An Early Chapter

An Early Chapter

By

H. Gilbert

ARTHUR NEIL, " top-boy " in Scardell Road Board School, had
one characteristic which none of hisfellowscould understand:
he was always more willing to " make it up " than to fight. When
Billy Leake, the squint-eyed fighter of the school, once called him
a fool in the heat of chagrin while at play, Arthur,who hotly repelled
all slights, had gone up and struck him lightly on the shoulder—the
invariable challenge to fight. The school bell had sounded just
then, and the elder boys went in warm with the expectation of a
battle between two champions of different achievements. When
school was over, however, and the two lads with their own set had
retired to a quiet piece of ground, it was rumoured that Arthur had
offered to accept an apology ! The descending disgust was averted
by the appearance of Billy, who threw ofF his coat, tucked up his
sleeves, and stood ready—short, firmly built, frowning, his fists
working, his jaw clenched and his fierce eyes unmistakably certain.
But no one said Arthur was afraid ; he stood up and got punished
well, for he could not fight " for nuts " ; and his onsets, though
futile against the other's coolness and science, were reckless.
After this, for some time, Billy and Arthur were great chums,
were seldom apart in scrapes and took a great share together in the
street fights with other schools.

It

169 By H. Gilbert

It was Arthur Neil who organised secret societies among the
bigger boys, composed cypher alphabets for the laborious com-
munications between the members of these mysterious brotherhoods
in neighbouring desks ; and kept the accounts of the weekly
journal fund for the purchase and reading of Red Lion Court
literature. He had been Grand Master of the short-lived Order
of the Knights of Albion ; and the dubbing by him of a squire in
one of the school corridors, with the adjuncts of green tunic, " cap
of maintenance," dagger and real rapier—"a right Toledo blade"
—was an unforgettable though furtive ceremony. When he picked
out Murray's Prairie Bird for a prize, and after reading it lent
it round to his friends, their enthusiasm fashioned moccasins and
leggings (ornamented with worsted scalplocks) out of American
cloth, made bows and arrows from umbrella ribs, tomahawks from
blade bones and wood, and scalping knives from abstracted table
cutlery, ripped up mattresses for war-plumes, and secreted all leather
within reach. Arthur, with the advantages of a cap made of badly
dressed rabbit skin, the green tunic (which, though slashed and
puffed, could be made to serve many turns), belt, totem a disk of
bone hung by a leather boot-lace round his neck and having " a
war eagle " scratched upon it powder-horn, wooden gun and
cross bow, was made chief of a band of half a dozen warriors,
skulking in the dusky prairies and scarlet-runner forests of a back
garden, until the mother of one of them—Terror of Palefaces—
called him in to go to bed.

It was Arthur also who had suggested basket-lids for shields and
" tolly-whacks " (rope knotted and twined in graduated thickness)
for weapons, in the fights with other schools. Even the invention
of this "stunning" mode of warfare had been marred by his
weakness. The Scardell Road School was in a newly-opened
suburb, and the boys, being mostly villa residents, had always

despised

170 An Early Chapter

despised the neighbouring Delta Road school, it being second
grade and situate near the gasworks. It was not known what
this particular row was about—somebody had hit one of the Delta
Road Boys or jeered at them in passing, or something or other—
anyway, the gas cads at length sent some big fellows and taunted
the Scardell boys as they came out at mid-day. When the elders
had attempted to avenge this, they had been beaten back by a hail
of flints, taken from a heap by the road that was being made up.
The Scardell boys had retired, hurt in mind and body, lusting for
revenge and a flint heap. But Arthur, even then, when his fellows
wished for nothing but the bodies of those boys half a street off,
jeering in the security of their position, wanted to know what they
had been fighting about ? He had even advised a parley, and
though some of the council were disposed to brand him a coward
for his talk, he, notwithstanding the impatience and disgust of the
others, went marching down the middle of the road holding up a
white handkerchief. The Delta boys had seemed puzzled at first,
and then one had thrown a stone and had been imitated by his
fellows. The Scardell boys saw their disowned embassy stop and
rub his leg and then- turn, put his handkerchief away and limp
back, accompanied by hopping flints. They told him " it served
him cussed well right. What else could he expect from those gas
cads ? " Arthur said little, but came back from dinner thoughtful,
and it was not long before every elder boy had fashioned a" tolly,"
and bought, begged, or stolen a basket lid, and fitted it with handles.
Then when these had been smuggled to school, the Delta boys
had been waylaid and wiped out, wealed and wailing.

