Feeling himself at perhaps a disadvantage, Penrod made offer of his hand for the morrow with a little embarrassment. Following the form prescribed by Professor Bartet, he advanced several paces toward the stricken lady and bowed formally.
“I hope,” he said by rote, “you’re well, and your parents also in good health. May I have the pleasure of dancing the cotillon as your partner t’-morrow afternoon?”
The wet eyes of Miss Rennsdale searched his countenance without pleasure, and a shudder wrung her small shoulders; but the governess whispered to her instructively, and she made a great effort.
“I thu-thank you fu-for your polite invu-invu-invutation; and I ac——” Thus far she progressed when emotion overcame her again. She beat frantically upon the sofa with fists and heels. “Oh, I did want it to be Georgie Bassett!”
“No, no, no!” said the governess, and whispered urgently, whereupon Miss Rennsdale was able to complete her acceptance.
“And I ac-accept wu-with pu-pleasure!” she moaned, and immediately, uttering a loud yell, flung herself face downward upon the sofa, clutching her governess convulsively.
Somewhat disconcerted, Penrod bowed again.
“I thank you for your polite acceptance,” he murmured hurriedly; “and I trust—I trust—I forget. Oh, yes—I trust we shall have a most enjoyable occasion. Pray present my compliments to your parents; and I must now wish you a very good afternoon.”
Concluding these courtly demonstrations with another bow he withdrew in fair order, though thrown into partial confusion in the hall by a final wail from his crushed hostess:
“Oh! Why couldn’t it be anybody but him!”
CHAPTER XIII THE SMALLPOX MEDICINE
Next morning Penrod woke in profound depression of spirit, the cotillon ominous before him. He pictured Marjorie Jones and Maurice, graceful and light-hearted, flitting by him fairylike, loosing silvery laughter upon him as he engaged in the struggle to keep step with a partner about four years and two feet his junior. It was hard enough for Penrod to keep step with a girl of his size.
The foreboding vision remained with him, increasing in vividness, throughout the forenoon. He found himself unable to fix his mind upon anything else, and, having bent his gloomy footsteps toward the sawdust-box, after breakfast, presently descended therefrom, abandoning Harold Ramorez where he had left him the preceding Saturday. Then, as he sat communing silently with wistful Duke, in the storeroom, coquettish fortune looked his way.
It was the habit of Penrod’s mother not to throw away anything whatsoever until years of storage conclusively proved there would never be a use for it; but a recent house-cleaning had ejected upon the back porch a great quantity of bottles and other paraphernalia of medicine, left over from illnesses in the family during a period of several years. This debris Della, the cook, had collected in a large market basket, adding to it some bottles of flavouring extracts that had proved unpopular in the household; also, old catsup bottles; a jar or two of preserves gone bad; various rejected dental liquids—and other things. And she carried the basket out to the storeroom in the stable.