It is not meet that a man should go about life's business accoutred other than man-wise
CHESTER CHAMBERLAIN slammed the screen door behind him, stumped down the porch steps and started for the front gate, a most appalling scowl upon his face. On the gravel walk a mound of pebbles met his darkling eyes. He scattered it with a vigorous kick.
“You better look out—ding-bust you!” he was muttering when his mother’s voice came to him from behind the screen door.
“Chester! How often must I tell you not to scuff. And put your cap on straight.
You look like some tough rowdy. Y ou hear me, Chester?”
“Aw, dry up an’ bust,” Chester whispered between drawn lips. But the audacity of the inaudible comment appalled even his insurgent heart, and he yanked the cap’s patent leather visor to a position more becoming to the son of one of Mapleton’s most respected business men.
He heard the door open and his mother’s footsteps on the walk behind him. A moment later she was bending over him, her hand patting his shoulder comfortingly.
“Dear, it’s only for the summer holidays.
Then you’ll never have to wear them any more, we hope. Mother wants her boy to grow up straight, like a soldier—not a slouch.”
Chester gulped, but his eyes were hard.
Under his blouse he could feel every band
and elastic of the hateful things. Just because he didn’t walk stiff, like some old maid, was no reason they should harness him up in shoulder braces.
“So run along now. Come straight home with the meat. Sirloin remember—and don’t lose the ten cents.” “No’m.”
She smoothed the collar of his blouse and set the cap straight. Under the quietening spell of her touch, Chester proceeded in less disorderly fashion. He even turned to latch the gate.
As he tramped along the board sidewalk, a clumsy rustling in the lilacs of the Chamberlain hedge attracted him and he turned to see his dog Tige emerge.
“Go home, you!” Chester ordered.
But the mongrel, dejected tail wavering with faint hope, joined his erstwhile master on the sidewalk. There was a mute appeal in his soulful brown eyes— the same appeal with which this tramp always regarded anyone who had fed him, or might be induced to do so.
For the last few weeks, he had “belonged” to Chester. Chester had christened him “Tige,” short for Tiger. But if, during the vicissitudes of his nomadic life, the dog had come to recognize any name for himself, it was probably the word, “You.” “You poor starved creature”—“You poor thing”—“You homeless dumb animal,” he had heard many housewives address him thus. Even down at the slaughter-house the men called him “you,” but in their case the tone was different and the qualifying parts of speech decidedly more virile.
Chester gave him an admonitory push. “Go home, you Tige,” he repeated sternly, indicating the hole in the hedge with a dramatically outstretched arm.
Tige sprawled on the walk like some clownish supplicant, his long tail thumping the boards.
Chester stamped his foot. Tige merely blinked.
“Twenty-three—skidoo!” Chester commanded. The dog’s ears drooped in passive, saint-like determination.
Chester hesitated. There was no parental order against Tige accompanying him. In fact, Chamberlain senior would have been greatly relieved if the mongrel had followed his son to the other end of town and forgotten to come back. But Chester knew his duty as a dog-owner. He and Eddie Smeeton, his chum, had decided that Tige had “bloodhound blood” in him.
“He’s got reg’lar fangs. If he ups and bites a person you’d be in for it Ches, you bet you would,” Eddie had warned him. “Marks Brothers and the Uncle Tom Cabin shews—they keep their bloodhounds on a ‘lease.’ Got to. They’d get hauled up if they didn’t.”
As the owner of a bloodhound with real fangs, Chester had no desire to be at outs with the law. He fished a length of twine from his pocket, tied one end to the hame strap which served as Tige’s collar and heaved the big dog to his feet. A minute later he was being towed rapidly down the street.
"KyTIDWAY along the block he saw a half lath lying in the grass. He picked it up. Tige, mistaking his master’s purpose, eyed him reproachfully, then broke into a loose-jointed canter.
“Whoa, Maud!” Chester yelled to him, holding back hard on the leash. By the time they were abreast of the Misses Donovan’s picket fence he had succeeded in slowing his charge to a walk.
A tentative examination of the house-front disclosed neither of the spinster ladies. Chester extended the lath. “Rat-tat—tat-a-tat-tat,” it scraped along the painted pickets.