There were many tender relations between the elder boys and
girls of Scardell Road school ; which reciprocity was encouraged
by the head-master. Most of the scholars dropped in and out of
love with the greatest ease. One week Bob Sullivan would be the

sweetheart

171 By H. Gilbert

sweetheart of Nelly Tulford, who next week would enamour Billy
Leake and flout Bob, who would recriminate contemptuously.
But jilted boys seldom fought their more favoured fellows : they
went and cut out some other friend, who consoled himself
elsewhere.

Arthur Neil was the most sensitive to unsuccess or indifference,
the most fastidious in choice and the most constant in attachment.
His sweetheart, Winnie Alfrey, had been in turn the beloved of
three of his best friends. She had indeed wounded the last of them
by her confessed admiration for Arthur, who, though she was
reckoned for the time being by favoured boys to be the prettiest
girl in the school, had hitherto kept himself in studied coldness
before the charms that were setting his friends in rivalry or
chagrined depreciation.

His friend Alf Lawers had met Arthur one day on their way to
school, and in the course of conversation said with momentary
moodiness, " I'm going to chuck up Winnie Alfrey. You can
have her if you like."

Arthur secretly glowed. " Why, what's the matter ? " he asked.
" What have you fallen out over ? "

" She wants you. I ain't good enough for her."

" Stow it, Alf, don't talk such rot ! " said the other, thrilling.

" It's the truth ! All the girls are gone on you since you
won that prize for reciting. Didn't you say the other day that
that fat girl, Emily Goodchild, had sent you a note ? Well, that's
why ! "

Arthur became thoughtful : he was desired, and with the
self-esteem and impulse to wound that were characteristic of his
semi-feminine nature was moved to play with the circumstance.

You tell her from me she's had too many chaps already. I'm
nearly sick of girls."

The Yellow Book—Vol. XI L

Alf

172 An Early Chapter

Alf subsequently told his friend that he and Winnie had had a
volcanic separation. He had told her that if she wanted Arthur,
Arthur didn t want her, on which she had angrily retorted that
she didn't care for Arthur Neil, then that she didn't believe he
had said it ; and, on Alf persisting, had gone off almost crying,
saying she believed it was a falsehood. Arthur regretted his friend's
distorting and stubborn straightforwardness.

" You'd better tell her yourself, Art," said Air.

" No," said the other, assuming indifference, " I shan't take
any notice of her."

" Well, I shan't speak to her again," said Alf. " That new
girl, Kate Dunmore, is a pretty girl. I shall go after her. She
laughed at me this morning."

It fell out, however, that Winnie was taken ill and was away
from school for a month. During her absence her brother
Harry became a great friend of Arthur's, though he had hitherto
been disliked by the latter as being spiteful and unfair. When
Winnie returned to school, Arthur with some ot his chums
met her one day with a friend, and her appearance as she
passed and looked at him—so pale, pretty, and yet proud—
overcame him. Within a week many of the little boys, at
safe distances, were calling after them as Arthur escorted her
home from school, her satchel slung upon his back with his own.
This had happened quite a year ago, and still they were lovers.
He even went out with her in the evenings and on Sundays, and
was often at tea with her family.

