Harry Leon Wilson.

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"Gave you back - "

Winona enacted surprise.

"I had to have my pants, didn't I? I couldn't go out without any, could
I? And she took me to a pantry and give me a big hunk of cake with
raisins in it, and a big slice of apple pie, and a big glass of milk."

"I must say! And she never gave me a thing!" Merle's bitterness grew.

"And she kissed me twice, and - and said I was a nice boy."

"You already said that," reminded the injured brother.

"And she didn't act cruel to me once, even if she is a stepmother."

"But how did you come to be without your - - "

Wilbur was again reprieved from her grilling. The Penniman cat, Mouser,
a tawny, tigerish beast, had leaped to the porch. With set eyes and
quivering tail it advanced crouchingly, one slow step at a time,
noiseless, sinister. Only when poised for its final spring upon the
helpless prey was it seen that Mouser stalked the blue jay on its perch.
Wilbur, with a cry of alarm, snatched the treasure from peril. Mouser
leaped to the porch railing to lick her lips in an evil manner.

"You will, will you?" Wilbur stormed at her. Yet he was pleased, too,
for Mouser's attempt was testimony to the bird's merit. "She thought it
was real," he said, proudly.

"But how did you come to have your clothes - - " began Winona sweetly
once more, and again the twin was saved from shuffling answers.

The dog, Frank, sniffing up timidly at Mouser on the porch rail,
displeased her. From her perch she leaned down to curse him hissingly,
with arched back and swollen tail, a potent forearm with drawn claws
curving forward in menace.

"You will, will you?" demanded Wilbur again, freeing his legs from the
leash in which the dismayed dog had entwined them.

Frank now fell on his back with limp paws in air and simpered girlishly
up at his envenomed critic on the railing.

"We got to keep that old cat out the way. He eats 'em up - that's all he
does, eats 'em! It's a good thing I was here to make him mind me."

"But how did you come to have your clothes - - " resumed Winona.

This time it was Dave Cowan who thwarted her with a blithe hail from
the gate. Winona gave it up. Merle had been striving to tell her what
she wished to know. Later she would let him.

* * * * *

Dave swaggered up the walk, a gay and gallant figure in his blue cutaway
coat, his waistcoat of most legible plaid, fit ground for the watch
chain of heavy golden links. He wore a derby hat and a fuming calabash
pipe, removing both for a courtly bow to the ladies. His yellow hair had
been plastered low on his brow, to be swept back each side of the part
in a gracious curve; his thick yellow moustache curled jauntily upward,
to show white teeth as he smiled. At first glance he was smartly
apparelled, but below the waist Dave always diminished rapidly in
elegance. His trousers were of another pattern from the coat, not too
accurate of fit, and could have been pressed to advantage, while the
once superb yellow shoes were tarnished and sadly worn. The man was
richly and variously scented. There were the basic and permanent aromas
of printer's ink and pipe tobacco; above these like a mist were the rare
unguents lately applied by Don Paley, the barber, and a spicy odour of
strong drink. As was not unusual on a Saturday night, Dave would have
passed some relaxing moments at the liquor saloon of Herman Vielhaber.

"I hope I see you well, duchess!"

This was for Mrs. Penniman, and caused her to bridle as she fancied a
saluted duchess might. It was the humour of Dave to suppose this lady a
peeress of the old régime, one who had led far too gay a life and, come
now to a dishonoured old age, was yet cynical and unrepentant. Winona
also he affected to believe an ornament of the old noblesse, a creature
of maddening beauty, but without heart, so that despairing suitors slew
themselves for her. His debased fancy would at times further have it
that Judge Penniman was Louis XVIII, though at this moment, observing
that the ladies were preoccupied with one of his sons, he paused by the
invalid and expertly from a corner of his mouth whispered the coarse
words, "Hello, Old Flapdoodle!" From some remnant of sex loyalty he
would not address the sufferer thus when his womenfolk could overhear,
but the judge could never be sure of the jester's discretion. Besides,
Dave was from day to day earnestly tutoring the parrot to say the base
words, and the judge knew that Polly, once master of them, would use no
discretion whatever. He glared at Dave Cowan in hearty but silent rage.
Dave turned from him to kneel at the feet of Winona.

"'A book of verses underneath the bow - '" he began.

