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Seventeen by Booth Tarkington

Part 2 out of 6

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``Mamma, what do you s'pose Willie barked at
the lookin'-glass for?''

``That,'' said Mrs. Baxter, ``is beyond me.
Young people and children do the strangest
things, Jane! And then, when they get to be
middle-aged, they forget all those strange things
they did, and they can't understand what the
new young people--like you and Willie mean
by the strange things THEY do.''

``Yes'm. I bet _I_ know what he was barkin'
for, mamma.''


``You know what I think? I think he was
kind of practisin'. I think he was practisin' how
to bark at Mr. Parcher.''

``No, no!'' Mrs. Baxter laughed. ``Who ever
could think of such a thing but you, Jane!
You go to sleep and forget your nonsense!''

Nevertheless, Jane might almost have been
gifted with clairvoyance, her preposterous idea
came so close to the actual fact, for at that very
moment William was barking. He was not
barking directly at Mr. Parcher, it is true, but
within a short distance of him and all too well
within his hearing.



Mr. Parcher, that unhappy gentleman,
having been driven indoors from his own
porch, had attempted to read Plutarch's Lives in
the library, but, owing to the adjacency of the
porch and the summer necessity for open windows,
his escape spared only his eyes and not his
suffering ears. The house was small, being but
half of a double one, with small rooms, and the
``parlor,'' library, and dining-room all about
equally exposed to the porch which ran along the
side of the house. Mr. Parcher had no refuge
except bed or the kitchen, and as he was troubled
with chronic insomnia, and the cook had callers in
the kitchen, his case was desperate. Most
unfortunately, too, his reading-lamp, the only one in
the house, was a fixture near a window, and just
beyond that window sat Miss Pratt and William
in sweet unconsciousness, while Miss Parcher
entertained the overflow (consisting of Mr.
Johnnie Watson) at the other end of the porch.
Listening perforce to the conversation of the
former couple though ``conversation'' is far
from the expression later used by Mr. Parcher to
describe what he heard--he found it impossible
to sit still in his chair. He jerked and twitched
with continually increasing restlessness;
sometimes he gasped, and other times he moaned a
little, and there were times when he muttered

``Oh, cute-ums!'' came the silvery voice of Miss
Pratt from the likewise silvery porch outside,
underneath the summer moon. ``Darlin' Flopit,
look! Ickle boy Baxter goin' make imitations of
darlin' Flopit again. See! Ickle boy Baxter
puts head one side, then other side, just like
darlin' Flopit. Then barks just like darlin' Flopit!
Ladies and 'entlemen, imitations of darlin' Flopit
by ickle boy Baxter.''

``Berp-werp! Berp-werp!'' came the voice of
William Sylvanus Baxter.

And in the library Plutarch's Lives moved
convulsively, while with writhing lips Mr. Parcher
muttered to himself.

``More, more!'' cried Miss Pratt, clapping her
hands. ``Do it again, ickle boy Baxter!''

``Berp-werp! Berp-werp-werp!''

``WORD!'' muttered Mr. Parcher.

Miss Pratt's voice became surcharged with
honeyed wonder. ``How did he learn such marv'lous,
MARV'LOUS imitations of darlin' Flopit? He
ought to go on the big, big stage and be a really
actor, oughtn't he, darlin' Flopit? He could
make milyums and milyums of dollardies,
couldn't he, darlin' Flopit?''

William's modest laugh disclaimed any great
ambition for himself in this line. ``Oh, I always
could think up imitations of animals; things like
that--but I hardly would care to--to adop' the
stage for a career. Would--you?'' (There was a
thrill in his voice when he pronounced the
ineffably significant word ``you.'')

Miss Pratt became intensely serious.

``It's my DREAM!'' she said.

William, seated upon a stool at her feet, gazed
up at the amber head, divinely splashed by the
rain of moonlight. The fire with which she spoke
stirred him as few things had ever stirred him.
He knew she had just revealed a side of herself
which she reserved for only the chosen few who
were capable of understanding her, and he fell into
a hushed rapture. It seemed to him that there
was a sacredness about this moment, and he sought
vaguely for something to say that would live up
to it and not be out of keeping. Then, like an
inspiration, there came into his head some words
he had read that day and thought beautiful. He
had found them beneath an illustration in a
magazine, and he spoke them almost instinctively.