The girl found that Arthur was not like her former sweethearts.
In matters of endearment he was more shy than she was and had
to be most coyly excited, or he would become cold and proud.
This was very different from, say, Will Kemp's headiness. She
had only to dare him and he would chase her half a mile and when

he

173 By H. Gilbert

he had caught her there would be a delightful struggle for kisses.
If she had ever dared Arthur in the same open way, she felt he
would have left her. But there were compensations. Sometimes,
he would be quite irresistible, exceeding in his dominance any
other sweetheart, and then her coyness was intensified and
deliciously rewarded. Those long spring and summer evenings
spent in the chestnut avenue in the field behind her house, slowly
walking in the twilight, when he would be so daring, so masterful
and sweet ! Then, again, he seemed to be so different in an
indefinable way from other boys. He was not roughly impatient,
or boisterously mocking. She hugged to herself the words passed
by her mother one day when he was mentioned in the family—
" he was a little gentleman ! " She wondered she had not thought
of this—of course he was. He wore his clothes better, spoke with
more refinement and used different words. Besides, was he not
the best scholar in the school ?

One day Alf Lawers on his way home with Arthur from
morning school said he had had another quarrel with Kate
Dunmore. These two had been sweethearts (with intervals
of mutual unfaithfulness for spite) since Alf had given up
Winnie.

" She's so beastly proud. She says she's going on the stage at
Liverpool soon with her mother."

Arthur's sympathy had been blunted by frequent exercise on
behalf of his friend.

" When's she going to leave school, then ? " he asked.

" Goodness knows ! I don't believe half she says. She s been
saying she's going to leave ever since she came."

" Aren't you going to try and make it up ? "

Alf was moody for a moment, and made a wry face. " I don't
know. Don't see any use."

" She's

174 An Early Chapter

" She's a jolly nice girl. I should if I were you."

Arthur felt a dislike to seeing his friend contemplate throwing
away the pleasure he himself possessed.

"You wouldn't like to see Bob Sullivan with her, or Will
Kemp, would you ? "

Alf hesitated, looking at his boots as he walked.

" Oh, all right," he said. " I tell you what. Will you see her
and say I'm sorry I offended her and if she'll make it up I'll be at
the end lamp-post to-night in Menival Road ? She knows the place."

" All right, but what did you offend her about ? "

" Oh," said Alf laughing, " she said her mother was Queen of
the Fairies last Christmas in a pantomime, and I said she must
have been a jolly heavy fairy then. You know, her mother is
rather stout."

" Girls don't like that, you know," said Arthur, gravely.

" It's the truth, anyway. It would have to be a moonbeam
like a plank to hold her up." He laughed. " Anyhow, you catch
her if you can after school and tell her I'm sorry and all that.
You know how to put it."

Kate was the daughter of an actress at present " resting." She
was pretty, plump, and bewitchingly frank. Arthur managed to
meet her after school, though uneasy as to the result of giving
Winnie the slip. All his pleading, however, was in vain. She
didn't like Alf, and besides, she was to leave in a month or so for
Liverpool, where she was going to act with her mother.

"He says he's very sorry he offended you," said Arthur.

" He says ! " repeated Kate, in great disdain. " I'd smack his
face, the cheeky thing ! How would he like me to make game of
his mother ? "

" It certainly wasn't kind of him, but Alf always will get a
laugh somehow."

I'll

175 By H. Gilbert

" I'll make him laugh the other side of his face."

" He always laughs both sides," said Arthur, slyly.

Kate looked at him with puzzled eyes for a moment. Then
with some impatience, said, "Why, you're as cheeky as he is.
You d better go and find Winnie Alfrey or she ll be jealous."

" Not she," said Arthur.

"Dear me, has she got such confidence in you? Isn't she
afraid of me ? "

The lad chilled at once. " She doesn t think anything at all
abovit you."

"Oh, very well. I'm sure I don't want to rob her. You'd
better go and find her and tell her what I've said."

Arthur was hurt by this implication, and kept walking by her,
she with her head up, looking intently at the hedge on the other
side of the road.

" Don't be silly, Kate," he said at length, pleadingly.

"Miss Dunmore, please."

