GIRL - BABY
N. deBRRTRAND LUGRIN
TOM was fifteen, with all the dignity which goes with the matriculation year, sat like a king in the hammock, bolstered up with some of the best pillows out of the drawing room, while at his side, on the floor of the verandah, stood a vinegar bottle half-full of a colored fluid made from half of a jar of red currant jelly, a prodigious amount of sugar and cold water. Tom fervently hoped that the passersby would think that the bottle held wine. It was his pose just at that particular period of his existence to be so dissipated a youth that strangers and friends alike would marvel at his depravity. He was smoking a cigarette made of tea-leaves and grass. That is to say, the cigarette was smoking. Tom barely touched it to his lips now and then, and the fumes made his eyes water and his tongue smart. He was also studying Latin aloud, preparing for his examination:
“Eadem nocte accidit, Eadem nocte accidit—It - transpired - that - on - the -same - night - ut esset luna plena—it - being - the -time - of - the - full - moon -quia dies—”
His brother Bobby came in at the gate and along the walk down toward the hammock. He saw the bottle at once.
“Can I have a drink?” he asked.
“Quia dies maritimos— certainly not. Get out, I’m busy.”
“Why? I’m awfully hot.”
“That stuff would make you hotter. Go in and get some cold water. Where’s Billy? I wonder where Billy is. He was here just now.”
“Oh, he’s back in the field.”
“Didn’t mother tell you two boys to come home from school together?”
“Well, he’s only a block back there, playing cricket. Oh, go on, Tom, give me a drink of that.”
“It would make you sick. It’s terribly strong. Go to your head.”
“Oh, it would not. It’s just some of that stuff you made yesterday out of mother’s jelly.” Tom may have imagined that he deceived the rest of the world, but he knew that his brothers were not so deluded. He grudgingly poured Bobby a very little from the bottle.
“Who’s Billy playing with?” he asked, as Bobby drank the nectar very slowly in order to make it last as long as possible.
“Oh, a lot of kids—Jack Lawson and Harry and Don and Patsy May.”
“Patsy May.” Tom stared at him, “Patsy May!”
“Uh huh. A little girl, Don’s sister.”
“A little girl.” No words could adequately describe the scorn in Tom’s voice; he even sat up in the hammock.
“A little girl—playing cricket with a little girl.
The disgusting little boob. You go and tell him to come home here.”
“Oh, he’s all right.
He’ll be along in a few minutes.”
“You go and tell him to come home here.
What’s the matter with you two little runts, anyway, . playing with girls?”
“I was not playing with girls,” hotly, “I
wouldn’t be seen playing with girls on any account.” “Well, you go and tell Billy I want him. I’m left in charge of you children, and he’d better come along home here in pretty short order—in pretty short order,” with heavy emphasis.
“What are you going to do to him?” Bobby lingered, loath to move very far from the bottle and trying to get his tongue down to the bottom of the glass to extract the last infinitesimal drop.
“Never mind what I’m going to do with him. Here, give me that glass. Do you want to break it? Now, go on. Go on after Billy.”
Tom resumed aloud, “Quia dies maritimos acctus—”
. A BOUT ten minutes later, however, Billy returned of his own accord, as Bobby had to go to the store for some bread.
Billy walked down the path very nonchalantly, whistling as was his wont. Then he saw the bottle on the chair, and stared at it with interest. He did not notice Tom or that that young man was slowdy drawing himself up in the hammock again, assuming a sitting posture, and fixing a coldly contemptuous glance upon his youngest brother.
“Can I have a drink of that?”
No response from Tom. He -was intensifying his gaze upon Billy, endeavoring to attract his eye. At length he did so.
Billy became aware that there was something unusual back of Tom’s stare. He was accustomed to more or less Prussian treatment from his brother and there was usually some excuse for it. He searched back in his memory. Nothing there, nothing to warrant that snake-like concentration of Tom’s
“Can I have a drink of that?” he asked again.
Tom ignored this request.