``It was wonderful of you to say that to me,''
he said. ``I shall never forget it!''

``It's my DREAM!'' Miss Pratt exclaimed, again,
with the same enthusiasm. ``It's my DREAM.''

``You would make a glorious actress!'' he said.

At that her mood changed. She laughed a laugh
like a sweet little girl's laugh (not Jane's) and,
setting her rocking-chair in motion, cuddled the
fuzzy white doglet in her arms. ``Ickle boy
Baxter t'yin' flatterbox us, tunnin' Flopit! No'ty,
no'ty flatterbox!''

``No, no!'' William insisted, earnestly. ``I mean
it. But--but--''

``But whatcums?''

``What do you think about actors and actresses
making love to each other on the stage? Do you
think they have to really feel it, or do they just

``Well,'' said Miss Pratt, weightily, ``sometimes
one way, sometimes the other.''

William's gravity became more and more
profound. ``Yes, but how can they pretend like
that? Don't you think love is a sacred thing,
Cousin Lola?''

Fictitious sisterships, brotherships, and cousin-
ships are devices to push things along, well known
to seventeen and even more advanced ages. On
the wonderful evening of their first meeting
William and Miss Pratt had cozily arranged to
be called, respectively, ``Ickle boy Baxter'' and
``Cousin Lola.'' (Thus they had broken down
the tedious formalities of their first twenty
minutes together.)

``Don't you think love is sacred?'' he repeated
in the deepest tone of which his vocal cords were

``Ess,'' said Miss Pratt.

``_I_ do!'' William was emphatic. ``I think love
is the most sacred thing there is. I don't mean
SOME kinds of love. I mean REAL love. You take
some people, I don't believe they ever know what
real love means. They TALK about it, maybe, but
they don't understand it. Love is something
nobody can understand unless they feel it and
and if they don't understand it they don't feel
it. Don't YOU think so?''


``Love,'' William continued, his voice lifting
and thrilling to the great theme--``love is something
nobody can ever have but one time in their
lives, and if they don't have it then, why prob'ly
they never will. Now, if a man REALLY loves a girl,
why he'd do anything in the world she wanted
him to. Don't YOU think so?''

``Ess, 'deedums!'' said the silvery voice.

``But if he didn't, then he wouldn't,'' said
William vehemently. ``But when a man really
loves a girl he will. Now, you take a man like
that and he can generally do just about anything
the girl he loves wants him to. Say, f'rinstance,
she wants him to love her even more than he does
already--or almost anything like that--and supposin'
she asks him to. Well, he would go ahead
and do it. If they really loved each other he

He paused a moment, then in a lowered tone
he said, ``I think REAL love is sacred, don't you?''


``Don't you think love is the most sacred thing
there is--that is, if it's REAL love?''


``_I_ do,'' said William, warmly. ``I--I'm glad
you feel like that, because I think real love is the
kind nobody could have but just once in their
lives, but if it isn't REAL love, why--why most
people never have it at all, because--'' He
paused, seeming to seek for the exact phrase
which would express his meaning. ``--Because
the REAL love a man feels for a girl and a girl for a
man, if they REALLY love each other, and, you look
at a case like that, of course they would BOTH love
each other, or it wouldn't be real love well, what
_I_ say is, if it's REAL love, well, it's--it's sacred,
because I think that kind of love is always sacred.
Don't you think love is sacred if it's the real thing?''

``Ess,'' said Miss Pratt. ``Do Flopit again.
Be Flopit!''

``Berp-werp! Berp-werp-werp.''

And within the library an agonized man
writhed and muttered:


This hoarse repetition had become almost

. . . But out on the porch, that little, jasmine-
scented bower in Arcady where youth cried to
youth and golden heads were haloed in the moonshine,
there fell a silence. Not utter silence, for
out there an ethereal music sounded constantly,
unheard and forgotten by older ears. Time was
when the sly playwrights used ``incidental music''
in their dramas; they knew that an audience
would be moved so long as the music played;
credulous while that crafty enchantment lasted.
And when the galled Mr. Parcher wondered how
those young people out on the porch could listen
to each other and not die, it was because he did
not hear and had forgotten the music that throbs
in the veins of youth. Nevertheless, it may not
be denied that despite his poor memory this man
of fifty was deserving of a little sympathy.