Chester was about to attempt some intricate variation of the theme when a head, topped by a floppy garden hat, appeared above the rose bushes. Quietly he dropped the stick and marched the length of the fence,
laboriously whistling “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” a tune the Mapleton Highland Band had favored during the splendid civic welcomes tendered to returning South African war heroes. Like a soldier’s, his eyes were straight to the front. The look of intense righteousness upon his puckered face suggested he was totally unaware of Miss Donovan. Guess a fellow could go past if he wanted to, couldn’t he? She didn’t need to think she owned the street.
Outside the big Smeeton house at the corner he stopped and yodeled for Eddie. A doleful face appeared at Eddie’s bedroom window, then it vanished.
“Being kep’ in for something,” Chester decided, and set out along the tree-lined Main street for the butcher shop. Several times he halted and furtively examined the region above his knees, both front and back. He gripped the bottoms of his abbreviated trouser legs and yanked them down to the level of his kneecaps. The diversions caused by Tige and the picket fence were forgotten and again he was keenly aware of
the humiliation his mother had unconsciously inflicted upon him.
If only she had made him wear boy’s shoulder braces he could have stood it. There were such things he knew. Down in Smith’s drug store he had seen an ingenious arrangement of leather straps and buckles the window. They hung on a stand beside one of the big colored glass jars and they were labeled “Boys’ Shoulder Braces.”
But how could a fellow go swimming with the bunch, how could he strip up river beside the Big Rock and reveal his shame to the world? For Chester knew, and he believed they would all know, that these things he had on had been fashioned from various bands and snaps and clasps salvaged from peculiarly feminine contrivances belonging to his mother and sister. The metal clasps fastened to the tops of his stockings constantly threatened to betray him. Sewed to lengths of elastic they served as garters and at the same time “Drew his shoulders back nicely,” as his mother put it.
Chester, after a final inspection of his legs, proceeded with an elaborate air of nonchalance. But all the while his fists in his pockets were pushing his trousers down to a safe level.
In the vacant lot next the butcher shop the bunch were playing “scrub.”
“I choose Ches,” Bony Hicks yelled, as Chester and Tige halted on the sidewalk.
“Naw, Ches’ll pitch for our side,” a gangling, freckled boy, known as Warty, protested. “Com’ on—sock it to ’em, Ches.”
But Chester, conscious of his hidden reproach, evaded. “Got to fetch the meat first,” he told them.
Slob Brownlee, who was catching, grinned at him.
Slob, a boy with a large head, silky eyelashes and ridiculously thin legs, had a crafty eye which frequently suggested that he “knew things.” Chester regarded him dourly, his legs shifting uneasily. Slob was tolerated by the bunch because he owned a big league catcher’s mask and frequently had spending money. Chester suddenly wanted to walk right up to the skinnylegged catcher and punch him on the nose.
Instead, he yanked on the leash and went on And as the screen door of the butcher shop closed behind him, his heart leaped and skipped a beat. For there, not six feet from him, stood his hero of heroes, Red Campbell, who had actually been wounded by a Boer bullet in South Africa !
Moving slowly across the sawdust-covered floor, Chester’s eyes never left the veteran. He reached the counter on the opposite side of the store, still looking backward, his face eloquent of reverent adoration. Then, wonder of wonders ! Red Campbell spoke to him.
“Hello there, bub,” the great man grinned.
It was awful. Chester would have given his right hand to have answered, to have spoken confidently, easily to this god. But something was gripping his throat; he swallowed, gulped and could not say a word. With a cheery nod to Mr. Shlitz, the butcher, Campbell left the store, his parcel tucked under his arm, the very arm that had been struck by the Boer bullet.
“Pound o’ sirloin, please,” Chester mumbled, his gaze still on the door, his face transformed and shining. After all, Red Campbell had actually spoken to him, had said, “Hello there, bub”—like that—just as natural. Many years later Chester himself fought through a war and was on intimate terms with two V.C. men, but the experience was trifling compared to this. He left the store in a trance. Tige trailed close behind him, his drooling muzzle all but pressed against the brown paper parcel under his master’s arm.
A swelling, irresistible pride overcame Chester at sight of the other boys. Running, almost stumbling in his haste, he raced into the vacant lot, bursting with glowing tidings.