Winona shuddered. She knew what was coming; dreadful, licentious stuff
from a so-called poet - far, far different from dear Tennyson, thought
Winona - who sang the joys of profligacy. Winona turned from the
recitationist.

"What? Repulsed again? Ah, well, there's always the river! Duchess, bear
witness, 'twas her coldness drove me to the rash act - she with her
beauty that maddens all be-holders!"

Winona was shocked, yet not unpleasantly, at these monstrous
implications. She dreaded to have him begin - and yet she would have him.
She tried to sign to him now that matters were to the fore too grave for
clumsy fooling, but he only took the book from her hand to read its
title.

"'Matthew Arnold - How to Know Him,'" he read. "Ah, yes! Ah, yes! But is
he worth knowing?"

"Oh!" exclaimed Winona, wincing.

"No respect for God or man," mumbled the judge, meaning that a creature
capable of calling him Old Flapdoodle could be expected to ask if
Matthew Arnold were worth knowing.

The Wilbur twin here thrust the blue jay upon his father with cordial
words. Dave professed to be entranced with the gift. It appeared that he
had always longed for a stuffed blue jay. He curled a finger to it and
called, "Tweet! Tweet!" a bit of comedy poignantly relished by the donor
of the bird.

His father now ceremoniously conducted Mrs. Penniman to what he spoke
of as the banqueting hall. He made almost a minuet of their progress.
Under one arm he carried his bird to place it on the table, where later
during the meal he would convulse the Wilbur twin by affecting to feed
it bits of bread. Winona still hungered for details of the day's
tragedy, but Dave must talk of other things. He talked far too much, the
judge believed. He had just made the invalid uncomfortable by disclosing
that the Ajax Invigorator had an alcoholic content of at least
fifty-five per cent. He said that for this reason it would afford
temporary relief to almost any one. He added that it would be cheap
stuff, and harmful, and that if a man wished to drink he ought to go
straight to Vielhaber's, where they kept an excellent line of Ajax
Invigorators and sold them under their right names. The judge said
"Stuff and nonsense" to this, but the ladies believed, for despite his
levity Dave Cowan knew things. He read books and saw the world. Only the
Wilbur twin still had faith in the invigorator. He had seen the picture.
You couldn't get round that picture.

Having made the judge uncomfortable, Dave rendered Winona so by a brief
lecture upon organic evolution, with the blue jay as his text. He said
it had taken four hundred and fifty million years for man to progress
thus far from the blue-jay stage - if you could call it progress, the
superiority of man's brain to the jay's being still inconsiderable.

Winona was uncomfortable, because she had never been able to persuade
herself that we had come up from the animals, and in any event it was
not talk for the ears of innocent children. She was relieved when the
speaker strayed into the comparatively blameless field of astronomy,
telling of suns so vast that our own sun became to them but a pin point
of light, and of other worlds out in space peopled with beings like Mrs.
Penniman and Winona and the judge, though even here Winona felt that the
lecturer was too daring. The Bible said nothing about these other worlds
out in space. But then Dave had once, in the post office, argued against
religion itself in the most daring manner, with none other than the
Reverend Mallett.

It was not until the meal ended and they were again on the porch in the
summer dusk that Winona made any progress in her criminal
investigations. There, while Dave Cowan played his guitar and sang
sentimental ballads to Mrs. Penniman - these being among the supposed
infirmities of the profligate duchess - Winona drew the twins aside and
managed to gain a blurred impression of the day's tremendous events. She
never did have the thing clearly. The Merle twin was eager to tell too
much, the other determined to tell too little. But the affair had
plainly been less nefarious than reported by Don Paley to Ed Seaver. The
twins persisted in ignoring the social aspects of their adventure. To
them it was a thing of pure finance.

Winona had to give it up at last, for Lyman Teaford came with his flute
in its black case. Dave Cowan finished "In the Gloaming," brazenly,
though it was not thought music by either Lyman or Winona, who would
presently dash into the "Poet and Peasant" overture. The twins begged to
be let to see Lyman assemble his flute, and Dave overlooked the process
with them. Lyman deftly joined the various sections of shining metal.

"He looks like a plumber," said Dave. The twins giggled, but Winona
frowned.

"No respect for God or man," mumbled the judge from his wicker chair.




