Chapter XIII - The Smallpox Medicine
Next morning Penrod woke in profound depression of spirit, the cotillon ominous before him. He pictured Marjorie Jones and Maurice, graceful and light-hearted, flitting by him fairylike, loosing silvery laughter upon him as he engaged in the struggle to keep step with a partner about four years and two feet his junior. It was hard enough for Penrod to keep step with a girl of his size.
The foreboding vision remained with him, increasing in vividness, throughout the forenoon. He found himself unable to fix his mind upon anything else, and, having bent his gloomy footsteps toward the sawdust-box, after breakfast, presently descended therefrom, abandoning Harold Ramorez where he had left him the preceding Saturday. Then, as he sat communing silently with wistful Duke, in the storeroom, coquettish fortune looked his way.
It was the habit of Penrod's mother not to throw away anything whatsoever until years of storage conclusively proved there would never be a use for it; but a recent house-cleaning had ejected upon the back porch a great quantity of bottles and other paraphernalia of medicine, left over from illnesses in the family during a period of several years. This debris Della, the cook, had collected in a large market basket, adding to it some bottles of flavouring extracts that had proved unpopular in the household; also, old catsup bottles; a jar or two of preserves gone bad; various rejected dental liquids--and other things. And she carried the basket out to the storeroom in the stable.
Penrod was at first unaware of what lay before him. Chin on palms, he sat upon the iron rim of a former aquarium and stared morbidly through the open door at the checkered departing back of Della. It was another who saw treasure in the basket she had left.
Mr. Samuel Williams, aged eleven, and congenial to Penrod in years, sex, and disposition, appeared in the doorway, shaking into foam a black liquid within a pint bottle, stoppered by a thumb.
"Yay, Penrod!" the visitor gave greeting.
"Yay," said Penrod with slight enthusiasm. "What you got?"
"Drinkin's!" demanded Penrod promptly. This is equivalent to the cry of "Biters" when an apple is shown, and establishes unquestionable title.
"Down to there!" stipulated Sam, removing his thumb to affix it firmly as a mark upon the side of the bottle a check upon gormandizing that remained carefully in place while Penrod drank.
This rite concluded, the visitor's eye fell upon the basket deposited by Della. He emitted tokens of pleasure.
"Looky! Looky! Looky there! That ain't any good pile o' stuff--oh, no!"
"Drug store!" shouted Sam. "We'll be partners----"
"Or else," Penrod suggested, "I'll run the drug store and you be a customer----"
"No! Partners!" insisted Sam with such conviction that his host yielded; and within ten minutes the drug store was doing a heavy business with imaginary patrons. Improvising counters with boards and boxes, and setting forth a very druggish-looking stock from the basket, each of the partners found occupation to his taste--Penrod as salesman and Sam as prescription clerk.
"Here you are, madam!" said Penrod briskly, offering a vial of Sam's mixing to an invisible matron. "This will cure your husband in a few minutes. Here's the camphor, mister. Call again! Fifty cents' worth of pills? Yes, madam. There you are! Hurry up with that dose for the nigger lady, Bill!"
"I'll 'tend to it soon's I get time, Jim," replied the prescription clerk. "I'm busy fixin' the smallpox medicine for the sick policeman downtown."
Penrod stopped sales to watch this operation. Sam had found an empty pint bottle and, with the pursed lips and measuring eye of a great chemist, was engaged in filling it from other bottles.
First, he poured into it some of the syrup from the condemned preserves; and a quantity of extinct hair oil; next the remaining contents of a dozen small vials cryptically labelled with physicians' prescriptions; then some remnants of catsup and essence of beef and what was left in several bottles of mouthwash; after that a quantity of rejected flavouring extract-- topping off by shaking into the mouth of the bottle various powders from small pink papers, relics of Mr. Schofield's influenza of the preceding winter.
Sam examined the combination with concern, appearing unsatisfied. "We got to make that smallpox medicine good and strong!" he remarked; and, his artistic sense growing more powerful than his appetite, he poured about a quarter of the licorice water into the smallpox medicine.
"What you doin'?" protested Penrod. "What you want to waste that lickrish water for? We ought to keep it to drink when we're tired."
"I guess I got a right to use my own lickrish water any way I want to," replied the prescription clerk. "I tell you, you can't get smallpox medicine too strong. Look at her now!" He held the bottle up admiringly. "She's as black as lickrish. I bet you she's strong all right!"
"I wonder how she tastes?" said Penrod thoughtfully.