The teams were changing sides when he ran among them. “Gee whizz, fellas—” he began, then checked himself. A chance like this might never come again. It must not be spoiled.
Pushing his hands into his pockets, crooking his elbows, swaggering a little, he began:
“Guess you don’t know what Red Campbell did, back there in Shlitz’s—”
And then, before he could launch his devastating news,
Slob Brownlee snickered, nudged, and pointed straight at Chester’s knees. For under the sway of his excitement Chester had forgotten and had hoisted his trousers as he swaggered. He looked —the tops of his stockings were exposed.
'""TO THE infuriated Chester that blow was to have been but a preliminary to a battering attack. But as he was boring in with flailing arms, Bony’s hand gripped his shoulder and a voice whispered a hoarse warning.
“Vamoose Ches—here comes Slob’s maw.”
Through the red haze of battle Chester saw Mrs. Brownlee bearing down upon them. Even then he struggled to renew the assault. “Lemme go, Bony,” he panted. He tried to writhe from the detaining hands. There were many now, for awed by this adult presence, several of the boys had intervened. If they held Ches back, Mrs. Brownlee could never guess how eager they had been a few seconds before to see her only child pummelled. Even at their age they knew the necessity of compromise.
Behind the milling group, Tige stood, his front legs spread, his head low. His rapt attention to the parcel his master had been carrying had been rewarded. Already he had the paper off. His jaws clamped moistly around the steak. He drew in his neck, swallowed, strained with evident distress, stretched his neck to its fullest extent, seemed to be watering about the eyes and, after a final convulsion of throat and flanks, forced down the Chamberlain’s ration of meat for the day. When Chester broke from the crowd and headed up the street, he turned reluctantly from licking the brown-paper and galloped ponderously after him.
AT NOON that day—and in Chester’s presence— Mrs. Chamberlain reported to her husband their son’s defalcation in the matter of the meat.
“He says he forgot it—that he left it somewhere— and when I asked him to go back and get it he made all sorts of absurd excuses.”
Chester, standing dourly near the window, felt his father’s eye upon him. After his humiliation, nothing short of physical force could have compelled him to show himself on Main street.
“Hmm, I see.” Mr. Chamberlain was stalking toward the window. “Son, why did you strike Elmer Brownlee?”
Chester, startled, refused to meet his father’s glance.
“Come now, I want an answer. My informant—” his glance told his wife that the “informant” had been that neighborhood busybody, Mrs. Brownlee, “—my informant tells me you were all playing together on Shlitz’s lot and for no reason in the world you rushed at Elmer and hit him. Elmer didn’t hit you?”
Chester shook his lowered head.
“Then why did you strike him? Come now, I must have an answer at once.” Chester stood there, dumb.
The tortures of the In-
Stunned, he caught the words that came gleefully from Slob Brownlee’s lips. “Gurl’s garters,” Slob had sniggered. And for Chester the world came crashing down.
A dozen mocking, delighted voices took it up. “Gurl’s garters—gurl’s garters! Oh, Jimminy Christmas! Ches wears gurl’s garters !”
Bony Hicks whooped, then striking a thin falsetto, pushed an imaginary hairpin into place, smoothed a hand back from his brow as a girl would have smoothed a pompadour, and rested a smudgy hand upon his hips. Swaying, mincing, not missing a gesture in the hideous burlesque, Bony shrilled: “Oooo, goodness gracious, guris, I feel that faint!” while the others whooped, clutched each other for support or rolled on the grass in hilarious abandon.
The uproar increased. Even Mr. Shlitz, who at that moment was serving Slob Brownlee’s mother, paused over the chopping block and looked out the side window.
“Them boys is always up to some didoes,” he grinned.
Mrs. Brownlee’s portly form came nearer the window as she looked with dignified amusement. A tolerant smile came to her face as she saw her own dear boy, her only child, joining so wholeheartedly in the innocent fun.' And then she stiffened. For without the slightest provocation, that Chester Chamberlain had rushed at her son and struck him a dastardly blow full on the nose!
quisition could not have drawn the truth from him Already his shame was great enough—but to have repeated that humiliating phrase himself would have crushed him utterly. Even had he wanted to tell his parents the truth about this ghastly business, he could not have spoken. Even thinking of it rendered him inarticulate with that most devastating of passions, a combination of rage and shame.