“You’ve been down at Don’s, eh?” he said, blinking his eyes and drawing his lips back.
Billy immediately assumed the air of sullen defiance, which invariably goaded Tom to helpless rage, helpless because he had been forbidden to lay hands upon his young brothers, and, in spite of Tom’s outw'ard demeanour and what it might lead the world to believe, he usually obeyed his mother.
“You’ve been down at Don’s, eh?” he repeated.
“Well, maybe I have.”
“Answer me, yes or no, and don’t cheek. Were you down at Don’s?”
“Who were you playing with?”
“A lot' of kids.”
“Who were you playing with? Names, please.” “Give me a drink of that red stuff, and I’ll tell.” “You’ll tell me first, you cheeky little runt.” He half rose from the hammock. Tom was growing fast and inclined to be lazy. It meant serious consequences if he were forced to get up from a reclining position.
Billy replied evasively.
“How do I know all their names? There were a lot of kids, Jack Lawson and Harry and Don.”
Full knowledge now burst upon Billy of what all
this catechising meant.
“That’s about all,” he replied.
“About all—about all! There were more than that. Come on now!” “Well, maybe there were.”
“Who else was play ing cricket besides Jack and Harry and Don and you. Who else? Come on back out of that cellar.”
BILLY turned at the door of the basement, his brown eyes held a defiant gleam.
“That’s all worth counting,” he said with well assumed indifference.
“Well, I happen to know,” Tom was sitting up with his feet on the
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ground now, his own eyes gave forth a baleful light, “you were playing with a little girl, Patsy May.” So much scorn was injected into his last phrase that Tom’s voice, which was in the transition stage, broke in a high croak.
No answer from Billy.
“Weren’t you, you fathead?”
“Well, maybe I was.”
A long silence while Tom stared Billy out of countenance, and the small boy’s eyes sought the ground.
“You disgusting little boob,” Tom’s judgment was pronounced with full solemnity and large sarcasm, “you’re nothing but a girl-baby. No decent boy would play cricket with a girl. But I suppose—I suppose you like her.”
“I do not,” Billy said sullenly, “I hate the sight of her.”
“How old is she?”
“Past eight! For the love of Mike. He knows her age! He knows the age of Patsy May! She’s past eight. How do you know when her birthday was?”
“I don’t know when it was. But when I said she wasn’t old enough to play cricket, Don said she was past eight, and anybody that was more than eight had a right to play. Besides she has a half interest in the bat. Her father said so.”
“A likely story. That’s just your excuse. You needn’t say another word. I’m disgusted with you. You ought to have the hose turned on you.”
A light sprang to Billy’s eyes. It was very hot, he wouldn’t at all mind having the hose turned on him. He’d like it.
Tom noted the pleased anticipation in Billy’s face.
“I’m not going to do it,” he said, “it’s not punishment enough. I’ll think of something.” There was fearful portent in his voice. “Go on, go on now. Don’t hang around me any longer or I’m liable to throw something at you. You look like a girl anyway. You should have been a girl. Go on. Get away.”
Billy withdrew to the basement, but he did not go up the stairs. He lingered in the vicinity of the door, outside the range of Tom’s eyes. He thought his brother was about to forsake the hammock. The telephone was ringing, and more than likely it would be for Tom. It was. The Chinaman came to the front door.
“Somebody say, ‘Wan’ spik. Hully up.”
Tom threw down his Latin book and lounged after the Chinaman into the house.
BILLY emerged from the basement.
He walked across the lawn with apparent indifference, reached the chair upon which reposed the bottle and glass, and, after a quick look around, he picked up the former, placed the neck in his mouth and imbibed a long, refreshing, very sweet draught.
Then, holding the bottle up, and realizing that he had almost emptied it, he went with some haste along the path and out of the front gate, down toward the car-line to wait for his mother.
