Chapter XXIX - Fanchon
"Aunt Sarah's a funny old lady," Penrod observed, on the way back to the town. "What's she want me to give papa this old sling for? Last thing she said was to be sure not to forget to give it to him. HE don't want it; and she said, herself, it ain't any good. She's older than you or papa, isn't she?"
"About fifty years older," answered Mrs. Schofield, turning upon him a stare of perplexity. "Don't cut into the leather with your new knife, dear; the livery man might ask us to pay if---- No. I wouldn't scrape the paint off, either--nor whittle your shoe with it. COULDN'T you put it up until we get home?"
"We goin' straight home?"
"No. We're going to stop at Mrs. Gelbraith's and ask a strange little girl to come to your party, this afternoon."
"Her name is Fanchon. She's Mrs. Gelbraith's little niece."
"What makes her so queer?"
"I didn't say she's queer."
"No; I mean that she is a stranger. She lives in New York and has come to visit here."
"What's she live in New York for?"
"Because her parents live there. You must be very nice to her, Penrod; she has been very carefully brought up. Besides, she doesn't know the children here, and you must help to keep her from feeling lonely at your party."
When they reached Mrs. Gelbraith's, Penrod sat patiently humped upon a gilt chair during the lengthy exchange of greetings between his mother. and Mrs. Gelbraith. That is one of the things a boy must learn to bear: when his mother meets a compeer there is always a long and dreary wait for him, while the two appear to be using strange symbols of speech, talking for the greater part, it seems to him, simultaneously, and employing a wholly incomprehensible system of emphasis at other times not in vogue. Penrod twisted his legs, his cap and his nose.
"Here she is!" Mrs. Gelbraith cried, unexpectedly, and a dark-haired, demure person entered the room wearing a look of gracious social expectancy. In years she was eleven, in manner about sixty-five, and evidently had lived much at court. She performed a curtsey in acknowledgment of Mrs. Schofield's greeting, and bestowed her hand upon Penrod, who had entertained no hope of such an honour, showed his surprise that it should come to him, and was plainly unable to decide what to do about it.
"Fanchon, dear," said Mrs. Gelbraith, "take Penrod out in the yard for a while, and play."
"Let go the little girl's hand, Penrod," Mrs. Schofield laughed, as the children turned toward the door.
Penrod hastily dropped the small hand, and exclaiming, with simple honesty, "Why, I don't want it!" followed Fanchon out into the sunshiny yard, where they came to a halt and surveyed each other.
Penrod stared awkwardly at Fanchon, no other occupation suggesting itself to him, while Fanchon, with the utmost coolness, made a very thorough visual examination of Penrod, favouring him with an estimating scrutiny which lasted until he literally wiggled. Finally, she spoke.
"Where do you buy your ties?" she asked.
"Where do you buy your neckties? Papa gets his at Skoone's. You ought to get yours there. I'm sure the one you're wearing isn't from Skoone's."
"Skoone's?" Penrod repeated. "Skoone's?"
"On Fifth Avenue," said Fanchon. "It's a very smart shop, the men say."
"Men?" echoed Penrod, in a hazy whisper. "Men?"
"Where do your people go in summer?" inquired the lady. "WE go to Long Shore, but so many middle-class people have begun coming there, mamma thinks of leaving. The middle classes are simply awful, don't you think?"
"They're so boorjaw. You speak French, of course?"
"We ran over to Paris last year. It's lovely, don't you think? Don't you LOVE the Rue de la Paix?"
Penrod wandered in a labyrinth. This girl seemed to be talking, but her words were dumfounding, and of course there was no way for him to know that he was really listening to her mother. It was his first meeting with one of those grown-up little girls, wonderful product of the winter apartment and summer hotel; and Fanchon, an only child, was a star of the brand. He began to feel resentful.
"I suppose," she went on, "I'll find everything here fearfully Western. Some nice people called yesterday, though. Do you know the Magsworth Bittses? Auntie says they're charming. Will Roddy be at your party?"
"I guess he will," returned Penrod, finding this intelligible. "The mutt!"
"Really!" Fanchon exclaimed airily. "Aren't you great pals with him?"
"Good heavens! Don't you know what it means to say you're `great pals' with any one? You ARE an odd child!"
It was too much.
"Oh, Bugs!" said Penrod.
This bit of ruffianism had a curious effect. Fanchon looked upon him with sudden favour.
"I like you, Penrod!" she said, in an odd way, and, whatever else there may have been in her manner, there certainly was no shyness.
"Oh, Bugs!" This repetition may have lacked gallantry, but it was uttered in no very decided tone. Penrod was shaken.
"Yes, I do!" She stepped closer to him, smiling. "Your hair is ever so pretty."
Sailors' parrots swear like mariners, they say; and gay mothers ought to realize that all children are imitative, for, as the precocious Fanchon leaned toward Penrod, the manner in which she looked into his eyes might have made a thoughtful observer wonder where she had learned her pretty ways.
Penrod was even more confused than he had been by her previous mysteries: but his confusion was of a distinctly pleasant and alluring nature: he wanted more of it. Looking intentionally into another person's eyes is an act unknown to childhood; and Penrod's discovery that it could be done was sensational. He had never thought of looking into the eyes of Marjorie Jones.
Despite all anguish, contumely, tar, and Maurice Levy, he still secretly thought of Marjorie, with pathetic constancy, as his "beau"--though that is not how he would have spelled it. Marjorie was beautiful; her curls were long and the colour of amber; her nose was straight and her freckles were honest; she was much prettier than this accomplished visitor. But beauty is not all.
"I do!" breathed Fanchon, softly.
She seemed to him a fairy creature from some rosier world than this. So humble is the human heart, it glorifies and makes glamorous almost any poor thing that says to it: "I like you!"
Penrod was enslaved. He swallowed, coughed, scratched the back of his neck, and said, disjointedly:
"Well--I don't care if you want to. I just as soon."
"We'll dance together," said Fanchon, "at your party."
"I guess so. I just as soon."
"Don't you want to, Penrod?"
"Well, I'm willing to."
"No. Say you WANT to!"
He used his toe as a gimlet, boring into the ground, his wide open eyes staring with intense vacancy at a button on his sleeve.
His mother appeared upon the porch in departure, calling farewells over her shoulder to Mrs. Gelbraith, who stood in the doorway.
"Say it!" whispered Fanchon.
"Well, I just as SOON."
She seemed satisfied.