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Penrod


By

Booth Tarkington


Illustrated

By

Gordon Grant

 

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY

 

Marjorie and Penrod

 

A dancing floor had been laid upon a platform in the yard, when Mrs.
Schofield and her son arrived at their own abode; and a white and
scarlet striped canopy was in process of erection overhead, to shelter
the dancers from the sun. Workmen were busy everywhere under the
direction of Margaret, and the smitten heart of Penrod began to beat
rapidly. All this was for him; he was Twelve!

After lunch, he underwent an elaborate toilette and murmured not. For
the first time in his life he knew the wish to be sand-papered, waxed,
and polished to the highest possible degree. And when the operation was
over, he stood before the mirror in new bloom, feeling encouraged to
hope that his resemblance to his father was not so strong as Aunt Sarah
seemed to think.

The white gloves upon his hands had a pleasant smell, he found; and, as
he came down the stairs, he had great content in the twinkling of his
new dancing slippers. He stepped twice on each step, the better to enjoy
their effect and at the same time he deeply inhaled the odour of the
gloves. In spite of everything, Penrod had his social capacities.
Already it is to be perceived that there were in him the makings of a
cotillon leader.

Then came from the yard a sound of tuning instruments, squeak of fiddle,
croon of 'cello, a falling triangle ringing and tinkling to the floor;
and he turned pale.

Chosen guests began to arrive, while Penrod, suffering from stage-fright
and perspiration, stood beside his mother, in the "drawing-room,"
to receive them. He greeted unfamiliar acquaintances and intimate
fellow criminals with the same frigidity, murmuring: "'M glad to see
y'," to all alike, largely increasing the embarrassment which always
prevails at the beginning of children's festivities. His unnatural pomp
and circumstance had so thoroughly upset him, in truth, that Marjorie
Jones received a distinct shock, now to be related. Doctor Thrope, the
kind old clergyman who had baptized Penrod, came in for a moment to
congratulate the boy, and had just moved away when it was Marjorie's
turn, in the line of children, to speak to Penrod. She gave him what she
considered a forgiving look, and, because of the occasion, addressed him
in a perfectly courteous manner.

"I wish you many happy returns of the day, Penrod."

"Thank you, sir!" he returned, following Dr. Thrope with a glassy
stare in which there was absolutely no recognition of Marjorie. Then he
greeted Maurice Levy, who was next to Marjorie: "'M glad to see y'!"

Dumfounded, Marjorie turned aside, and stood near, observing Penrod with
gravity. It was the first great surprise of her life. Customarily,
she had seemed to place his character somewhere between that of the
professional rioter and that of the orang-outang; nevertheless, her
manner at times just hinted a consciousness that this Caliban was her
property. Wherefore, she stared at him incredulously as his head bobbed
up and down, in the dancing-school bow, greeting his guests. Then she
heard an adult voice, near her, exclaim:

"What an exquisite child!"

Mariorie glanced up--a little consciously, though she was used to
it--naturally curious to ascertain who was speaking of her. It was Sam
Williams' mother addressing Mrs. Bassett, both being present to help
Mrs. Schofield make the festivities festive.

"Exquisite!"

Here was a second heavy surprise for Marjorie: they were not looking
at her. They were looking with beaming approval at a girl she had never
seen; a dark and modish stranger of singularly composed and yet modest
aspect. Her downcast eyes, becoming in one thus entering a crowded room,
were all that produced the effect of modesty, counteracting something
about her which might have seemed too assured. She was very slender,
very dainty, and her apparel was disheartening to the other girls; it
was of a knowing picturesqueness wholly unfamiliar to them. There was
a delicate trace of powder upon the lobe of Fanchon's left ear, and
the outlines of her eyelids, if very closely scrutinized, would have
revealed successful experimentation with a burnt match.

 


 

Marjorie's lovely eyes dilated: she learned the meaning of hatred at
first sight. Observing the stranger with instinctive suspicion, all
at once she seemed, to herself, awkward. Poor Marjorie underwent that
experience which hearty, healthy, little girls and big girls undergo at
one time or another--from heels to head she felt herself, somehow, too
THICK.

Fanchon leaned close to Penrod and whispered in his ear:

"Don't you forget!"

Penrod blushed.

Marjorie saw the blush. Her lovely eyes opened even wider, and in them
there began to grow a light. It was the light of indignation;--at least,
people whose eyes glow with that light always call it indignation.

Roderick Magsworth Bitts, Junior, approached Fanchon, when she had made
her courtesy to Mrs. Schofield. Fanchon whispered in Roderick's ear
also.

"Your hair is pretty, Roddy! Don't forget what you said yesterday!"