When Tom came out again, he felt the need of some of the coloured liquid after his exertion, besides the postman and another man were talking, well within view. He picked the bottle up, stared at it with doubtful eyes, saw that it was
nearly empty, and heat and lassitude forgotten, dashed into the basement in search of Billy. He didn’t find him, nor when Bobby came home had the younger boy seen him, but he suggested “that the little boob was hanging around somewhere waiting for mother.”
“Well, he’ll get what’s coming to him,” growled Tom, “I’ll think of something that’ll make him squirm. The cheeky little pig, playing with a girl and then drinking all that stuff. If I were you, Bobby I’d call him ‘Girl-baby.’ It’s a good name for him. It’ll be a lesson to him.”
Both boys were in the pantry now in the act of refilling the bottle, “No good you take all you mama’s jelly,” objected the Chinaman, “you alia time mak’ pantry dirty, spill sugar. You bad boy, Tom.”
“I’m heap sick,” explained Tom, “this alia same medicine, white man’s medicine. But you have to eat cookies with it. Give us some cookies, Poy?”
“No more cookee. All et up.”
“Poke around there, Bob, under the shelf, while I give this bottle a good shake, so’s to dissolve the sugar. Y ou know, I wasn’t going to punish Billy for playing with that Patsy May. I just wanted to scare him, but after the cheek of him drinking all my wine, he’s going to catch it. Hi, look, there’s the cookie jar. Look, Poy, I’m only taking ten, ten little, weeny, thin cookies.”
“I’ll tell you mama, you bad boy.”
“Ah, don’t be so stingy. You heap sting’ Poy, alia same pig. Come on, Bob. We’ll go in the basement. It’s cool there.”
DOWN in the basement Billy’s punishment was planned. But he was notacquainted with it until after dinner that night. In the interim and before their mother returned, Tom and Bobby undressed, put on their bathing suits and turned the hose on one another in the back lawn, incidentally getting all of Poy’s line of clothes soaking wet, much to the indignation of that long-suffering Oriental.
Billy had had his bath and was sitting up in his cot playing with the cat, when Bobby, who had been closeted with Tom in the latter’s room, appeared with a paper folded in a square, wrhich he handed to his brother.
The square had a skull and cross-bones drawn on it, in red ink, and it was addressed to Girl-baby Wilson.
Billy opened it. Inside it was very plainly written, but Billy had to study it laboriously to make it out, some of the words were almost beyond him. Bobby gave him every assistance however. It read as follows:—
“You are hereby informed by the Captain of the Desperate Chance, that you are no longer purser on that craft. You can’t get any job on the Desperate Chance because you are a boob, a fathead and a girl-baby.”
It was signed:
“Captain Red Hand, “Daredevil Buck, 1st Mate.” When Billy’s mother came to say “goodnight,” she found her youngest son with wet eye-lashes and a tearful countenance. He begged her not to let them know he had cried.
“But they won’t ’low me to be a officer on the Desperate Chance," he explained, “that’s the new boat that daddy’s buy-
ing for camp. I was going to be purser an’ look after the money an’ the grub.”
Mother sat on the side of the bed and heard the story. Billy confessed to everything, even the drinking of the “wine.”
“An’ I don’t like Patsy May. She’s a silly nut. I don’t want to play with her, but she has a half interest in the cricket bat.”
His mother comforted him as only a mother can. But Billy was disconsolate. He had dreamed of the boat by night, thought of it by day. It was a new boat, still in the making, in fact. It would be finished in a week. It would hold seven, four passengers and the crew. He had been schooled in his duties by Tom, and taught all manner of nautical terms. There was to be a mast in the boat if they wanted to sail her, and Tom had planned a galley, only he wasn’t quite sure where he would put it yet. There were four oars. Tom would row with two and Bob and Bill should each have one. They were going to explore the whole coast and fish and play pirates.
And now he wasn’t going to be the purser. He was not going to be a member of the crew at all.