It was William who broke the silence. ``How--''
he began, and his voice trembled a little. ``How
--how do you--how do you think of me when I'm
not with you?''

``Think nice-cums,'' Miss Pratt responded.
``Flopit an' me think nice-cums.''

``No,'' said William; ``I mean what name do
you have for me when you're when you're
thinking about me?''

Miss Pratt seemed to be puzzled, perhaps
justifiably, and she made a cooing sound of

``I mean like this,'' William explained.
``F'rinstance, when you first came, I always
thought of you as `Milady'--when I wrote that
poem, you know.''

``Ess. Boo'fums.''

``But now I don't,'' he said. ``Now I think
of you by another name when I'm alone. It--it
just sort of came to me. I was kind of just
sitting around this afternoon, and I didn't know
I was thinking about anything at all very much,
and then all of a sudden I said it to myself out
loud. It was about as strange a thing as I ever
knew of. Don't YOU think so?''

``Ess. It uz dest WEIRD!'' she answered.
``What ARE dat pitty names?''

``I called you,'' said William, huskily and
reverently, ``I called you `My Baby-Talk Lady.' ''


They were startled by a crash from within the
library; a heavy weight seemed to have fallen
(or to have been hurled) a considerable distance.
Stepping to the window, William beheld a large
volume lying in a distorted attitude at the foot
of the wall opposite to that in which the reading-
lamp was a fixture. But of all human life the
room was empty; for Mr. Parcher had given up,
and was now hastening to his bed in the last faint
hope of saving his reason.

His symptoms, however, all pointed to its
having fled; and his wife, looking up from some
computations in laundry charges, had but a
vision of windmill gestures as he passed the door
of her room. Then, not only for her, but for the
inoffensive people who lived in the other half of
the house, the closing of his own door took place
in a really memorable manner.

William, gazing upon the fallen Plutarch, had
just offered the explanation, ``Somebody must 'a'
thrown it at a bug or something, I guess,'' when
the second explosion sent its reverberations
through the house.

``My doodness!'' Miss Pratt exclaimed, jumping up.

William laughed reassuringly, remaining calm.
``It's only a door blew shut up-stairs,'' he said
``Let's sit down again--just the way we were?''

Unfortunately for him, Mr. Joe Bullitt now
made his appearance at the other end of the
porch. Mr. Bullitt, though almost a year younger
than either William or Johnnie Watson, was of a
turbulent and masterful disposition. Moreover,
in regard to Miss Pratt, his affections were in as
ardent a state as those of his rivals, and he lacked
Johnnie's meekness. He firmly declined to be
shunted by Miss Parcher, who was trying to favor
William's cause, according to a promise he had
won of her by strong pleading. Regardless of her
efforts, Mr. Bullitt descended upon William and
his Baby-Talk-Lady, and received from the latter
a honeyed greeting, somewhat to the former's
astonishment and not at all to his pleasure.

``Oh, goody-cute!'' cried Miss Pratt. ``Here's
big Bruvva Josie-Joe!'' And she lifted her little
dog close to Mr. Bullitt's face, guiding one of
Flopit's paws with her fingers. ``Stroke big
Bruvva Josie-Joe's pint teeks, darlin' Flopit.''
(Josie-Joe's pink cheeks were indicated by the
expression ``pint teeks,'' evidently, for her
accompanying action was to pass Flopit's paw lightly
over those glowing surfaces.) `` 'At's nice!'' she
remarked. ``Stroke him gently, p'eshus Flopit,
an' nen we'll coax him to make pitty singin' for
us, like us did yestiday.''

She turned to William.

``COAX him to make pitty singin'? I LOVE his
voice--I'm dest CRAZY over it. Isn't oo?''

William's passion for Mr. Bullitt's voice
appeared to be under control. He laughed coldly,
almost harshly. ``Him sing?'' he said. ``Has he
been tryin' to sing around HERE? I wonder the
family didn't call for the police!''

It was to be seen that Mr. Bullitt did not relish
the sally. ``Well, they will,'' he retorted, ``if you
ever spring one o' your solos on 'em!'' And
turning to Miss Pratt, he laughed loudly and
bitterly. ``You ought to hear Silly Bill sing--
some time when you don't mind goin' to bed sick
for a couple o' days!''

