suddenly, Penrod decided that it was time to go home.