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THE COCK OF THE WALK cats

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DOWN the road, kicking up the dust until he marched, soldier-wise, in a cloud of it, that rose and grimed his moist face and added to the heavy, brown powder upon the wayside weeds and flowers, whistling a queer, tuneless thing, which yet contained definite sequences — the whistle of a bird rather than a boy — approached Johnny Trumbull, aged ten, small of his age, but accounted by his mates mighty.

Johnny came of the best and oldest family in the village, but it was in some respects an undesirable family for a boy. In it survived, as fossils survive in ancient nooks and crannies of the earth, old traits of race, unchanged by time and environment. Liv-ing in a house lighted by electricity, the mental conception of it was to the Trumbulls as the conception of candles; with telephones at hand, they unconsciously still conceived of messages delivered with the old saying, “Ride, ride,” etc., and relays of post-horses. They locked their doors, but still had latch-strings in mind. Johnny’s father was a physician, adopting modern methods of surgery and pre-scription, yet his mind harked back to cupping and calomel, and now and then he swerved aside from his path across the field of the present into the future and plunged headlong, as if for fresh air, into the traditional past, and often with brilliant results.

Johnny’s mother was a college graduate. She was the president of the woman’s club. She read papers savoring of such feminine leaps ahead that they were like gymnastics, but she walked homeward with the gait of her great-grandmother, and inwardly regarded her husband as her lord and master. She minced genteelly, lifting her quite fashionable skirts high above very slender ankles, which were hereditary. Not a woman of her race had ever gone home on thick ankles, and they had all gone home. They had all been at home, even if abroad — at home in the truest sense. At the club, reading her inflam-matory paper, Cora Trumbull’s real self remained at home intent upon her mending, her dusting, her house economics. It was something remarkably like her astral body which presided at the club.

As for her unmarried sister Janet, who was older and had graduated from a young ladies’ seminary instead of a college, whose early fancy had been guided into the lady-like ways of antimacassars and pincushions and wax flowers under glass shades, she was a straighter proposition. No astral pre-tensions had Janet. She stayed, body and soul together, in the old ways, and did not even project her shadow out of them. There is seldom room enough for one’s shadow in one’s earliest way of life, but there was plenty for Janet’s. There had been a Janet unmarried in every Trumbull family for generations. That in some subtle fashion accounted for her remaining single. There had also been an unmarried Jonathan Trumbull, and that accounted for Johnny’s old bachelor uncle Jonathan. Jonathan was a retired clergyman. He had retired before he had preached long, because of doctrinal doubts, which were hereditary. He had a little, dark study in Johnny’s father’s house, which was the old Trumbull homestead, and he passed much of his time there, debating within himself that mat-ter of doctrines.

Presently Johnny, assiduously kicking up dust, met his uncle Jonathan, who passed without the slightest notice. Johnny did not mind at all. He was used to it. Presently his own father appeared, driving along in his buggy the bay mare at a steady jog, with the next professional call quite clearly upon her equine mind. And Johnny’s father did not see him. Johnny did not mind that, either. He expected nothing different.

Then Johnny saw his mother approaching. She was coming from the club meeting. She held up her silk skirts high, as usual, and carried a nice little parcel of papers tied with ribbon. She also did not notice Johnny, who, however, out of sweet respect for his mother’s nice silk dress, stopped kicking up dust. Mrs. Trumbull on the village street was really at home preparing a shortcake for supper.

Johnny eyed his mother’s faded but rather beautiful face under the rose-trimmed bonnet with admiration and entire absence of resentment. Then he walked on and kicked up the dust again. He loved to kick up the dust in summer, the fallen leaves in autumn, and the snow in winter. Johnny was not a typical Trumbull. None of them had ever cared for simple amusements like that. Looking back for generations on his father’s and mother’s side (both had been Trumbulls, but very distantly related), none could be discovered who in the least resembled Johnny. No dim blue eye of retrospection and reflection had Johnny; no tendency to tall slender-ness which would later bow beneath the greater weight of the soul. Johnny was small, but wiry of build, and looked able to bear any amount of men-tal development without a lasting bend of his physical shoulders. Johnny had, at the early age of ten, whopped nearly every boy in school, but that was a secret of honor. It was well known in the school that, once the Trumbulls heard of it, Johnny could never whop again. “You fellows know,” Johnny had declared once, standing over his prostrate and whimpering foe, “that I don’t mind getting whopped at home, but they might send me away to another school, and then I could never whop any of you fellows.”