Symptoms of truculence at once became alarmingly
pronounced on both sides. William was
naturally incensed, and as for Mr. Bullitt, he
had endured a great deal from William every
evening since Miss Pratt's arrival. William's
evening clothes were hard enough for both Mr.
Watson and Mr. Bullitt to bear, without any
additional insolence on the part of the wearer.
Big Bruvva Josie-Joe took a step toward his
enemy and breathed audibly.

``Let's ALL sing,'' the tactful Miss Pratt proposed,
hastily. ``Come on, May and Cousin Johnnie-
Jump-Up,'' she called to Miss Parcher and Mr.
Watson. ``Singin'-school, dirls an' boys! Singin'-
school! Ding, ding! Singin'-school bell's a-wingin'!''

The diversion was successful. Miss Parcher
and Mr. Watson joined the other group with alacrity,
and the five young people were presently
seated close together upon the steps of the porch,
sending their voices out upon the air and up to
Mr. Parcher's window in the song they found
loveliest that summer.

Miss Pratt carried the air. William also carried
it part of the time and hunted for it the rest of
the time, though never in silence. Miss Parcher
``sang alto,'' Mr. Bullitt ``sang bass,'' and Mr.
Watson ``sang tenor''--that is, he sang as high
as possible, often making the top sound of a chord
and always repeating the last phrase of each line
before the others finished it. The melody was a
little too sweet, possibly; while the singers
thought so highly of the words that Mr. Parcher
missed not one, especially as the vocal rivalry
between Josie-Joe and Ickle Boy Baxter incited
each of them to prevent Miss Pratt from hearing
the other.

William sang loudest of all; Mr. Parcher had
at no time any difficulty in recognizing his voice.

``Oh, I love my love in the morning
And I love my love at night,
I love my love in the dawning,
And when the stars are bright.
Some may love the sunshine,
Others may love the dew.
Some may love the raindrops,
But I love only you-OO-oo!
By the stars up above
It is you I luh-HUV!
Yes, _I_ love own-LAY you!''

They sang it four times; then Mr. Bullitt
sang his solo, ``Tell her, O Golden Moon, how I
Adore her,'' William following with ``The violate
loves the cowslip, but _I_ love YEW,'' and after that
they all sang, ``Oh, I love my love in the morning,''

All this while that they sang of love, Mr.
Parcher was moving to and fro upon his bed, not
more than eighteen feet in an oblique upward-
slanting line from the heads of the serenaders.
Long, long he tossed, listening to the young
voices singing of love; long, long he thought of
love, and many, many times he spoke of it aloud,
though he was alone in the room. And in thus
speaking of it, he would give utterance to phrases
and words probably never before used in
connection with love since the world began.

His thoughts, and, at intervals, his mutterings,
continued to be active far into the night, long
after the callers had gone, and though his household
and the neighborhood were at rest, with
never a katydid outside to rail at the waning
moon. And by a coincidence not more singular
than most coincidences, it happened that at just
about the time he finally fell asleep, a young lady
at no great distance from him awoke to find her
self thinking of him.



This was Miss Jane Baxter. She opened her
eyes upon the new-born day, and her first
thoughts were of Mr. Parcher. That is, he was
already in her mind when she awoke, a circumstance
to be accounted for on the ground that his
conversation, during her quiet convalescence in
his library, had so fascinated her that in all
likelihood she had been dreaming of him. Then, too,
Jane and Mr. Parcher had a bond in common,
though Mr. Parcher did not know it. Not without
result had William repeated Miss Pratt's
inquiry in Jane's hearing: ``Who IS that curious
child?'' Jane had preserved her sang-froid, but
the words remained with her, for she was one of
those who ponder and retain in silence.

She thought almost exclusively of Mr. Parcher
until breakfast-time, and resumed her thinking
of him at intervals during the morning. Then,
in the afternoon, a series of quiet events not
unconnected with William's passion caused her to
think of Mr. Parcher more poignantly than ever;
nor was her mind diverted to a different channel
by another confidential conversation with her
mother. Who can say, then, that it was not by
design that she came face to face with Mr.
Parcher on the public highway at about five
o'clock that afternoon? Everything urges the
belief that she deliberately set herself in his path.

