Chapter XXI - Rupe Collins
For several days after this, Penrod thought of growing up to be a monk, and engaged in good works so far as to carry some kittens (that otherwise would have been drowned) and a pair of Margaret's outworn dancing-slippers to a poor, ungrateful old man sojourning in a shed up the alley. And although Mr. Robert Williams, after a very short interval, began to leave his guitar on the front porch again, exactly as if he thought nothing had happened, Penrod, with his younger vision of a father's mood, remained coldly distant from the Jones neighbourhood. With his own family his manner was gentle, proud and sad, but not for long enough to frighten them. The change came with mystifying abruptness at the end of the week.
It was Duke who brought it about.
Duke could chase a much bigger dog out of the Schofields' yard and far down the street. This might be thought to indicate unusual valour on the part of Duke and cowardice on that of the bigger dogs whom he undoubtedly put to rout. On the contrary, all such flights were founded in mere superstition, for dogs are even more superstitious than boys and coloured people; and the most firmly established of all dog superstitions is that any dog--be he the smallest and feeblest in the world--can whip any trespasser whatsoever.
A rat-terrier believes that on his home grounds he can whip an elephant. It follows, of course, that a big dog, away from his own home, will run from a little dog in the little dog's neighbourhood. Otherwise, the big dog must face a charge of inconsistency, and dogs are as consistent as they are superstitious. A dog believes in war, but he is convinced that there are times when it is moral to run; and the thoughtful physiognomist, seeing a big dog fleeing out of a little dog's yard, must observe that the expression of the big dog's face is more conscientious than alarmed: it is the expression of a person performing a duty to himself.
Penrod understood these matters perfectly; he knew that the gaunt brown hound Duke chased up the alley had fled only out of deference to a custom, yet Penrod could not refrain from bragging of Duke to the hound's owner, a fat-faced stranger of twelve or thirteen, who had wandered into the neighbourhood.
"You better keep that ole yellow dog o' yours back," said Penrod ominously, as he climbed the fence. "You better catch him and hold him till I get mine inside the yard again. Duke's chewed up some pretty bad bulldogs around here."
The fat-faced boy gave Penrod a fishy stare. "You'd oughta learn him not to do that," he said. "It'll make him sick."
The stranger laughed raspingly and gazed up the alley, where the hound, having come to a halt, now coolly sat down, and, with an expression of roguish benevolence, patronizingly watched the tempered fury of Duke, whose assaults and barkings were becoming perfunctory.
"What'll make Duke sick?" Penrod demanded.
"Eatin' dead bulldogs people leave around here."
This was not improvisation but formula, adapted from other occasions to the present encounter; nevertheless, it was new to Penrod, and he was so taken with it that resentment lost itself in admiration. Hastily committing the gem to memory for use upon a dog-owning friend, he inquired in a sociable tone:
"What's your dog's name?"
"Dan. You better call your ole pup, 'cause Dan eats LIVE dogs."
Dan's actions poorly supported his master's assertion, for, upon Duke's ceasing to bark, Dan rose and showed the most courteous interest in making the little, old dog's acquaintance. Dan had a great deal of manner, and it became plain that Duke was impressed favourably in spite of former prejudice, so that presently the two trotted amicably back to their masters and sat down with the harmonious but indifferent air of having known each other intimately for years.
They were received without comment, though both boys looked at them reflectively for a time. It was Penrod who spoke first.
"What number you go to?" (In an "oral lesson in English," Penrod had been instructed to put this question in another form: "May I ask which of our public schools you attend?")
"Me? What number do I go to?" said the stranger, contemptuously. "I don't go to NO number in vacation!"
"I mean when it ain't."
"Third," returned the fat-faced boy. "I got 'em ALL scared in THAT school."
"What of?" innocently asked Penrod, to whom "the Third"--in a distant part of town--was undiscovered country.
"What of? I guess you'd soon see what of, if you ever was in that school about one day. You'd be lucky if you got out alive!"
"Are the teachers mean?"
The other boy frowned with bitter scorn. "Teachers! Teachers don't order ME around, I can tell you! They're mighty careful how they try to run over Rupe Collins."
"Who's Rupe Collins?"
"Who is he?" echoed the fat-faced boy incredulously. "Say, ain't you got ANY sense?"
"Say, wouldn't you be just as happy if you had SOME sense?"
"Ye-es." Penrod's answer, like the look he lifted to the impressive stranger, was meek and placative. "Rupe Collins is the principal at your school, guess."
The other yelled with jeering laughter, and mocked Penrod's manner and voice. "`Rupe Collins is the principal at your school, I guess!'" He laughed harshly again, then suddenly showed truculence. "Say, 'bo, whyn't you learn enough to go in the house when it rains? What's the matter of you, anyhow?"
"Well," urged Penrod timidly, "nobody ever TOLD me who Rupe Collins is: I got a RIGHT to think he's the principal, haven't I?"
The fat-faced boy shook his head disgustedly. "Honest, you make me sick!"
Penrod's expression became one of despair. Well, who IS he?" he cried.
"`Who IS he?'" mocked the other, with a scorn that withered. "`Who IS he?' ME!"
"Oh!" Penrod was humiliated but relieved: he felt that he had proved himself criminally ignorant, yet a peril seemed to have passed. "Rupe Collins is your name, then, I guess. I kind of thought it was, all the time."