CHAPTER IV


In the Penniman home it was not merely Sunday morning; it was Sabbath
morning. Throughout the house a subdued bustling, decorous and solemn; a
hushed, religious hurry of preparation for church. In the bathroom Judge
Penniman shaved his marbled countenance with tender solicitude, fitting
himself to adorn a sanctuary. In other rooms Mrs. Penniman and Winona
arrayed themselves in choice raiment for behoof of the godly; in each
were hurried steppings, as from closet to mirror; shrill whisperings of
silken drapery as it fell into place. In the parlour the Merle twin sat
reading an instructive book. With unfailing rectitude he had been the
first to don Sabbath garments, and now lacked merely his shoes, which
were being burnished by his brother in the more informal atmosphere of
the woodshed, to which the Sabbath strain of preparation did not
penetrate.

It was the Wilbur twin's weekly task to do the shoes of himself and
brother and those of the judge. No one could have told precisely why the
task fell to him, and he had never thought to question. The thing simply
was. Probably Winona, asked to wrestle with the problem, would have
urged that Merle was always the first one dressed, and should not be
expected to submit his Sunday suit to the hazards of this toil. She
would have added, perhaps, that anyway it was more suitable work for
Wilbur, the latter being of a rougher spiritual texture. Also, Merle
could be trusted to behave himself in the Penniman parlour, not touching
the many bibelots there displayed, or disarranging the furniture, while
the Wilbur twin would not only touch and disarrange, but pry into and
handle and climb and altogether demoralize. In all the parlour there
was but one object for which he had a seemly respect - the vast painting
of a recumbent lion behind bars. It was not an ordinary picture, such as
may be seen in galleries, for the bars guarding the fierce beast were
real bars set into the frame, a splendid conceit that the Wilbur twin
never tired of regarding. If you were alone in the sacred room you could
go right up to the frame and feel the actual bars and put your hand
thrillingly through them to touch the painted king of the jungle. But
the Merle twin could sit alone in the presence of this prized art
treasure and never think of touching it. He would sit quietly and read
his instructive book and not occasion the absent Winona any anxiety.
Wherefore the Wilbur twin each Sabbath morning in the woodshed polished
three pairs of shoes, and not uncheerfully. He would, in truth, much
rather be there at his task than compelled to sit in the parlour with
his brother present to tell if he put inquiring fingers into the lion's
cage.

He had finished the shoes of his brother and himself, not taking too
much pains about the heels, and now laboured at the more considerable
footgear of the judge. The judge's shoes were not only broad, but of a
surface abounding in hills and valleys. As Dave Cowan said, the judge's
feet were lumpy. But the Wilbur twin was conscientious here, and the
judge's heels would be as resplendent as the undulating toes. The task
had been appreciably delayed by Frank, the dog, who, with a quaint
relish for shoe blacking, had licked a superb polish from one shoe while
the other was under treatment. His new owner did not rebuke him. He
conceived that Frank had intelligently wished to aid in the work, and
applauded him even while securing the shined shoes from his further
assistance.

But one pagan marred this chastened Sabbath harmony of preparation. In
the little house Dave Cowan lolled lordly in a disordered bed, smoked
his calabash pipe beside a disordered breakfast tray, fetched him by the
Wilbur twin, and luxuriated in the merely Sunday - and not
Sabbath - edition of a city paper shrieking with black headlines and
spectacular with coloured pictures; a pleasing record of crimes and
disasters and secrets of the boudoir, the festal diversions of the
opulent, the minor secrets of astronomy, woman's attire, baseball, high
art, and facial creams. As a high priest of the most liberal of all
arts, Dave scanned the noisy pages with a cynical and professional eye,
knowing that none of the stuff had acquired any dignity or power to
coerce human belief until mere typesetters like himself had crystallized
it. Not for Dave Cowan was the printed word of sacred authority. He had
set up too much copy. But he was pleased, nevertheless, thus to while
and doze away a beautiful Sabbath morning that other people made rather
a trial of.

Having finished the last of the judge's shoes, the Wilbur twin took them
and the shoes of Merle to their owners, then hastened with his own to
the little house where he must dress in his own Sunday clothes, wash his
hands with due care - they would be doubtingly inspected by Winona - and
put soap on his hair to make it lie down. Merle's hair would lie
politely as combed, but his own hair owned no master but soap. Lacking
this, it stood out and up in wicked disorder - like the hair of a rowdy,
Winona said.