His mother had said he should have a ride in the boat as often as the others, but that was not the same as being one of the crew. All of Billy’s hopes for a summer full of daring, romantic adventure, had faded to a drab prospect of hot, uneventful days, except for the lean hope held out by his mother, “You’ll see, Billy, something will happen so that he will make you purser again.”
THERE hovered over Tom’s life at this particular period a secret shadow. No one knew of the shadow but his mother, and he would not have confessed its existence to her, except for the fact that the principal of the school had telephoned to find out why Tom was so often late for school and the matter had to be explained.
There was a girl, a thin, lanky-haired, unattractive girl, who was in Tom’s class at school, and who lived three blocks above him. Her name was Irene Sawyer, and Tom detested her with a black and bitter hatred.
She used to watch for him on the way to school, and if she saw him coming she would wait for him. If she did not see him coming she would wait just the same, because she was invariably early and she knew Tom was not. He found that it was impossible to avoid her unless he deliberately made himself late for school. She waited for him in the little station at the hospital gate, and he never could be certain until he reached the station whether she was there or not. As a matter-of-fact, he had only walked twice to school with her, and on these occasions nobody that mattered to him had seen him. But he lived in daily anxiety. Sometimes he started from the corner and raced madly past the station, pretending not to hear her shrill summons. Once, when he had thought she was not there, and she had pounced out upon him, he said that he had an urgent message to leave at the hospital. Another time he declared he had forgotten something and gone back home. One morning he told her in desperation that “he guessed it wasn’t safe for him to be walking along with anyone, because he felt as though he were getting the mumps,” and then in a very unmumpslike fashion he had dashed ahead, hallooing to some boy in the far distance to “hold on for a fellow.” Still another morning he declared there was a boy he had to see on a passing street car, and he brought the car to a standstill beyond the proper crossing and boarded it without a penny in his pocket, to be dropped off a couple of blocks further down, rather crestfallen on account of the loud and sarcastic remarks made by the conductor, but otherwise rejoicing in his escape. But even all of these hints as to Tom’s feelings did not seem to convince the Sawyer girl that her company was distasteful, as she had said to him more than once, causing him to grind his teeth in secret rage, “I guess you’re kind of shy with girls, not having any sisters. But you’ll get used to it.”
THERE was only one more week of school. But on the last Friday a dance was to take place, and Tom was going. He had a dreadful premonition that Irene Sawyer would do something to spoil his evening, and he did not know how to dance, but he was going. He wanted to “poke fun at the other boys
and stuff his face with ice-cream and cake.” He and two or three of his bosom friends had planned to get into the supper room before the rest and gorge themselves, which was their one idea of earthly bliss.
What was troubling Tom was the fact that he had been told he would be expected to take a girl home if necessary. And a few of the older boys who were in the habit of treating girls quite as if they were members of the same human species as themselves had placed a number of names in a hat and insisted that all of the “woman-haters” draw one. Tom had refused, with a slight show of violence, to take advantage of this offer; and much to his chagrin, he had learned at the end of the day that for the whole of the school period, he had been wearing a piece of paper pinned to his coat, with a girl’s name on it. The girl’s name was Irene Sawyer.
“And you’ve got to bring her, call for her and bring her, as well as take her home. She expects it,” the head prefect told him.
“If you think I’m going to take that— that pie-face anywhere,” said Tom angrily, “you’ve got another think coming. I’m not going to be tied up with a half-wit.”
“Gently, my son,” admonished the head prefect, “speak gently of the ladies.”
“Ah, go to grass.” Tom flung himself homewards with bitter resentment in his heart, but obstinately determined to carry out his pre-arranged programme, on which girls had no place whatever.
Billy was sitting on the lowest step of the verandah as he came in, and Billy’s elbows were on his knees, while he held his round cheeks in his hands. He ventured to glance up at Tom.
“Hulloa,” he said propitiatingly.
“Hulloa, girl-baby.” Tom passed him coldly.