"Well, then, Miss Dunmore. I don't see why you turn off
so. You quarrel with every one."

" It's a story ! I don't make a row with anybody if they'll let
me alone."

They were nearing her home in a quiet little street of villas.

" Well then, you won't meet Alf ? "

" No, I won't, so you can tell him from me. Boys are such
sillies."

She looked mischievously into his eyes.

" I wouldn't have another sweetheart for anything," she con-
tinued, " they're no good, and they are so awfully conceited."

They stopped in front of the house in the shade of a small
maple tree.

" You're jolly rough on us," said Arthur laughing. " But if

you

176 An Early Chapter

you girls weren't so nice we shouldn't be so conceited. It's your
fault." He thrilled at his own daring before the provoking look.
"How do you mean, nice?" she asked, with little wrinkles
round her eyes and lips.

" Well—jolly and—and pretty."

" Oh," she said, with a little laughing cry, her lace flushing.
" What sauciness ! to dare to say that to any one ! "

" Well, it's the truth ! " said the lad, bolder in the sight of her
pleasure.

She laughed, prettily confused, looking at him for a moment
and then dropping her eyes, her face all warm.

" I think we'd better say good-bye," she said. " I shall never
forget this."

She held out her hand, and retained his.

"Tell Alf I really can t meet him to-night. But I'll think
about it. After all when we go away, I shan't see him ever
again perhaps. You will tell him, won't you ? " she asked, softly,
with a curious, dilated look.

" Certainly," replied the boy.

She drew him by the hand quickly and kissed him on the lips.
He started back, glancing about, and looked at her coldly, then
seeing her defiant, shamed face he half laughed.

" Whatever are you doing, Kate ? " he asked.

" That was for Alf," she said.

" But I can't give it to Alf! "

She laughed merrily as she closed the wooden gate. She stood
leaning over it, and looked at him with bright eyes.

" It was for you then."

His eyes chilled as he thought of the appearance of unfaithful
ness to Winnie if he did not in some way discard the caress.

" I wish you hadn't done that," he said.

"Oh

177 By H. Gilbert

"Oh, are you frightened ?" she asked mockingly. Her eyes
dilated again. " Then give it me back." She broke into gentle
merriment as his face stiffened.

" I think you are most deceitful," he said. " You had no right,
you shouldn't have done it. I shall never forgive you."

"Oh, very well, go and tell every one a girl kissed you and you
didn't like it ! " Her tone changed to scorn. " If you tell any
one, I'll have to leave the school at once. You would be a
coward !" Her voice faltered.

"I would never do that. I should never think of such a
thing." He spoke with great heat.

" Very well, then, don't be silly. What have you got to be
upset about ? Good-bye."

She went up the path and rang the bell, and continued stand
ing with her head bent and her back to him. He hesitated for
some moments, and then as the door was opened went away slowly.

Alf heard no more from Kate in spite of the hope the message
implied. She was about to pass him one day in the street with a
contemptuous look, but he stopped her, saying,

" Aren't you going to speak to me again, Kate ? "

"Speak to you ?" she said disdainfully, "No, go away. What
do you mean stopping me like this ? " She tried to shake off his
hold.

He was astounded at this complete change.

" Why, you said you'd think about it," he blurted angrily,
loosing his hold on her arm.

" Pooh ! " she ejaculated, slipping away.

He stood for some moments gloomily watching her, but she
did not turn her head.