Johnny Trumbull kicking up the dust, himself dust-covered, his shoes, his little queerly fitting dun suit, his cropped head, all thickly powdered, loved it. He sniffed in that dust like a grateful incense. He did not stop dust-kicking when he saw his aunt Janet coming, for, as he considered, her old black gown was not worth the sacrifice. It was true that she might see him. She sometimes did, if she were not reading a book as she walked. It had always been a habit with the Janet Trumbulls to read improving books when they walked abroad. To-day Johnny saw, with a quick glance of those sharp, black eyes, so unlike the Trumbulls’, that his aunt Janet was reading. He therefore expected her to pass him without recognition, and marched on kicking up the dust. But suddenly, as he grew nearer the spry little figure, he was aware of a pair of gray eyes, before which waved protectingly a hand clad in a black silk glove with dangling finger-tips, because it was too long, and it dawned swiftly upon him that Aunt Janet was trying to shield her face from the moving column of brown motes. He stopped kicking, but it was too late. Aunt Janet had him by the collar and was vigorously shaking him with nervous strength.

You are a very naughty little boy,” declared Aunt Janet. “You should know better than to walk along the street raising so much dust. No well-brought-up child ever does such things. Who are your parents, little boy?”

Johnny perceived that Aunt Janet did not recognize him, which was easily explained. She wore her reading-spectacles and not her far-seeing ones; besides, her reading spectacles were obscured by dust and her nephew’s face was nearly obliterated. Also as she shook him his face was not much in evidence. Johnny disliked, naturally, to tell his aunt Janet that her own sister and brother-in-law were the parents of such a wicked little boy. He therefore kept quiet and submitted to the shaking, mak-ing himself as limp as a rag. This, however, exasperated Aunt Janet, who found herself encumbered by a dead weight of a little boy to be shaken, and suddenly Johnny Trumbull, the fighting champion of the town, the cock of the walk of the school, found himself being ignominiously spanked. That was too much. Johnny’s fighting blood was up. He lost all

Johnny perceived that Aunt Janet did not recognize him, which was easily explained. She wore her reading-spectacles and not her far-seeing ones; besides, her reading spectacles were obscured by dust and her nephew’s face was nearly obliterated. Also as she shook him his face was not much in evidence. Johnny disliked, naturally, to tell his aunt Janet that her own sister and brother-in-law were the parents of such a wicked little boy. He therefore kept quiet and submitted to the shaking, mak-ing himself as limp as a rag. This, however, exasperated Aunt Janet, who found herself encumbered by a dead weight of a little boy to be shaken, and suddenly Johnny Trumbull, the fighting champion of the town, the cock of the walk of the school, found himself being ignominiously spanked. That was too much. Johnny’s fighting blood was up. He lost all consideration for circumstances, he for-got that Aunt Janet was not a boy, that she was quite near being an old lady. She had overstepped the bounds of privilege of age and sex, and an alarming state of equality ensued. Quickly the tables were turned. The boy became far from limp. He stiffened, then bounded and rebounded like wire. He butted, he parried, he observed all his famous tac-tics of battle, and poor Aunt Janet sat down in the dust, black dress, bonnet, glasses (but the glasses were off and lost), little improving book, black silk gloves, and all; and Johnny, hopeless, awful, irrev-erent, sat upon his Aunt Janet’s plunging knees, which seemed the most lively part of her. He kept his face twisted away from her, but it was not from cowardice. Johnny was afraid lest Aunt Janet should be too much overcome by the discovery of his identity. He felt that it was his duty to spare her that. So he sat still, triumphant but inwardly aghast.

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