“Come dear, tell your father,” Mrs. Chamberlain pleaded.
Her husband waited. The kitchen clock ticked with blatant unconcern. But there was no surrender in the heart of Robert Chamberlain’s son and heir.
“Very well, Chester,” his father said at last. “Listen to me. When I come home this evening, either you will have some sensible answer for me or I shall punish you—hard. You may go for now.”
Chester stood not upon the order of his going. Somehow, through half blinded eyes, he found the door and blundered into the summer kitchen. Somehow he found his cap and thrust it on to his head at the most swashbuckling angle he knew. Not until he was safely out of the house would he give way to tears. It seemed that
the whole world was against him now. As he passed the window he tried hard to whistle. But the muscles about his mouth were still drawn, tensed by the suppressed emotion. Two squeaky notes from “The Girl I Left Behind Me” were all he could accomplish.
To his mother, standing behind the curtains, there was something pathetic in his attempted swagger, in the gangster’s angle at which the^little blue cap was worn. Her eyes met her husband’s. They tried to smile.
“Confounded busybody,” Mr. Chamberlain muttered.
“Robert!” she exclaimed. But there was no sincerity in the reproof.
CHESTER loitered along the lane from his rear gate to the Smeeton stable. Besides being his closest friend, Eddie Smeeton was the only boy in the neighborhood who had not witnessed his humiliation that morning. And to Eddie he could tell, with due impressiveness, of his meeting with the great Red Campbell.
The big door of the stable was open as Chester neared it. That was evidence that Eddie was not being kept in the house this afternoon, and as his pace quickened,
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Chester rehearsed the story of that epochmaking encounter. It would be a much better story if he could tell what he had said when the veteran spoke to him.
“He said, ‘Hello there, bub,’ and I—” No, that didn’t sound right. “He looked right at me and he said, ‘Well, it isn’t Ches Chamberlain,’ and he walked over and we shook hands together. Yep, Eddie, we shook hands. Gee, he’s got grip, I tell you. ‘You got a good grip yourself, Ches,’ he said. ‘See you later, Ches,’ he yelled when he went out. ‘See you later, Red,’ I yelled back.”
If only he could tell the story that way But as he entered the stable, the Red Campbell story was almost forgotten. For in the unused box stall which was Eddie’s “workshop,” his chum was standing with his father’s big six-shooter in his hand and a look of reckless determination upon his freckled face.
“Gee whitaker, Eddie, whatyou doin’?” Chester asked, aghast.
Mr. Smeeton’s big revolver—the revolver he took when he went surveying ’way up north—was one of the wonders of the neighborhood. Only a few privileged ones of the gang had ever seen it. Chester himself once touched it when,
having the house to themselves, Eddie had unlocked his father’s desk and allowed his friend to see it. And now, here was Eddie with it in the barn, holding it as if it were nothing but a cap pistol.
Eddie put the weapon into a half-filled duffel bag and drew Chester into the box stall.
“If I tell you sum pen, you won’t ever tell?” Eddie demanded in a strange, excited voice.
Chester crossed his heart, spat vigorously. Having taken the oath, he was ready.
“I stole the revolver, an’ I stole what’s in that duffel bag there.” A telling pause. “I’m going to run away from home. I’m not coming back—ever. You’ll see. Everybody in this town’ll see. The big kid-mauler,” Eddie added bitterly.
Eddie’s glance toward the house dicated to whom the last remark referred. “What’d he do?” Chester asked. His voice was vibrant now.
Eddie drew a deep breath and gave friend a look which promised appalling
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“1 wasn’t doing anything, on’y eating my breakfast. Then he leant ’cross the table and fetched me a swat on the side of my head. ‘Look out who you’re hittin’,’ I told him. He jumped up and grabbed a bottle with a candle stuck into its neck and made a swipe. I moved quick, you bet. My fist come up in a uppercut that floored him I tell you.”