The rebellious stuff was at last plastered deceitfully to his skull as
if a mere brush had smoothed it, and with a final survey, to assure
himself that he had forgotten none of those niceties of the toilet that
Winona would insist upon, he took his new straw hat and went again to
the Penniman house. For the moment he was in flawless order, as neat, as
compactly and accurately accoutred as the Merle twin, to whom this
effect came without effort. But it would be so only for a few fleeting
moments. He mournfully knew this, and so did Winona. Within five blocks
from home and still five blocks from the edifice of worship, while Merle
appeared as one born to Sunday clothes and shined shoes and a new hat,
the Wilbur twin would be one to whom Sabbath finery was exotic and
unwelcome. The flawless lustre of his shoes would be dulled, even though
he walked sedately the safe sidewalk; his broad collar and blue
polka-dotted cravat would be awry, one stocking would be down, his
jacket yawning, all his magnificence seeming unconquerably alien. Winona
did him the justice to recognize that this disarray was due to no
wilfulness of its victim. He was helpless against a malign current of
his being.

He held himself stiff in the parlour until the Pennimans came rustling
down the stairway. He could exult in a long look at the benignant lion
back of real bars, but, of course, he could not now reach up to touch
the bars. It would do something to his clothes, even if the watchful and
upright Merle had not been there to report a transgression of the rules.
Merle also stood waiting, his hat nicely in one hand.

The judge descended the stairs, monumental in black frock coat, gray
trousers, and the lately polished shoes that were like shining relief
maps of a hill country. He carried a lustrous silk hat, which he now
paused to make more lustrous, his fingers clutching a sleeve of his coat
and pulling it down to make a brush. The hat was the only item of the
judge's regal attire of which the Wilbur twin was honestly envious - it
was so beautiful, so splendid, so remote. He had never even dared to
touch it. He could have been left alone in the room with it, and still
would have surveyed it in all respect from a proper distance.

Mrs. Penniman came next, rustling in black silk and under a flowered hat
that Winona secretly felt to be quite too girlish. Then Winona from the
door of her room above called to the twins, and they ascended the
stairway for a last rite before the start for church, the bestowal of
perfume upon each. Winona stood in the door of her room, as each Sunday
she stood at this crisis, the cut-glass perfume bottle in hand. The
twins solemnly approached her, and upon the white handkerchief of each
she briefly inverted the bottle. The scent enveloped them delectably as
the handkerchiefs were replaced in the upper left pockets, folded
corners protruding correctly. As Wilbur turned away Winona swiftly
moistened a finger tip in the precious stuff and drew it across the
pale brow of Merle. It was a furtive tribute to his inherent social
superiority.

Winona, in her own silk - not black, but hardly less severe - and in a hat
less girlish than her mother's, rustled down the stairs after them.
Speech was brief and low-toned among the elders, as befitted the high
moment. The twins were solemnly silent. Amid the funereal gloom, broken
only by a hushed word or two from Winona or her mother, the judge
completed his fond stroking of the luminous hat, raised it slowly, and
with both hands adjusted it to his pale curls. Then he took up his
gold-headed ebony cane and stepped from the dusk of the parlour into the
light of day, walking uprightly in the pride of fine raiment and
conscious dignity. Mrs. Penniman walked at his side, not unconscious
herself of the impressive mien of her consort.

Followed Winona and Merle, the latter bearing her hymn book and at some
pains keeping step with his companion. Behind them trailed the Wilbur
twin, resolving, as was his weekly rule, to keep himself neat through
church and Sunday-school - yet knowing in his heart it could not be done.
Already he could feel his hair stiffening as the coating of soap dried
upon it. Pretty soon the shining surface would crack and disorder ensue.
What was the use? As he walked carefully now he inhaled rich scent from
the group - Winona's perfume combining but somehow not blending with a
pungent, almost vivid, aroma of moth balls from the judge's frock coat.

They met or passed other family groups, stiffly armoured for the weekly
penance to a bewildering puzzle of mortality. Ceremonious greetings were
exchanged with these. The day was bright and the world all fair, but
there could be no levity, no social small talk, while this grim business
was on. They reached the white house of worship, impressive under its
heaven-pointing steeple, and passed within its portals, stepping softly
to the accompaniment of those silken whisperings, with now and again the
high squeak of new boots whose wearers, profaning the stillness, would
appear self-conscious and annoyed, though as if silently protesting
that they were blameless.

