“I bet you wanted to dance with Marjorie!” said his friend.
“Me? I wouldn’t dance with that girl if she begged me to! I wouldn’t dance with her to save her from drowning! I wouldn’t da——”
“Oh, no—you wouldn’t!” interrupted Mr. Williams skeptically.
Penrod changed his tone and became persuasive.
“Looky here, Sam,” he said confidentially. “I’ve got ’a mighty nice partner, but my mother don’t like her mother; and so I’ve been thinking I better not dance with her. I’ll tell you what I’ll do; I’ve got a mighty good sling in the house, and I’ll give it to you if you’ll change partners.”
“You want to change and you don’t even know who mine is!” said Sam, and he made the simple though precocious deduction: “Yours must be a lala! Well, I invited Mabel Rorebeck, and she wouldn’t let me change if I wanted to. Mabel Rorebeck’d rather dance with me,” he continued serenely, “than anybody; and she said she was awful afraid you’d ast her. But I ain’t goin’ to dance with Mabel after all, because this morning she sent me a note about her uncle died last night—and P’fessor Bartet’ll have to find me a partner after I get there. Anyway I bet you haven’t got any sling—and I bet your partner’s Baby Rennsdale!”
“What if she is?” said Penrod. “She’s good enough for me!” This speech held not so much modesty in solution as intended praise of the lady. Taken literally, however, it was an understatement of the facts and wholly insincere.
“Yay!” jeered Mr. Williams, upon whom his friend’s hypocrisy was quite wasted. “How can your mother not like her mother? Baby Rennsdale hasn’t got any mother! You and her’ll be a sight!”
That was Penrod’s own conviction; and with this corroboration of it he grew so spiritless that he could offer no retort. He slid to a despondent sitting posture upon the door sill and gazed wretchedly upon the ground, while his companion went to replenish the licorice water at the hydrant—enfeebling the potency of the liquor no doubt, but making up for that in quantity.
“Your mother goin’ with you to the cotillon?” asked Sam when he returned.
“No. She’s goin’ to meet me there. She’s goin’ somewhere first.”
“So’s mine,” said Sam. “I’ll come by for you.”
“I better go before long. Noon whistles been blowin’.”
“All right,” Penrod repeated dully.
Sam turned to go, but paused. A new straw hat was peregrinating along the fence near the two boys. This hat belonged to someone passing upon the sidewalk of the cross-street; and the someone was Maurice Levy. Even as they stared, he halted and regarded them over the fence with two small, dark eyes.
Fate had brought about this moment and this confrontation.
“Lo, Sam!” said Maurice cautiously. “What you doin’?”