Chester was fascinated. Actually, of course, he did not believe this story. Eddie’s father was the most tolerant male parent on the street, an easy-going adult who could, and did, play with boys without condescending. He could not know that Eddie had been kept to his room that morning because for the fifth consecutive time he had been sent from the breakfast table with hair uncombed. But at the same time he would not have thanked his chum for the paltry truth. This was high adventure, and as Eddie elaborated his story, Chester’s vivid imagination accepted the details greedily.
“He got up and sat down without lettin’ another peep outa him, you bet,” Eddie was saying. “I was like to up and tell him right there that I was going to run away, but I didn’t want my mother to feel bad. She’d have cried, I guess. So I kep’ cool. After breakfast I got to work, collectin’ my outfit. I hit the trail to-night, Ches ol’ sock, and I’d like for you to say good-by to all the bunch for me.”
“Which way you heading?” Chester asked with the nonchalance of one used to far journeyings.
“North. I’m collectin’ my things out here an’ when the bag’s chock full I’ll cache it in the wood lot till dark.” Eddie’s ease in using the word “cache” could not have been equaled by any of the coureurs de bois he and Chester had known upon the printed page.
Chester was thinking desperately. Before him the shining portals of escape were opening wide. After his shame on Shlitz’s lot that morning he could never face the town again. Eddie was going: he could go too—go to the untrammeled North where a man was his own boss, where beaded buckskin was worn, and where his humiliation could be forgotten. His heart leaped. If Eddie could to it, so could he. Fishing, trapping, hunting the caribou herds. Golly !
“We better join up an’ go together,” he suggested.
Eddie looked at him in amazement. Blindly, Chester took the plunge.
“I had a fight with my own father too,” he stated. “You bet we had it hot and heavy. ‘That Chester’s getting too big for me to handle,’ I heard him say to my mother after we’d cooled down a bit. An’ down in Shlitz’s afterward, me and Red Campbell was talking it all over and Red, he said: ‘Ches, take a friend’s advice and run away.’ So I said I guess I better.”
All the high purpose and noble resolve of a crusader shone in Eddie’s face as he dropped the duffel bag and put out his hand.
“We’ll run away together. Is it a ‘pac’, Ches?
Chester gripped the extended hand. He nodded. Yes, it was a pact.
A snuffling sound at the barn door made them turn in alarm. But it was only Tige. Having slept off the torpor brought on by the meal of raw steak, he had trailed his master to this rendezvous of conspirators.
Quickly Chester put Tige on the leash. “Le’s take Tige, too. We’ll need a hunting-dog.”
“Sure will. Most of the time we’ll be living right off the country. Tige’ll be mighty useful.”
Carefully and in detail Eddie disclosed his plan of operation. They would each go home, go to bed and meet at the stable at ten o’clock that night. Through the silent town they would hurry, launch Mr. Smeeton’s canoe at the boathouse and set out up river. Hiding by day, paddling by night, they would make their way through the up-river villages or
portage round them. For weeks they would travel thus, and finally, before the “freeze-up”, they would pick a spot in the North woods and erect their winter cabin.
“I’ve got most all the outfit right here. But till we get into hunting country we’ll need civilized grub. Tell you, Ches, you sneak home, get all you can and hide it in the woodshed till you come to meet me. Get bannock, salt pork an’ things like that.”
“Mebbe I can lay hands on a sack o’ pemmiean, too,” Chester suggested. “Generally is some lyin’ round.”
Eddie nodded. Half-an-hour later, having checked over the odds and ends in the duffel bag and placed the big black revolver in it, the pair set out furtively for the wood lot at the end of the street.
Tige, still on leash, went with them. They kept to the lane until they were well out of sight of the Smeeton house, then struck into the street. The houses were scattered here and detection unlikely, they thought.
Once, half a block away, a figure suspiciously like that of Mrs. Brownlee stood at a gate and watched them.
The pair stopped and glared back at her. The madness of their enterprise possessed them.
“Rubberneck!” Chester yelled.
“Rubberneck, stretch it—throw it up and catch it!” they chanted derisively.
It was four o’clock before Chester saw his mother leave the house and set out toward Main street. Immediately, he scurried up the lane and entered the kitchen, Tige at his heels. He found a paper bag and filled it with bread, bacon and such articles as he decided would not be missed at supper time. Tige following, he pushed the bag out of sight among the wood in the shed and went down the lane to report success to his accomplice.