For ten days after this Alf was a fervid misogynist. His humour
flickered up for a moment, he said that they might spiflicate him

if

178 An Early Chapter

if he was ever done any more by an Irish girl. Later he generalised
his chagrin, saying, " All girls are cads." He and Arthur nearly
fell out, for he began making contemptuous reflections on girls
and the boys who debased themselves. He went about almost
estranged, with a gloomy look on his face, which he was always
forgetting to keep there ; going for long walks among the maimed
fields and lanes near by, either by himself or with some school
mate not amatively degenerate. He began to long for the life of
the trapper, lonely, void of all sentimental " rot," sternly self-
contained, despising the admiration and yearning which he himself
excited—a superior Dr. Carver, with long black hair, a broad
sombrero, a stern and melancholy countenance, and a beautiful
buckskin suit. He therefore began to get in training. He
discarded braces, and wore a belt, broke the habit of regular meals,
and in the dinner hour would wander off into the meadows,
learning " wood-lore," following trails, remarking and laboriously
explaining the meaning of a broken twig or bent. He would
stealthily creep along, following birds flitting in and out of the hedge
rows, keenly observant meanwhile of every movement in the
herbage and the dead leaves about him. Sometimes he got the
cramp when some particularly promising noise attracted him, and
he would stop in a constrained position waiting for developments
that never came, except in the shape of a small beetle or a worm
rustling under the leaves. If anybody passed, he would whistle
and try to appear as if he were doing nothing in particular.
When his stomach craved he gloomily took in another hole of
his belt. Sometimes he ate the young tops of the thorn. He
would return to afternoon school, stern, silent, and hungry, in
figure like a wasp.

As his mother did not trouble herself much about his absence
from the dinner-table, and nobody else seemed to know or care

what

179 By H. Gilbert

what he was doing, he soon descended again to braces, good
dinners, games and love-making.

A few evenings after the affair with Kate, Arthur met Winnie
in the field at the back of her house. She looked at him coldly,
and retreated before his proffered caress.

"You're a deceitful thing, Arthur Neil," she said. "Go to
that girl Dunmore and kiss her, not me. I wonder you can look
me in the face."

" I didn't—" Arthur began hotly, and stopped. " What do
you mean ! " he asked.

"Oh, you know what I mean, very well. You kissed Kate
Dunmore. She says you did. I want nothing more to do
with you."

Winnie was coldly self-contained, but her appearance—so
prettily proud, her lips curling, and her grey eyes piercing—
excited the lad.

" It isn't true, Winnie, really, dear."

" But she says you did, and you told her she was pretty—and—
and such stuff as that ! I'm ashamed of you. You'd better go
to her, for I won t speak to you again."

The lad was silent; he did not know what to do. He felt
that Kate's apparent falsehood released him, but he revolted from
the exposure of her, the breaking of his implied promise, and the
prospect of pleading to a girl who condemned him without hear
ing him.

"I tell you it isn't true," he said, soberly. "Can't you
believe me ? "

Winnie hesitated before his seriousness. She dropped her eyes,
and then raised them. She looked so pretty with her dignity,
that it was in the lad's mind to rush upon her and kiss away her
doubt, but his piqued loyalty held him back.

"Will

180 An Early CHapter

"Will you say you didn't kiss her and say those things?"
she said.

"I didn't kiss her."

She noticed his reservation, looked at him sharply, and flung
away with " I don't believe you. You did say it ! " She stopped
a few feet off.

" Very well, I did say she was pretty—and—and so she is ! "
She gave him a quick glance of scorn.

" Then you may go and tell her so again. I hate you." She
spoke with composure, and turning, walked away quickly.
Arthur did not hesitate, and went out of the field with head up,
whistling.

On subsequent evenings, coming from school while Arthur
was waiting to catch Kate for her explanation of things, Winnie
passed him with cold eyes, that looked through him, her lips
curled ; though her brother Harry had confided to Arthur that
she had " cried her eyes out " on that fateful evening, and had
been cross ever since.

It seemed evident that Kate was keeping out of the way, and
it was not for a week that he met her, when it happened that,
having been sent, in his capacity as monitor, to a neighbouring
school, he was returning just as the girls were coming out, and
came face to face with Kate, in the van of chattering pupils.
She was confused, and tried to push past him, her shocked com-
panions bidding him, with much laughter, giggles, and reproach,
to leave her alone. He succeeded in drawing her apart, however,
and felt she was not unwilling, when free of her friends.