The fat-faced boy still appeared embittered, burlesquing this speech in a hateful falsetto. "`Rupe Collins is YOUR name, then, I guess!' Oh, you `kind of thought it was, all the time,' did you?" Suddenly concentrating his brow into a histrionic scowl he thrust his face within an inch of Penrod's. "Yes, sonny, Rupe Collins is my name, and you better look out what you say when he's around or you'll get in big trouble! YOU UNDERSTAND THAT, 'BO?"
Penrod was cowed but fascinated: he felt that there was something dangerous and dashing about this newcomer.
"Yes," he said, feebly, drawing back. "My name's Penrod Schofield."
"Then I reckon your father and mother ain't got good sense," said Mr. Collins promptly, this also being formula.
"'Cause if they had they'd of give you a good name!" And the agreeable youth instantly rewarded himself for the wit with another yell of rasping laughter, after which he pointed suddenly at Penrod's right hand.
"Where'd you get that wart on your finger?" he demanded severely.
"Which finger?" asked the mystified Penrod, extending his hand.
"The middle one."
"There!" exclaimed Rupe Collins, seizing and vigorously twisting the wartless finger naively offered for his inspection.
"Quit!" shouted Penrod in agony. "QUEE-yut!"
"Say your prayers!" commanded Rupe, and continued to twist the luckless finger until Penrod writhed to his knees.
"OW!" The victim, released, looked grievously upon the still painful finger.
At this Rupe's scornful expression altered to one of contrition. "Well, I declare!" he exclaimed remorsefully. "I didn't s'pose it would hurt. Turn about's fair play; so now you do that to me."
He extended the middle finger of his left hand and Penrod promptly seized it, but did not twist it, for he was instantly swung round with his back to his amiable new acquaintance: Rupe's right hand operated upon the back of Penrod's slender neck; Rupe's knee tortured the small of Penrod's back.
"OW!" Penrod bent far forward involuntarily and went to his knees again.
"Lick dirt," commanded Rupe, forcing the captive's face to the sidewalk; and the suffering Penrod completed this ceremony.
Mr. Collins evinced satisfaction by means of his horse laugh.
"You'd last jest about one day up at the Third!" he said. "You'd come runnin' home, yellin' `MOM-MUH, MOM-muh,' before recess was over!"
"No, I wouldn't," Penrod protested rather weakly, dusting his knees.
"You would, too!"
"No, I w----
"Looky here," said the fat-faced boy, darkly, "what you mean, counterdicking me?"
He advanced a step and Penrod hastily qualified his contradiction.
"I mean, I don't THINK I would. I----"
"You better look out!" Rupe moved closer, and unexpectedly grasped the back of Penrod's neck again. "Say, `I WOULD run home yellin' "MOM-muh!"
"Ow! I WOULD run home yellin' `Mom-muh.'"
"There!" said Rupe, giving the helpless nape a final squeeze. "That's the way we do up at the Third."
Penrod rubbed his neck and asked meekly:
"Can you do that to any boy up at the Third?"
"See here now," said Rupe, in the tone of one goaded beyond all endurance, "YOU say if I can! You better say it quick, or----"
"I knew you could," Penrod interposed hastily, with the pathetic semblance of a laugh. "I only said that in fun."
"In `fun'!" repeated Rupe stormily. "You better look out how you----"
"Well, I SAID I wasn't in earnest!" Penrod retreated a few steps. "I knew you could, all the time. I expect I could do it to some of the boys up at the Third, myself. Couldn't I?"
"No, you couldn't."
"Well, there must be SOME boy up there that I could----"
"No, they ain't! You better----"
"I expect not, then," said Penrod, quickly.
"You BETTER `expect not.' Didn't I tell you once you'd never get back alive if you ever tried to come up around the Third? You want me to SHOW you how we do up there, 'bo?"
He began a slow and deadly advance, whereupon Penrod timidly offered a diversion:
"Say, Rupe, I got a box of rats in our stable under a glass cover, so you can watch 'em jump around when you hammer on the box. Come on and look at 'em."
"All right," said the fat-faced boy, slightly mollified. "We'll let Dan kill 'em."
"No, SIR! I'm goin' to keep 'em. They're kind of pets; I've had 'em all summer--I got names for em, and----"
"Looky here, 'bo. Did you hear me say we'll let `Dan kill 'em?"
"Yes, but I won't----"
"WHAT won't you?" Rupe became sinister immediately. "It seems to me you're gettin' pretty fresh around here."
"Well, I don't want----"
Mr. Collins once more brought into play the dreadful eye-to- eye scowl as practised "up at the Third," and, sometimes, also by young leading men upon the stage. Frowning appallingly, and thrusting forward his underlip, he placed his nose almost in contact with the nose of Penrod, whose eyes naturally became crossed.
"Dan kills the rats. See?" hissed the fat-faced boy, maintaining the horrible juxtaposition.
"Well, all right," said Penrod, swallowing. "I don't want 'em much." And when the pose had been relaxed, he stared at his new friend for a moment, almost with reverence. Then he brightened.
"Come on, Rupe!" he cried enthusiastically, as he climbed the fence. "We'll give our dogs a little live meat--'bo!"