"Don't smell so awful much," observed Sam, sniffing the bottle--"a good deal, though!"
"I wonder if it'd make us sick to drink it?" said Penrod.
Sam looked at the bottle thoughtfully; then his eye, wandering, fell upon Duke, placidly curled up near the door, and lighted with the advent of an idea new to him, but old, old in the world--older than Egypt!
"Let's give Duke some!" he cried.
That was the spark. They acted immediately; and a minute later Duke, released from custody with a competent potion of the smallpox medicine inside him, settled conclusively their doubts concerning its effect. The patient animal, accustomed to expect the worst at all times, walked out of the door, shaking his head with an air of considerable annoyance, opening and closing his mouth with singular energy--and so repeatedly that they began to count the number of times he did it. Sam thought it was thirty-nine times, but Penrod had counted forty-one before other and more striking symptoms appeared.
All things come from Mother Earth and must return--Duke restored much at this time. Afterward, he ate heartily of grass; and then, over his shoulder, he bent upon his master one inscrutable look and departed feebly to the front yard.
The two boys had watched the process with warm interest. "I told you she was strong!" said Mr. Williams proudly.
"Yes, sir--she is!" Penrod was generous enough to admit. "I expect she's strong enough----" He paused in thought, and added:
"We haven't got a horse any more."
"I bet you she'd fix him if you had!" said Sam. And it may be that this was no idle boast.
The pharmaceutical game was not resumed; the experiment upon Duke had made the drug store commonplace and stimulated the appetite for stronger meat. Lounging in the doorway, the near- vivisectionists sipped licorice water alternately and conversed.
"I bet some of our smallpox medicine would fix ole P'fessor Bartet all right!" quoth Penrod. "I wish he'd come along and ask us for some."
"We could tell him it was lickrish water," added Sam, liking the idea. "The two bottles look almost the same."
"Then we wouldn't have to go to his ole cotillon this afternoon," Penrod sighed. "There wouldn't be any!"
"Who's your partner, Pen?"
"Who's yours? I just ast you."
"Oh, she's all right!" And Penrod smiled boastfully.
"I bet you wanted to dance with Marjorie!" said his friend.
"Me? I wouldn't dance with that girl if she begged me to! I wouldn't dance with her to save her from drowning! I wouldn't da----"
"Oh, no--you wouldn't!" interrupted Mr. Williams skeptically.
Penrod changed his tone and became persuasive.
"Looky here, Sam," he said confidentially. "I've got 'a mighty nice partner, but my mother don't like her mother; and so I've been thinking I better not dance with her. I'll tell you what I'll do; I've got a mighty good sling in the house, and I'll give it to you if you'll change partners."
"You want to change and you don't even know who mine is!" said Sam, and he made the simple though precocious deduction: "Yours must be a lala! Well, I invited Mabel Rorebeck, and she wouldn't let me change if I wanted to. Mabel Rorebeck'd rather dance with me," he continued serenely, "than anybody; and she said she was awful afraid you'd ast her. But I ain't goin' to dance with Mabel after all, because this morning she sent me a note about her uncle died last night--and P'fessor Bartet'll have to find me a partner after I get there. Anyway I bet you haven't got any sling--and I bet your partner's Baby Rennsdale!"
"What if she is?" said Penrod. "She's good enough for ME!" This speech held not so much modesty in solution as intended praise of the lady. Taken literally, however, it was an understatement of the facts and wholly insincere.
"Yay!" jeered Mr. Williams, upon whom his friend's hypocrisy was quite wasted. "How can your mother not like her mother? Baby Rennsdale hasn't got any mother! You and her'll be a sight!"
That was Penrod's own conviction; and with this corroboration of it he grew so spiritless that he could offer no retort. He slid to a despondent sitting posture upon the door sill and gazed wretchedly upon the ground, while his companion went to replenish the licorice water at the hydrant--enfeebling the potency of the liquor no doubt, but making up for that in quantity.
"Your mother goin' with you to the cotillon?" asked Sam when he returned.
"No. She's goin' to meet me there. She's goin' somewhere first."
"So's mine," said Sam. "I'll come by for you."
"I better go before long. Noon whistles been blowin'."
"All right," Penrod repeated dully.
Sam turned to go, but paused. A new straw hat was peregrinating along the fence near the two boys. This hat belonged to someone passing upon the sidewalk of the cross- street; and the someone was Maurice Levy. Even as they stared, he halted and regarded them over the fence with two small, dark eyes.
Fate had brought about this moment and this confrontation.