Mr. Parcher was walking home from his office,
and he walked slowly, gulping from time to time,
as he thought of the inevitable evening before
him. His was not a rugged constitution, and for
the last fortnight or so he had feared that it was
giving way altogether. Each evening he felt
that he was growing weaker, and sometimes he
thought piteously that he might go away for a
while. He did not much care where, though what
appealed to him most, curiously enough, was not
the thought of the country, with the flowers and
little birds; no, what allured him was the idea
that perhaps he could find lodgment for a time
in an Old People's Home, where the minimum
age for inmates was about eighty.

Walking more and more slowly, as he
approached the dwelling he had once thought of as
home, he became aware of a little girl in a
checkered dress approaching him at a gait varied by
the indifferent behavior of a barrel-hoop which
she was disciplining with a stick held in her right
hand. When the hoop behaved well, she came
ahead rapidly; when it affected to be intoxicated,
which was most often its whim, she zigzagged
with it, and gained little ground. But all the
while, and without reference to what went on
concerning the hoop, she slowly and continuously
fed herself (with her left hand) small, solemnly
relished bites of a slice of bread-and-butter covered
with apple sauce and powdered sugar.

Mr. Parcher looked upon her, and he shivered
slightly; for he knew her to be Willie Baxter's

Unaware of the emotion she produced in him,
Jane checked her hoop and halted.

``G'd afternoon, Mister Parcher,'' she said,

``Good afternoon,'' he returned, without much

Jane looked up at him trustfully and with a
strange, unconscious fondness. ``You goin' home
now, Mr. Parcher?'' she asked, turning to walk
at his side. She had suspended the hoop over
her left arm and transferred the bread-and-butter
and apple sauce and sugar to her right, so that
she could eat even more conveniently than

``I suppose so,'' he murmured.

``My brother Willie's been at your house all
afternoon,'' she remarked.

He repeated, ``I suppose so,'' but in a tone
which combined the vocal tokens of misery and
of hopeless animosity.

``He just went home,'' said Jane. ``I was 'cross
the street from your house, but I guess he didn't
see me. He kept lookin' back at your house.
Miss Pratt was on the porch.''

``I suppose so.'' This time it was a moan.

Jane proceeded to give him some information.
``My brother Willie isn't comin' back to your
house to-night, but he doesn't know it yet.''

``What!'' exclaimed Mr. Parcher.

``Willie isn't goin' to spend any more evenings
at your house at all,'' said Jane, thoughtfully.
``He isn't, but he doesn't know it yet.''

Mr. Parcher gazed fixedly at the wonderful
child, and something like a ray of sunshine
flickered over his seamed and harried face. ``Are
you SURE he isn't?'' he said. ``What makes you
think so?''

``I know he isn't,'' said demure Jane. ``It's
on account of somep'm I told mamma.''

And upon this a gentle glow began to radiate
throughout Mr. Parcher. A new feeling budded
within his bosom; he was warmly attracted to
Jane. She was evidently a child to be cherished,
and particularly to be encouraged in the line of
conduct she seemed to have adopted. He wished
the Bullitt and Watson families each had a little
girl like this. Still, if what she said of William
proved true, much had been gained and life might
be tolerable, after all.

``He'll come in the afternoons, I guess,'' said
Jane. ``But you aren't home then, Mr. Parcher,
except late like you were that day of the Sunday-
school class. It was on account of what you
said that day. I told mamma.''

``Told your mamma what?''

``What you said.''

Mr. Parcher's perplexity continued. ``What

``About Willie. YOU know!'' Jane smiled fraternally.

``No, I don't.''

``It was when I was layin' in the liberry, that
day of the Sunday-school class,'' Jane told him.
``You an' Mrs. Parcher was talkin' in there about
Miss Pratt an' Willie an' everything.''

``Good heavens!'' Mr. Parcher, summoning his
memory, had placed the occasion and Jane
together. ``Did you HEAR all that?''

``Yes.'' Jane nodded. ``I told mamma all
what you said.''


``Well,'' said Jane, ``I guess it's good I did,
because look--that's the very reason mamma did
somep'm so's he can't come any more except in
daytime. I guess she thought Willie oughtn't
to behave so's't you said so many things about
him like that; so to-day she did somep'm, an' now
he can't come any more to behave that loving
way of Miss Pratt that you said you would be in
the lunatic asylum if he didn't quit. But he
hasn't found it out yet.''

