/Concerning Trousers- Booth Tarkington
chapter XXXVII
Camera Work in the Jungle

The completed cage, with Gipsy behind the bars, framed a spectacle sufficiently thrilling and panther-like. Gipsy raved, "spat", struck virulently at taunting fingers, turned on his wailing siren for minutes at a time, and he gave his imitation of a dromedary almost continuously. These phenomena could be intensified in picturesqueness, the boys discovered, by rocking the cage a little, tapping it with a hammer, or raking the bars with a stick. Altogether, Gipsy was having a lively afternoon.

There came a vigorous rapping on the alley door of the stable, and Verman was admitted.

"Yay, Verman!" cried Sam Williams. "Come and look at our good ole panther!"

Another curiosity, however claimed Verman's attention. His eyes opened wide, and he pointed at Herman's legs.

"Wha' ma' oo?" Mammy hay oo hip ap hoe-woob."

"Mammy tell me git 'at stove-wood?" Herman interpreted resentfully. "How' I go' git 'at stove-wood when my britches down bottom 'at cistern, I like you answer me please? You shet 'at do' behime you!"

Verman complied, and again pointing to his brother's legs, requested to be enlightened.

"Ain' I tole you once they down bottom 'at cistern?" Herman shouted, much exasperated. "You wan' know how come so, you ast Sam Williams. He say thishere cat tuck an' th'owed 'em down there!"

Sam, who was busy rocking the cage, remained cheerfully absorbed in that occupation.

"Come and look at our good ole panther, Verman," he called. "I'll get this circus-cage rockin' right good, an' then----- "

"Wait a minute," said Penrod; "I got sumpthing I got to think about. Quit rockin' it! I guess I got a right to think about sumpthing without havin' to go deaf, haven't I?"

Having obtained the quiet so plaintively requested, he knit his brow and gazed intently upon Verman, then upon Herman, then upon Gipsy. Evidently his idea was fermenting. He broke the silence with a shout.

"I know, Sam! I know what we'll do now! I just thought of it, and it's goin' to be sumpthing I bet there aren't any other boys in this town could do, because where would they get any good ole panther like we got, and Herman and Verman? And they'd haf to have a dog, too----- and we got our good ole Dukie, I guess. I bet we have the greatest ole time this afternoon we ever had in our lives!"

His enthusiasm roused the warm interest of Sam and Verman, though Herman, remaining cold and suspicious, asked for details.

"An' I like to hear if it's sump'm," he concluded, "what's go' git me my britches back outen 'at cistern!"

"Well, it ain't exackly that," said Penrod. "It's different from that. What I'm thinkin' about, well, for us to have it the way it ought to be, so's you and Verman would look like natives----- well, Verman ought to take off his britches, too."

"Mo!" said Verman, shaking his head violently. "Mo!"

"Well, wait a minute, can't you?" Sam Williams said. "Give Penrod a chance to say what he wants to, first, can't you? Go on, Penrod."

"Well, you know, Sam," said Penrod, turning to this sympathetic auditor; "you remember that movin'-pitcher show we went to, 'Fortygraphing Wild Animals in the Jungle'. Well, Herman wouldn't have to do a thing more to look like those natives we saw that the man called the 'beaters'. They were dressed just about like the way he is now, an if Verman----- "

"Mo!" said Verman.

"Oh, wait a minute, Verman!" Sam entreated. "Go on. Penrod."

"Well. we can make a mighty good jungle up in the loft," Penrod continued eagerly. "We can take that ole dead tree that's out in the alley and some branches, and I bet we could have the best jungle you ever saw. And then of course, we'd fix up a kind of place in there for our panther, only, of course, we'd haf to keep him in the cage so's he wouldn't run away; but we'd pretend he was loose. And then you remember how they did with that calf? Well, we'd have Duke for the tied-up calf for the panther to come out and jump on, so they could fortygraph him. Herman can be the chief beater, and we'll let Verman be the other beaters, and I'll----- "

"Yay!" Shouted Sam Williams. "I'll be the fortygraph man!"

"No," said Penrod; "you be the one with the gun that guards the fortygraph man, because I'm the fortygraph man already. You can fix up a mighty good gun with this carpenter shop, Sam. We'll make spears for our good ole beaters, too, and I'm goin' to make me a camera out o' that little starch box and a bakin'-powder can that's goin' to be a mighty good ole camera. We can do lots more things----- "

"Yay!" Sam cried. "Let's get started!" He paused. "Wait a minute, Penrod. Verman says he won't-----"

"Well, he's got to!" said Penrod.

