Chapter XVIII - 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.