``Found what out, please?'' asked Mr. Parcher,
feeling more affection for Jane every moment.

``He hasn't found out he can't come back to
your house to-night; an' he can't come back to-
morrow night, nor day-after-to-morrow night,

``Is it because your mamma is going to tell
him he can't?''

``No, Mr. Parcher. Mamma says he's too old
--an' she said she didn't like to, anyway. She
just DID somep'm.''

``What? What did she do?''

``It's a secret,'' said Jane. ``I could tell you
the first part of it--up to where the secret
begins, I expect.''

``Do!'' Mr. Parcher urged.

``Well, it's about somep'm Willie's been
WEARIN','' Jane began, moving closer to him as
they slowly walked onward. ``I can't tell you
what they were, because that's the secret--but
he had 'em on him every evening when he came
to see Miss Pratt, but they belong to papa, an'
papa doesn't know a word about it. Well, one
evening papa wanted to put 'em on, because he
had a right to, Mr. Parcher, an' Willie didn't
have any right to at all, but mamma couldn't
find 'em; an' she rummidged an' rummidged
'most all next day an' pretty near every day since
then an' never did find 'em, until don't you
believe I saw Willie inside of 'em only last night!
He was startin' over to your house to see Miss
Pratt in 'em! So I told mamma, an' she said it 'd
haf to be a secret, so that's why I can't tell you
what they were. Well, an' then this afternoon,
early, I was with her, an' she said, long as I had
told her the secret in the first place, I could come
in Willie's room with her, an' we both were
already in there anyway, 'cause I was kind of
thinkin' maybe she'd go in there to look for 'em,
Mr. Parcher--''

``I see,'' he said, admiringly. ``I see.''

``Well, they were under Willie's window-seat,
all folded up; an' mamma said she wondered
what she better do, an' she was worried because
she didn't like to have Willie behave so's you an'
Mrs. Parcher thought that way about him. So
she said the--the secret--what Willie wears,
you know, but they're really papa's an' aren't
Willie's any more'n they're MINE--well, she said
the secret was gettin' a little teeny bit too tight
for papa, but she guessed they--I mean the
secret--she said she guessed it was already pretty
loose for Willie; so she wrapped it up, an' I went
with her, an' we took 'em to a tailor, an' she told
him to make 'em bigger, for a surprise for papa,
'cause then they'll fit him again, Mr. Parcher.
She said he must make 'em a whole lot bigger.
She said he must let 'em way, WAY out! So I
guess Willie would look too funny in 'em after
they're fixed; an' anyway, Mr. Parcher, the secret
won't be home from the tailor's for two weeks,
an' maybe by that time Miss Pratt'll be gone.''

They had reached Mr. Parcher's gate; he
halted and looked down fondly upon this child
who seemed to have read his soul. ``Do you
honestly think so?'' he asked.

``Well, anyway, Mr. Parcher,'' said Jane,
``mamma said--well, she said she's sure Willie
wouldn't come here in the evening any more
when YOU're at home, Mr. Parcher--'cause after
he'd been wearin' the secret every night this way
he wouldn't like to come and not have the secret
on. Mamma said the reason he would feel like
that was because he was seventeen years old. An'
she isn't goin' to tell him anything about it,
Mr. Parcher. She said that's the best way.''

Her new friend nodded and seemed to agree.
``I suppose that's what you meant when you said
he wasn't coming back but didn't know it yet?''

``Yes, Mr. Parcher.''

He rested an elbow upon the gate-post, gazing
down with ever-increasing esteem. ``Of course
I know your last name,'' he said, ``but I'm afraid
I've forgotten your other one.''

``It's Jane.''

``Jane,'' said Mr. Parcher, ``I should like to do
something for you.''

Jane looked down, and with eyes modestly
lowered she swallowed the last fragment of the
bread-and-butter and apple sauce and sugar
which had been the constantly evanescent
companion of their little walk together. She was
not mercenary; she had sought no reward.