"I momp!" Verman insisted, almost distinctly.

They began to argue with him; but, for a time, Verman remained firm. They upheld the value of dramatic consistency, declaring that a beater dressed as completely as he was "wouldn't look like anything at all". He would "spoil the whole biznuss", they said, and they praised Herman for the faithful accuracy of his costume. They also insisted that the garment in question was much too large Verman, anyway, having been so recently worn by Herman and turned over to Verman with insufficient alteration, and they expressed surprise that "anybody with any sense" should make such a point of clinging to a misfit.

Herman sided against his brother in this controversy, perhaps because a certain loneliness, of which he was conscious, might be assuaged by the company of another trouserless person----- or it may be that his motive was more sombre. Possibly he remembered that Verman's trousers were his own former property and might fit him in case the promise for five o'clock turned out badly. At all events, Verman finally yielded under great pressure, and consented to appear in the proper costume of the multitude of beaters it now became his duty to personify.

Shouting, the boys dispersed to begin the preparation of their jungle scene. Sam and Penrod went for branches and the dead tree, while Herman and Verman carried the panther in his cage to the loft, where the first thing that Verman did was to hang his trousers on a nail in a conspicuous and accessible spot near the doorway. And with the arrival of Penrod and Sam, panting and dragging no inconsiderable thicket after them. the coloured brethren began to take a livelier interest in things. Indeed. when Penrod, a little later, placed in their hands two spears, pointed with tin, their good spirits were entirely restored, and they even began to take a pride in being properly un-costumed beaters.

Sam's gun and Penrod's camera were entirely satisfactory, especially the latter. The camera was so attractive, in fact, that the hunter and the chief beater and all other beaters immediately resigned and insisted upon being photographers. Each had to be given a "turn" before the jungle project could be resumed.

"Now, for goodnesses' sakes," said Penrod, taking the camera from Verman, "I hope you're done, so's we can get started doin' something like we ought to! We got to have Duke for a tied-up calf. We''ll have to bring him and tie him out here in front of the jungle, and then the panther'll come out and jump on him. Wait, and I'll go bring him."

Departing upon this errand. Penrod found Duke enjoying the declining rays of the sun in the front yard.

"Hyuh, Duke!!" called his master, in an indulgent tone. "Come on, good ole Dukie! Come along!"

Duke rose conscientiously and followed him.

"I got him, men!" Penrod called from the stairway. "I got our good ole calf all ready to be tied up. Here he is!" And he appeared in the doorway with the unsuspecting little dog beside him.

Gipsy, who had been silent for some moments, instantly raised his banshee battlecry, and Duke yelped in horror. Penrod made a wild effort to hold him; but Duke was not to be detained. Unnatural strength and activity came to him in his delirium, and, for the second or two that the struggle lasted, his movements were too rapid for the eyes of the spectators to follow----- merely a whirl and blur in the air could be seen. Then followed a sound of violent scrambling----- and Penrod sprawled alone at the top of the stairs.

"Well, why'n't you come and help me?" he demanded indignantly. "I couldn't get him back now if I was to try a million years!"

"What we goin' to do about it?" Sam asked.

Penrod rose and dusted his knees. "We got to get along without any tied-up calf----- that's certain! But I got to take those fortygraphs some way or other!"

"Me 'an Verman aw ready begin' at beatin'," Herman suggested. "You tole us we the beaters."

"Well, wait a minute," said Penrod, whose feeling for realism in drama was always alert. "I want to get a mighty good pitcher o' that ole panther this time." As he spoke. he threw open the wide door intended for the delivery of hay into the loft from the alley below. "Now, bring the cage over here by this door so's I can get a better light; it's gettin' kinda dark over where the jungle is. We'll pretend there isn't any cage there, and soon as I get him fortygraphed, I'll holler 'Shoot, men!' Then you must shoot, Sam----- and Herman, you and Verman must hammer on the cage with your spears, and holler: 'Hoo! Hoo!' and pretend you're spearin' him."

"Well, we aw ready!" said Herman. "Hoo! Hoo!"

"Wait a minute," Penrod interposed, frowningly surveying the cage. "I got to squat too much to get my camera fixed right." He assumed various solemn poses, to be interpreted as those of a photographer studying his subject. "No," he said finally; "it won't take good that way."