Poor Billy! The boat had been delivered that day. It was down at the camp boat-house now. Their mother had taken him and Bobbie to see it. It was a white boat trimmed with red, with a tall white mast with a red ball on top. It had a fine deep seat in the stern, and a cubby under the bow. It was the most beautiful boat, Bobby and Billy declared, on the whole water-front. Under their sturdy little arms it fairly flew through the water, with mother as the only passenger, but a very enthusiastic one.
“The boat has come,” said Billy, turning his head to look at Tom. “We went down with mother to-day to see it. Bobby and I. It’s a dandy boat.” There was a wistful pleading in Billy’s voice.
“Huh,” said Tom, pausing with his hand on the door-knob. “Bobbie and you rowed, eh? Bobbie had no business rowing with a girl-baby. If he doesn’t look out, he’ll get fired.”
He went in the house.
ABOUT half past eight o’clock that night, Mrs. Wilson saw Irene Sawyer go past the vacant lot on the corner on her way to the party. She was walking very slowly and keeping her eye on the Wilson house. Tom was still in the bathroom. He was shaving for the third time in his life, and had managed to cut his cheek. It was not a bad cut, but it bled profusely and had soiled two collars. Tom was hot, perspiring and angry.
Mrs. Wilson did not tell Tom that Irene was probably waiting for him at the hospital station.
Tom was ready at last. He had taken great pains with his face and tie and collar, but his boots were unshined and dusty. His mother drew his attention to the fact, but Tom declared that no one was going to look that far, and he was late anyway.
“I’m glad I am late, too,” he said, “that pie-faced Sawyer girl won’t have a chance to jump out at me, and I’m going to leave the party early so she can’t tag along home with me, either.”
He departed. When he reached the corner and the shelter of a maple that grew there, he took a cigarette made from tea-leaves and grass from his pocket, and lit it. Then he assumed a boldly important air and walked on, increasing the length of his stride to his own discomfort, but, as he fondly thought, adding greatly to his dignity.
“Billy,” said his mother, a few minutes after Tom had gone, “I forgot to give Tom a clean handkerchief, I wish you would run after him with it.”
“Let Bobby,” Billy was sleepy. Besides he did not feel that he owed Tom this favour.
"I’d rather yon went, dear. Besides you’re such a fast little runner.”
“And Billy. If Tom should be walking with anyone, don’t call him, just run along beside him and hand him the parcel and tell him to open it. But do it very quietly. If he should be with a girl for instance, he wouldn’t want her to notice.”
“A girl!” incredulously.
“Yes, it might happen that he is going to the party with a girl.”
“He couldn’t be,” said Billy, aghast at the suggestion. “He said that any boy that played with a girl wouldn’t be ’lowed on the Desperate Chance.”
“Well, he might be,” his mother smiled. “It wouldn’t be his fault, but he might be.”
There was some deep mystery here. Billy took the parcel and was off like a shot.
When he reached the corner he saw Tom far ahead. Tom was not walking with his aggressive stride now. He was moving along pretty fast, it is true, but more like a fugitive, trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.
And there was—there was a girl with him, a tall, lanky girl, a girl that was almost running to keep up with Tom.
Billy spurted. He overtook the couple in the length of a block and a half.
He ran along beside Tom, and the latter young gentleman looked down and beheld him.
Tom’s face could get no redder than it was already.
“What do you want?” he hissed.
“Mother said to give you this,” said Billy, thrusting a small parcel into the large moist hand, hanging nearest him, his eyes were fixed on his brother in amazement and incredulity.
“What is it?” Tom asked, coming to a halt. The girl stopped also.
“It’s something you forgot,” said Billy breathlessly, “an’ mother says there’s a note inside.” He was staring at Miss Sawyer now, with frank disapproval in his large eyes.
“Is this your little brother?” asked the girl, smiling condescendingly. “He must be, I guess. He’s just the living image of you.”
TOM deliberately turned his back on her and opened the parcel. He saw the handkerchief. Pinned to it was a small slip of paper.
“There’s a note in here,” he said, feigning great agitation. He opened the paper. There was only one word on it, a compound word. “Girl-baby.”