" I say, Kate," he began, with gentle reproof, " why did you
tell Winnie that ?"

She kept her head bent, her cheek suffused.

" I'm very sorry, Arthur, really. I didn't think she'd go off" in

such

181 By H. Gilbert

such a passion, but but we were talking about you and Alf,
and she made me cross, and I said it before I knew what I
was saying. Don't you think she'd make it up if I told her the
truth ? "

"I wouldn't be friends again," said the lad, decisively. "She's
been very nasty about it, and wouldn't believe what I said."

" You didn't say—" The girl stopped, and averted her face.

" No ; I didn't tell her anything about that. If she hadn't
been in such a temper I might, and, really, Kate, it would have
served you right."

A moment's silence. " It was rather it was mean of me,
wasn't it ? She turned up her flushing face and pleading eyes
for a moment. "I didn't deserve your not telling her, I'm sure,
and I'm truly sorry."

Arthur caught his breath. " There's no need for that, Kate."
A few thrilling seconds passed.

" Well, I must get back to school," he said at length, with an
effort. " I'm afraid we've been walking out of your way."

" Not at all," she replied as they stopped.

He stood, trying to catch her eyes, but she evaded his look.

" Well, then, Kate, good-bye," he said, seizing both her hands.

She turned her limpid eyes upon his with a daring smile. Her
full, red lips moved slightly, but she did not speak. Her frank
ness thrilled him, and he kissed her, vaguely feeling as if power
less to restrain himself. She laughed softly, and a deeper warmth
swept into her face.

" Was that the one I gave you the other day ? "

" No, no," he said, laughing and flushing.

She watched his face, her eyes travelling to the curly dark hair
over the forehead that the blue cricket cap never imprisoned.
"That was for you," he added.

" I thought

182 An Early Chapter

" I thought you said you'd never forgive me ? " she said, her
eyes bright with merriment.

" That was different. It's all right now. I told Winnie her
self what I said to you, and that quite turned her. But, you
see, she wanted me to say you weren't—jolly, you know."

" Did you really say that, Arthur ? " Her eyes shone. " Well,
there ! "

She laughed a little hysterically.

"We must keep this quiet, Kate. It would be too bad to
hurt her any more, though she has made herself silly."

"Oh, all right," said the girl, hesitating. "Can you come
out to-night ? I'm going to play tennis in the meadows."

They arranged a meeting-place, kissed again, and parted, turn
ing every few steps to kiss their hands, until a bend in the road
hid them from each other.

The furtive love-making of the next month was the most
delightful either had ever enjoyed. Arthur was chary of publicity,
since he felt his conduct might be thought disloyal to Alf, though
the latter was now enamoured of the fat girl, Emily Goodchild,
who joked and punned worse than he. Arthur also shrank from
causing annoyance to Winnie, but he feared she would soon know
the swift defection that must convince her of his falseness. Kate's
secret, under the usual strict injunctions, spread among her own
set, and elsewhere ; but Winnie kept a proud reserve that some
times moved her rival to pity and shy overtures of peace, which,
for the time, were chilled to constraint as stubborn, by Winnie's
uncompromising repulsion.

On the eve of Kate's departure, she, with Arthur and his
closest friend, spent the last few hours together. The girl was
one moment in excited talk about her dress, and the expected
pleasures of her new life ; but next moment, checking herself,

would

183 By H. Gilbert

would express regret in eyes, tones, and words, saying that she
would send him her address, and they would write to each other.
In the darkness, the friend, at a distance, witnessed their separa-
tion. He saw them talk awhile, kiss, and part sedately ; but they
looked back, stopped, and then rushed together again, with arms
about each other. A few moments' close embrace, the sound of
many caresses, and she darted away quickly. Arthur lingeringly
rejoined his companion, and they went away, silent.





MLA citation: Gilbert, H. "An Early Chapter." The Yellow Book 11 (Oct 1896): 168-183. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2013. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV11_gilbert_early.html