"My goo'ness!" Herman exclaimed. "When we goin' begin at beatin'?"

"Here!" Apparently Penrod had solved a weighty problem. "Bring that busted ole kitchen chair, and set the panther up on it. There! That's the ticket! This way. it'll make a mighty good pitcher!" He turned to Sam importantly. "Well, Jim, is the chief and all his beaters here?"

"Yes, Bill; all here," Sam responded, with an air of loyalty.

"Well, then, I guess we're ready," said Penrod, in his deepest voice. "Beat, men."

Herman and Verman were anxious to beat. They set up the loudest uproar of which they were capable. "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!" they bellowed, flailing the branches with their spears and stamping heavil upon the floor. Sam, carried away by the elan of the performance, was unable to resist joining them. "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!" he shouted. "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!" And as the dust rose from the floor to their stamping, the three of them produced such a din and hoo-hooing as could be made by nothing on earth except boys.

"Back, men!" Penrod called, raising his voice to the utmost. "Back for your lives. The pa-a-anther! Now I'm takin' his pitcher. Click. click! Shoot, men; shoot!"

"Bing! Bing!" shouted Sam, levelling his gun at the cage, while Herman and Verman hammered upon it, and Gipsy cursed boys, the world and the day he was born.

"Bing! Bing! Bing!"

"You missed him!" screamed Penrod. "Give me that gun!" And snatching it from Sam's unwilling hand, he levelled it at the cage.

"BING!" he roared.

Simultaneously there was the sound of another report; but this was an actual one and may best be symbolized by the statement that it was a whack. The recipient was Herman, and, outrageously surprised and pained, he turned to find himself face to face with a heavily built coloured woman who had recently ascended the stairs and approached the preoccupied hunters from the rear. In her hand was a lath, and, even as Herman turned, it was again wielded, this time upon Verman.

"Mammy!"

"Yes; you bettuh holler, 'Mammy!'" she panted. "My goo'ness, if yo' Pappy don' lam you to-night! Ain' you got no mo' sense 'an to let white boys 'suade you play you Affikin heathums? Whah you britches?"

"Yonnuh Verman's," quavered Herman.

"Whah y'own?"

Choking, Herman answered bravely: "'At ole cat tuck an' tho'wed 'em down cistern!

Exasperated almost beyond endurance, she lifted the lath again. But unfortunately, in order to obtain a better field of action, she moved backward a little, coming in contact with the bars of the cage, a circumstance that she over-looked. More unfortunately still, the longing of the captive to express his feelings was such that he would have welcomed the opportunity to attack an elephant. He had been striking and scratching at inanimate things and at boys out of reach for the past hour; but here at last was his opportunity. He made the most of it.

"I learn you tell me the cat th'owed----- ooooh!"

The coloured woman leaped into the air like an athlete, and, turning with a swiftness astounding in one of her weight, beheld the semaphoric arm of Gipsy again extended between the bars and hopefully reaching for her. Beside herself, she lifted her right foot briskly from the ground, and allowed the sole of her shoe to come in contact with Gipsy's cage.

The cage moved from the tottering chair beneath it. It passed through the yawning hay-door and fell resoundingly to the alley below, where----- as Penrod and Sam, with cries of dismay, rushed to the door and looked down----- it burst asunder and disgorged a large, bruised and chastened cat. Gipsy paused and bent one strange look upon the broken box. Then he shook his head and departed up the alley, the two boys watching him until he was out of sight.

Before they turned, a harrowing procession issued from the carriage-house doors beneath them. Herman came first, hurriedly completing a temporary security in Verman's trousers. Verman followed, after a little reluctance that departed coincidentally with some inspiriting words from the rear. He crossed the alley hastily, and his Mammy stalked behind, using constant eloquence and a frequent lath. They went into the small house across the way and closed the door.

Then Sam turned to Penrod.

"Penrod," he said thoughtfully, "was it on account of fortygraphing in the jungle you wanted to keep that cat?"

"No; that was a mighty fine-blooded cat. We'd of made some money."

Sam jeered.

"You mean when we'd sell tickets to look at it in its cage?"

Penrod shook his head, and if Gipsy could have over-heard and understood his reply, that atrabilious spirit, almost broken by the events of the day, might have considered this last blow the most overwhelming of all.

"No," said Penrod; "when she had kittens."
an excerpt by Booth Tarkington, from Penrod: His Complete Story.
wm grant
home | cat stories | previous