Tom crumpled the paper in his hand, he spoke over his shoulder to the Sawyer girl.
“My mother’s put a note in here. I’ve got to go back. I’ll get the car later. So long.”
He turned and retraced his steps accompanied by Billy. After a few minutes: “Who pinned that paper on my handkerchief?” he asked his brother.
“I don’t know,” said Billy.
“Didn’t you see it?”
“Didn’t you know there was a paper there?”
Billy shook his head.
It must have been his mother then. Tom blinked his eyes and compressed his lips. The idea of his mother—but after all it was just like her. His mother had told him more than once that he was not treating Billy fairly. And now she had taken this means to bring him to his senses. She must have seen Irene Sawyer go by, and knew that she was waiting for him. Well, in a way, in a way, Tom reasoned to himself, he couldn’t blame his mother. And evidently Billy knew nothing of the note.
Billy was looking up at him, now, very intently. Quite plainly he was puzzled. He did not want to believe that Tom had so far fallen from grace as to deliberately walk with a girl. In spite of the way Tom occasionally treated him, his big brother was a hero in the little chap’s eyes. Billy patiently waited for explanations.
“Billy,” Tom spoke at last, “you’ve done me a service.” His voice was very gruff, he was making it gruff intentionally, to give a deeper meaning to what he was about to say, “you’ve given me an excuse for getting rid of that woman. She’s a half-wit.”
“Really a half-wit?” in shrill curiosity.
“Yes, nuts, you know, half-baked. She gets scared at night, and is afraid to go out alone. Thinks she’s got to have a man to protect her. Why anybody’d run at the sight of her, eh?”
Billy agreed, “She’s a fright alright.” _
“And since you’ve rendered me this service,” Tom coughed, “I’m going to reward you. On one condition.”
“That you never breathe a word of this woman to Bobby. She lives around here and I don’t want him scared or anything.”
“I never will,” Billy vowed solemnly, “but would she hurt anybody, Tom?”
“She might, but I don’t think so. Anyway, she won’t bother me any more to-night, thanks to you. Well, you’re purser again from now on. You’re one of the crew of the Desperate Chance.”
BILLY’S face glowed. He put his hand in his pocket and drew something from it.
“I been saving this for you,” he said, “I found it about a week ago, an’ I got Poy to boil it out, so’s it would be clean. It’s not broke nor anything.” He held out a short briar pipe with a metal ring around its stem.
“Great Scott,” ejaculated Tom, seizing the pipe, “Great Scott. Where’d you get this? It looks like a real meerschaum, and the mouth piece is amber— real amber.” Tom’s knowledge of the kinds and qualities of pipes was very limited.
“You can have it,” words cannot describe the grand carelessness of Billy’s manner.
The pipe was in Tom’s mouth, well down at the corner.
“It draws fine,” he said. “I’ll give you a dime when I get my week’s pay. Of course,” he added, “I don’t expect to smoke it except when we’re on board the Desperate Chance, out cruising.”
Another boy of about Tom’s age hove in sight out of the gathering shadows. He was walking very fast. He hailed Tom. The latter waited, keeping the pipe in his mouth.
“Guess you stayed late for the same reason I did, eh?” asked the new-comer. “They told Rose Maynard I was going to take her—Great Scott. Where’d you get the pipe?”
“A birthday present, real meerschaum, amber mouthpiece, mounted in silver.” “Some class, eh! Let’s see it. Thought your folks didn’t want you to smoke!”
Tom laughed, “This looks like it, don’t it?” He nodded in a friendly fashion to Billy.
“Cut along home now. Maybe I can sneak some cake for you. I won’t promise, but maybe I can.”
“Alright,” Billy walked away with his head high, and his eyes alight. His heart was feeling very warm and satisfied. Tom had treated him almost like an equal.
His mother met him on the verandah. “Well?” she asked smiling.
“I’m made purser,” he told her proudly.