Roderick likewise blushed.

Maurice Levy, captivated by the newcomer's appearance, pressed close to
Roderick.

"Give us an intaduction, Roddy?"

Roddy being either reluctant or unable to perform the rite, Fanchon took
matters into her own hands, and was presently favourably impressed with
Maurice, receiving the information that his tie had been brought to him
by his papa from Skoone's, whereupon she privately informed him that she
liked wavy hair, and arranged to dance with him. Fanchon also thought
sandy hair attractive, Sam Williams discovered, a few minutes later, and
so catholic was her taste that a ring of boys quite encircled her before
the musicians in the yard struck up their thrilling march, and Mrs.
Schofield brought Penrod to escort the lady from out-of-town to the
dancing pavilion.

Headed by this pair, the children sought partners and paraded solemnly
out of the front door and round a corner of the house. There they found
the gay marquee; the small orchestra seated on the lawn at one side
of it, and a punch bowl of lemonade inviting attention, under a tree.
Decorously the small couples stepped upon the platform, one after
another, and began to dance.

"It's not much like a children's party in our day," Mrs. Williams said
to Penrod's mother. "We'd have been playing 'Quaker-meeting,' 'Clap-in,
Clap-out,' or 'Going to Jerusalem,' I suppose."

"Yes, or 'Post-office' and 'Drop-the-handkerchief,'" said Mrs.
Schofield. "Things change so quickly. Imagine asking little Fanchon
Gelbraith to play 'London Bridge'! Penrod seems to be having a difficult
time with her, poor boy; he wasn't a shining light in the dancing
class."

However, Penrod's difficulty was not precisely of the kind his mother
supposed. Fanchon was showing him a new step, which she taught her
next partner in turn, continuing instructions during the dancing. The
children crowded the floor, and in the kaleidoscopic jumble of bobbing
heads and intermingling figures her extremely different style of
motion was unobserved by the older people, who looked on, nodding time
benevolently.

Fanchon fascinated girls as well as boys. Many of the former eagerly
sought her acquaintance and thronged about her between the dances, when,
accepting the deference due a cosmopolitan and an oracle of the mode,
she gave demonstrations of the new step to succeeding groups, professing
astonishment to find it unknown: it had been "all the go," she
explained, at the Long Shore Casino for fully two seasons. She
pronounced "slow" a "Fancy Dance" executed during an intermission by
Baby Rennsdale and Georgie Bassett, giving it as her opinion that Miss
Rennsdale and Mr. Bassett were "dead ones"; and she expressed surprise
that the punch bowl contained lemonade and not champagne.

The dancing continued, the new step gaining instantly in popularity,
fresh couples adventuring with every number. The word "step" is somewhat
misleading, nothing done with the feet being vital to the evolutions
introduced by Fanchon. Fanchon's dance came from the Orient by a
roundabout way; pausing in Spain, taking on a Gallic frankness in
gallantry at the Bal Bullier in Paris, combining with a relative from
the South Seas encountered in San Francisco, flavouring itself with
a carefree abandon in New Orleans, and, accumulating, too,
something inexpressible from Mexico and South America, it kept,
throughout its travels, to the underworld, or to circles where nature
is extremely frank and rank, until at last it reached the dives of New
York, when it immediately broke out in what is called civilized
society. Thereafter it spread, in variously modified forms--some of
them disinfected--to watering-places, and thence, carried by hundreds of
older male and female Fanchons, over the country, being eagerly adopted
everywhere and made wholly pure and respectable by the supreme moral
axiom that anything is all right if enough people do it. Everybody was
doing it.

Not quite everybody. It was perhaps some test of this dance that earth
could furnish no more grotesque sight than that of children doing it.

Earth, assisted by Fanchon, was furnishing this sight at Penrod's party.
By the time ice cream and cake arrived, about half the guests had
either been initiated into the mysteries by Fanchon or were learning
by imitation, and the education of the other half was resumed with the
dancing, when the attendant ladies, unconscious of what was happening,
withdrew into the house for tea.

"That orchestra's a dead one," Fanchon remarked to Penrod. "We ought to
liven them up a little!"

She approached the musicians.

"Don't you know," she asked the leader, "the Slingo Sligo Slide?"

The leader giggled, nodded, rapped with his bow upon his violin; and
Penrod, following Fanchon back upon the dancing floor, blindly brushed
with his elbow a solitary little figure standing aloof on the lawn at
the edge of the platform.

It was Marjorie.