Then they separated. “Guess there’ll be some surprises for this town tomorrow morning,” Eddie stated as they shook hands.
“You bet. See you at ten.”
“See you at ten, you bet.”
Their hands trembled from the excitement of it all. Each looked hard into the eyes of the other. “No backing out,” Chester said huskily.
“Should say not,” Eddie assured him scornfully. “You know me.”
“Guess you know me,” Chester whispered fiercely.
MR. CHAMBERLAIN was a long time coming home to supper. And before he came, his wife tried earnestly, lovingly, to “appeal to Chester’s reason.” “Father doesn’t want to punish you, dear,” she told him. “That sort of thing hurts us more than it does you. I’m suie if you had any good reason for striking Elmer, father won’t be hard on you.” Her arm went round his stiffened shoulders.
Chester squirmed. He wanted to shake her arm away—and at the same time he wanted to bury his head in her lap. After to-night he would never see his mother again. The audacities of the afternoon could not fortify him now.
“Please, dear. Tell me now—then when father comes everything will be all right.”
A dry sob shook him as her fingers felt their way through his hair. She was torturing him.
“Just whisper it—mother’s listening.” His body seemed to relax, to sway toward her. Then he remembered. Eddie. Eddie was a man, not a bawl baby. The shame of his tears filled him with frenzy. He tore himself away.
“It’s your fault if I’m a old gurl’s — garters. I’m goin’ to run away. You just see.” Then he rushed, stumbling, up the stairs to his room, to hurl the door shut and throw himself upon the bed.
As soon as he heard his father’s step on the porch, Chester expected to hear his name called. But for t long time nothing happened. He could hear them talking down there in the kitchen. And
when, at last, he heard his father mounting the back stairs he braced himself defiantly. He even was not sorry he had blurted out the truth about running away.
“Show ’em I’m not meek’s Moses round here,” he decided.
They could come and coax him to stay as much as they wanted to, but he wouldn’t. Now they were sorry and frightened. He looked out the window. Tige was lying on the garden path, waiting for him. Good old bloodhound.
The steps halted outside the door. “Better come down and have supper, son,” his father said. Chester could detect no apprehension in it. His mother could not have told of his threat, then.
A pause. Then his father spoke again. “From all accounts you’ve a long trip ahead of you, laddie. Can’t travel on an empty stomach.”
Chester started. He could scarcely believe his ears. Did they actually think he had been pretending; that running away was but a hollow threat? Now, now he would show them.
By eight o’clock dusk was falling. The blind slatted now and then in the cool night breeze. And Chester, gloating, defiant, lay on the bed waiting for them to come up to their room. A mosquito droned. His eyes were heavy. He turned face down, thinking with drowsy exultation of the morrow.
FHEN Chester Chamberlain awoke ** it was broad daylight. He was undressed and between the sheets. Robins were caroling in the garden. In consternation he jumped up and began to pull his clothes on. They had been folded neatly and placed on a chair. Puzzled, he looked in vain for the shoulder braces. They had vanished and in their place were two circular, black elastic garters. As he struggled with his clothes he saw Eddie waiting for him.
Shamefacedly he went downstairs to find his mother waiting for him in the kitchen. “Your father brought this home for you last night,” she told him. She did not mention the enlightening talk her husband had had with Bony Hicks and Shlitz the butcher. Instead, from behind the pantry door she produced a new air rifle and handed it to Chester.
Two minutes later Chester and his long coveted weapon were in the lane.
“Gee, Ches, I been waiting here a hour. Last night when my dad came home he asked if you and me’d go trout fishing Saturday with him. So I thought we’d better wait till next week.”
“Sure, Eddie,” Chester agreed generously. “Sure, it’s all the same to me.”
Then with bursting pride he let Eddie handle the air rifle.
The morning was half gone and several English sparrows had been unknowingly close to a violent death before either of the boys remembered Tige. In vain they searched for him. Finally, in the woodshed they found torn shreds of the paper bag which had been taken from the hiding-place among the wood.
They looked everywhere. But Tige, alone of the lawless trio, was the only one who actually had run away, to rove the outbound trails untrammeled.