"Indeed, doctor," said Mrs. Schofield, with agitation and profound conviction, just after eight o'clock that evening, "I shall ALWAYS believe in mustard plasters—mustard plasters and hot—water bags. If it hadn't been for them I don't believed he'd have LIVED till you got here—I do NOT!"
"Margaret," called Mr. Schofield from the open door of a bedroom, "Margaret, where did you put that aromatic ammonia? Where's Margaret?"
But he had to find the aromatic spirits of ammonia himself, for Margaret was not in the house. She stood in the shadow beneath a maple tree near the street corner, a guitar-case in her hand; and she scanned with anxiety a briskly approaching figure. The arc light, swinging above, revealed this figure as that of him she awaited. He was passing toward the gate without seeing her, when she arrested him with a fateful whisper.
Mr. Robert Williams swung about hastily. "Why, Margaret!"
"Here, take your guitar," she whispered hurriedly. "I was afraid if father happened to find it he'd break it all to pieces!"
"What for?" asked the startled Robert.
"Because I'm sure he knows it's yours." "But what——"
"Oh, Bob," she moaned, "I was waiting here to tell you. I was so afraid you'd try to come in——"
"TRY!" exclaimed the unfortunate young man, quite dumfounded. "TRY to come——"
"Yes, before I warned you. I've been waiting here to tell you, Bob, you mustn't come near the house if I were you I'd stay away from even this neighbourhood—far away! For a while I don't think it would be actually SAFE for——"
"Margaret, will you please——"
"It's all on account of that dollar you gave Penrod this morning," she walled. "First, he bought that horrible concertina that made papa so furious—"
"But Penrod didn't tell that I——"
"Oh, wait!" she cried lamentably. "Listen! He didn't tell at lunch, but he got home about dinner-time in the most—well! I've seen pale people before, but nothing like Penrod. Nobody could IMAGINE it—not unless they'd seen him! And he looked, so STRANGE, and kept making such unnatural faces, and at first all he would say was that he'd eaten a little piece of apple and thought it must have some microbes on it. But he got sicker and sicker, and we put him to bed—and then we all thought he was going to die—and, of COURSE, no little piece of apple would have—well, and he kept getting worse and then he said he'd had a dollar. He said he'd spent it for the concertina, and watermelon, and chocolate-creams, and licorice sticks, and lemon-drops, and peanuts, and jaw-breakers, and sardines, and raspberry lemonade, and pickles, and popcorn, and ice-cream, and cider, and sausage—there was sausage in his pocket, and mamma says his jacket is ruined—and cinnamon drops—and waffles—and he ate four or five lobster croquettes at lunch—and papa said, 'Who gave you that dollar?' Only he didn't say 'WHO'—he said something horrible, Bob! And Penrod thought he was going to die, and he said you gave it to him, and oh! it was just pitiful to hear the poor child, Bob, because he thought he was dying, you see, and he blamed you for the whole thing. He said if you'd only let him alone and not given it to him, he'd have grown up to be a good man—and now he couldn't! I never heard anything so heart-rending—he was so weak he could hardly whisper, but he kept trying to talk, telling us over and over it was all your fault."
In the darkness Mr. Williams' facial expression could not be seen, but his voice sounded hopeful.
"Is he—is he still in a great deal of pain?"
"They say the crisis is past," said Margaret, "but the doctor's still up there. He said it was the acutest case of indigestion he had ever treated in the whole course of his professional practice."
"Of course I didn't know what he'd do with the dollar," said Robert.
She did not reply.
He began plaintively, "Margaret, you don't——"
"I've never seen papa and mamma so upset about anything," she said, rather primly.
"You mean they're upset about ME?"
"We ARE all very much upset," returned Margaret, more starch in her tone as she remembered not only Penrod's sufferings but a duty she had vowed herself to perform.
"Margaret! YOU don't——"
"Robert," she said firmly and, also, with a rhetorical complexity which breeds a suspicion of pre-rehearsal—"Robert, for the present I can only look at it in one way: when you gave that money to Penrod you put into the hands of an unthinking little child a weapon which might be, and, indeed was, the means of his undoing. Boys are not respon——"
"But you saw me give him the dollar, and you didn't——"
"Robert!" she checked him with increasing severity. "I am only a woman and not accustomed to thinking everything out on the spur of the moment; but I cannot change my mind. Not now, at least."
"And you think I'd better not come in to-night?"
"To-night!" she gasped. "Not for WEEKS! Papa would——"
"But Margaret," he urged plaintively, "how can you blame me for——"
"I have not used the word 'blame,'" she interrupted. "But I must insist that for your carelessness to—to wreak such havoc—cannot fail to—to lessen my confidence in your powers of judgment. I cannot change my convictions in this matter—not to-night—and I cannot remain here another instant. The poor child may need me. Robert, good-night."
With chill dignity she withdrew, entered the house, and returned to the sick-room, leaving the young man in outer darkness to brood upon his crime—and upon Penrod.
That sincere invalid became convalescent upon the third day; and a week elapsed, then, before he found an opportunity to leave the house unaccompanied—save by Duke. But at last he set forth and approached the Jones neighbourhood in high spirits, pleasantly conscious of his pallor, hollow cheeks, and other perquisites of illness provocative of interest.
One thought troubled him a little because it gave him a sense of inferiority to a rival. He believed, against his will, that Maurice Levy could have successfully eaten chocolate-creams, licorice sticks, lemon-drops, jaw-breakers, peanuts, waffles, lobster croquettes, sardines, cinnamon-drops, watermelon, pickles, popcorn, ice-cream and sausage with raspberry lemonade and cider. Penrod had admitted to himself that Maurice could do it and afterward attend to business, or pleasure, without the slightest discomfort; and this was probably no more than a fair estimate of one of the great constitutions of all time. As a digester, Maurice Levy would have disappointed a Borgia.
Fortunately, Maurice was still at Atlantic City—and now the convalescent's heart leaped. In the distance he saw Marjorie coming—in pink again, with a ravishing little parasol over her head. And alone! No Mitchy-Mitch was to mar this meeting.
Penrod increased the feebleness of his steps, now and then leaning upon the fence as if for support.
"How do you do, Marjorie?" he said, in his best sick-room voice, as she came near.
To his pained amazement, she proceeded on her way, her nose at a celebrated elevation—an icy nose.
She cut him dead.
He threw his invalid's airs to the winds, and hastened after her.
"Marjorie," he pleaded, "what's the matter? Are you mad? Honest, that day you said to come back next morning, and you'd be on the corner, I was sick. Honest, I was AWFUL sick, Marjorie! I had to have the doctor——"
"DOCTOR!" She whirled upon him, her lovely eyes blazing.
"I guess WE'VE had to have the doctor enough at OUR house, thanks to you, Mister Penrod Schofield. Papa says you haven't got NEAR sense enough to come in out of the rain, after what you did to poor little Mitchy-Mitch——"
"Yes, and he's sick in bed YET!" Marjorie went on, with unabated fury. "And papa says if he ever catches you in this part of town——"
"WHAT'D I do to Mitchy-Mitch?" gasped Penrod.
"You know well enough what you did to Mitchy-Mitch!" she cried. "You gave him that great, big, nasty two-cent piece!"
"Well, what of it?"
"Mitchy-Mitch swallowed it!"
"And papa says if he ever just lays eyes on you, once, in this neighbourhood——"
But Penrod had started for home.
In his embittered heart there was increasing a critical disapproval of the Creator's methods. When He made pretty girls, thought Penrod, why couldn't He have left out their little brothers!