Thus began an hour of acute mental distress for the Wilbur twin. He sat
tightly between Mrs. Penniman and the judge. There was no free movement
possible. He couldn't even juggle one foot backward and forward without
correction. The nervous energy thus suppressed rushed to all the surface
of his body and made his skin tingle maddeningly. He felt each hair on
his head as it broke away from the confining soap. Something was inside
his collar, and he couldn't reach for it; there was a poignant itching
between his shoulder blades, and this could receive no proper treatment.
He boiled with dumb, helpless rage, having to fight this wicked unrest.
He never doubted its wickedness, and considered himself forever shut out
from those rewards that would fall to the righteous who loved church and
could sit still there without jiggling or writhing or twisting or
scratching.

He was a little diverted from his tortures by the arrival of the
Whipples. From the Penniman pew he could glance across to a side pew and
observe a line of repeated Whipple noses, upon which for some moments he
was enabled to speculate forgetfully. Once - years ago, it seemed to
him - he had heard talk of the Whipple nose. This one had the Whipple
nose, or that one did not have the Whipple nose; and it had then been
his understanding that the Whipple family possessed but one nose in
common; sometimes one Whipple had it; then another Whipple would have
it. At the time this had seemed curious, but in no way anomalous. He had
readily pictured a Whipple nose being worn now by one and now by another
of this family. He had visualized it as something that could be handed
about. Later had come the disappointing realization that each Whipple
had a complete nose at all times for his very own; that the phrase by
which he had been misled denoted merely the possession of a certain
build of nose by Whipples.

But even this simple phenomenon offered some distraction from his
present miseries. He could glance along the line of Whipple noses and
observe that they were, indeed, of a markedly similar pattern. It was,
as one might say, a standardized nose, raised by careful selection
through past generations of Whipples to the highest point of efficiency;
for ages yet to come the demands of environment, howsoever capricious,
would probably dictate no change in its structural details. It sufficed.
It was, moreover, a nose of good lines, according to conventional
canons. It was shapely, and from its high bridge jutted forward with
rather a noble sweep of line to the thin, curved nostrils. The high
bridge was perhaps the detail that distinguished it from most good
noses. It seemed to begin to be a nose almost from the base of the brow.
In a world of all Whipple noses this family would have been remarked for
its beauty. In one of less than Whipple noses - with other less claimant
designs widely popularized - it might be said that the Whipple face would
be noted rather for distinction than beauty.

In oblique profile the Wilbur twin could glance across the fronts in
turn of Harvey D. Whipple, of Gideon Whipple, his father; of Sharon
Whipple, his uncle; and of Juliana Whipple, sole offspring of Sharon.
The noses were alike. One had but to look at Miss Juliana to know that
in simple justice this should have been otherwise. She might have kept a
Whipple nose - Whipple in all essentials - without too pressing an
insistence upon bulk. But it had not been so. Her nose was as utterly
Whipple as any. They might have been interchanged without detection.

The Wilbur twin stared and speculated upon and mildly enjoyed this
display, until a species of hypnotism overtook him, a mercifully
deadening inertia that made him slumberous and almost happy. He could
keep still at last, and be free from the correcting hand of Mrs.
Penniman or the warning prod of the judge's elbow. He dozed in a smother
of applied godliness. He was delighted presently to note with an
awakening start that the sermon was well under way. He heard no word of
this. He knew only that a frowning old gentleman stood in a high place
and scolded about something. The Wilbur twin had no notion what his
grievance might be; was sensible only of his heated aspect, his activity
in gesture, and the rhythm of his phrases.

This influence again benumbed him to forgetfulness, so that during the
final prayer he was dramatizing a scene in which three large and savage
dogs leaped upon Frank and Frank destroyed them - ate them up. And when
he stood at last for the doxology one of his feet had veritably gone to
sleep, the one that had been cramped back under the seat, so that he
stumbled and drew unwelcome attention to himself while the foot tingled
to wakefulness.

The ever-tractable Merle had been attentive to the sermon, had sung
beautifully, and was still immaculate of garb, while the Wilbur twin
emerged from the ordeal in rank disorder, seeming to have survived a



Online LibraryHarry Leon WilsonThe Wrong Twin → online text (page 6 of 28)