In no mood to approve of anything introduced by Fanchon, she had
scornfully refused, from the first, to dance the new "step," and,
because of its bonfire popularity, found herself neglected in a society
where she had reigned as beauty and belle. Faithless Penrod, dazed by
the sweeping Fanchon, had utterly forgotten the amber curls; he had not
once asked Marjorie to dance. All afternoon the light of indignation had
been growing brighter in her eyes, though Maurice Levy's defection
to the lady from New York had not fanned this flame. From the moment
Fanchon had whispered familiarly in Penrod's ear, and Penrod had
blushed, Marjorie had been occupied exclusively with resentment against
that guilty pair. It seemed to her that Penrod had no right to allow a
strange girl to whisper in his ear; that his blushing, when the strange
girl did it, was atrocious; and that the strange girl, herself, ought to
be arrested.

Forgotten by the merrymakers, Marjorie stood alone upon the lawn,
clenching her small fists, watching the new dance at its high tide,
and hating it with a hatred that made every inch of her tremble. And,
perhaps because jealousy is a great awakener of the virtues, she had
a perception of something in it worse than lack of dignity--something
vaguely but outrageously reprehensible. Finally, when Penrod brushed by
her, touched her with his elbow, and, did not even see her, Marjorie's
state of mind (not unmingled with emotion!) became dangerous. In fact, a
trained nurse, chancing to observe her at this juncture, would probably
have advised that she be taken home and put to bed. Marjorie was on the
verge of hysterics.

She saw Fanchon and Penrod assume the double embrace required by the
dance; the "Slingo Sligo Slide" burst from the orchestra like the
lunatic shriek of a half-crazed parrot; and all the little couples
began to bob and dip and sway.

Marjorie made a scene. She sprang upon the platform and stamped her
foot.

"Penrod Schofield!" she shouted. "You BEHAVE yourself!"

The remarkable girl took Penrod by the ear. By his ear she swung him
away from Fanchon and faced him toward the lawn.

"You march straight out of here!" she commanded.
Penrod marched.

 

 

 

He was stunned; obeyed automatically, without question, and had very
little realization of what was happening to him. Altogether, and without
reason, he was in precisely the condition of an elderly spouse detected
in flagrant misbehaviour. Marjorie, similarly, was in precisely the
condition of the party who detects such misbehaviour. It may be added
that she had acted with a promptness, a decision and a disregard of
social consequences all to be commended to the attention of ladies in
like predicament.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" she raged, when they reached the
lawn. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"

"What for?" he inquired, helplessly.

"You be quiet!"

"But what'd I do, Marjorie? I haven't done anything to you," he
pleaded. "I haven't even seen you, all aftern----"

"You be quiet!" she cried, tears filling her eyes. "Keep still! You ugly
boy! Shut up!"

She slapped him.

He should have understood from this how much she cared for him. But he
rubbed his cheek and declared ruefully:

"I'll never speak to you again!"

"You will, too!" she sobbed, passionately.

"I will not!"

He turned to leave her, but paused.

His mother, his sister Margaret, and their grownup friends had finished
their tea and were approaching from the house. Other parents and
guardians were with them, coming for their children; and there were
carriages and automobiles waiting in the street. But the "Slingo Slide"
went on, regardless.

The group of grown-up people hesitated and came to a halt, gazing at the
pavilion.

"What are they doing?" gasped Mrs. Williams, blushing deeply. "What is
it? What IS it?"

"WHAT IS IT?" Mrs. Gelbraith echoed in a frightened whisper. "WHAT----"

"They're Tangoing!" cried Margaret Schofield. "Or Bunny Hugging or
Grizzly Bearing, or----"

"They're only Turkey Trotting," said Robert Williams.

With fearful outcries the mothers, aunts, and sisters rushed upon the
pavilion.

"Of course it was dreadful," said Mrs. Schofield, an hour later,
rendering her lord an account of the day, "but it was every bit the
fault of that one extraordinary child. And of all the quiet, demur
little things--that is, I mean, when she first came. We all spoke of how
exquisite she seemed--so well trained, so finished! Eleven years old! I
never saw anything like her in my life!"

"I suppose it's the New Child," her husband grunted.

"And to think of her saying there ought to have been champagne in the
lemonade!"

"Probably she'd forgotten to bring her pocket flask," he suggested
musingly.

"But aren't you proud of Penrod?" cried Penrod's mother. "It was just as
I told you: he was standing clear outside the pavilion----"

"I never thought to see the day! And Penrod was the only boy not doing
it, the only one to refuse? ALL the others were----"

"Every one!" she returned triumphantly. "Even Georgie Bassett!"

"Well," said Mr. Schofield, patting her on the shoulder. "I guess we can
hold up our heads at last."

Reference: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/402/402.txt  copyright 1914

 

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