``Well, I guess I must run home,'' she said.
And with one lift of her eyes to his and a shy
laugh--laughter being a rare thing for Jane--
she scampered quickly to the corner and was

But though she cared for no reward, the
extraordinary restlessness of William, that evening,
after dinner, must at least have been of
great interest to her. He ascended to his own
room directly from the table, but about twenty
minutes later came down to the library, where
Jane was sitting (her privilege until half after
seven) with her father and mother. William
looked from one to the other of his parents and
seemed about to speak, but did not do so. Instead,
he departed for the upper floor again and
presently could be heard moving about energetically
in various parts of the house, a remote
thump finally indicating that he was doing something
with a trunk in the attic.

After that he came down to the library again
and once more seemed about to speak, but did
not. Then he went up-stairs again, and came
down again, and he was still repeating this process
when Jane's time-limit was reached and she
repaired conscientiously to her little bed. Her
mother came to hear her prayers and to turn out
the light; and--when Mrs. Baxter had passed out
into the hall, after that, Jane heard her speaking
to William, who was now conducting what seemed
to be excavations on a serious scale in his own

``Oh, Willie, perhaps I didn't tell you, but--
you remember I'd been missing papa's evening
clothes and looking everywhere for days and

``Ye--es,'' huskily from William.

``Well, I found them! And where do you
suppose I'd put them? I found them under
your window-seat. Can you think of anything
more absurd than putting them there and then
forgetting it? I took them to the tailor's to
have them let out. They were getting too tight
for papa, but they'll be all right for him when the
tailor sends them back.''

What the stricken William gathered from this
it is impossible to state with accuracy; probably
he mixed some perplexity with his emotions.
Certainly he was perplexed the following evening
at dinner.

Jane did not appear at the table. ``Poor
child! she's sick in bed,'' Mrs. Baxter explained
to her husband. ``I was out, this afternoon, and
she ate nearly ALL of a five-pound box of candy.''

Both the sad-eyed William and his father
were dumfounded. ``Where on earth did she
get a five-pound box of candy?'' Mr. Baxter

``I'm afraid Jane has begun her first affair,''
said Mrs. Baxter. ``A gentleman sent it to her.''

``What gentleman?'' gasped William.

And in his mother's eyes, as they slowly came
to rest on his in reply, he was aware of an
inscrutability strongly remindful of that inscrutable
look of Jane's.

``Mr. Parcher,'' she said, gently.



Mrs. BAXTER'S little stroke of diplomacy
had gone straight to the mark,
she was a woman of insight. For every reason
she was well content to have her son spend his
evenings at home, though it cannot be claimed
that his presence enlivened the household, his
condition being one of strange, trancelike
irascibility. Evening after evening passed, while he
sat dreaming painfully of Mr. Parcher's porch;
but in the daytime, though William did not
literally make hay while the sun shone, he at
least gathered a harvest somewhat resembling
hay in general character.


One afternoon, having locked his door to
secure himself against intrusion on the part of
his mother or Jane, William seated himself
at his writing-table, and from a drawer therein
took a small cardboard box, which he uncovered,
placing the contents in view before him upon
the table. (How meager, how chilling a word is
``contents''!) In the box were:

A faded rose.

Several other faded roses, disintegrated into

Three withered ``four-leaf clovers.''

A white ribbon still faintly smelling of violets.

A small silver shoe-buckle.

A large pearl button.

A small pearl button.

A tortoise-shell hair-pin.

A cross-section from the heel of a small slipper.

A stringy remnant, probably once an improvised
wreath of daisies.

Four or five withered dandelions.

Other dried vegetation, of a nature now

William gazed reverently upon this junk of
precious souvenirs; then from the inner pocket
of his coat he brought forth, warm and crumpled,
a lumpish cluster of red geranium blossoms, still
aromatic and not quite dead, though naturally,
after three hours of such intimate confinement,
they wore an unmistakable look of suffering.
With a tenderness which his family had never
observed in him since that piteous day in his
fifth year when he tried to mend his broken doll,
William laid the geranium blossoms in the cardboard
box among the botanical and other relics.

His gentle eyes showed what the treasures
meant to him, and yet it was strange that they
should have meant so much, because the source
of supply was not more than a quarter of a mile
distant, and practically inexhaustible. Miss
Pratt had now been a visitor at the Parchers'
for something less than five weeks, but she
had made no mention of prospective departure,
and there was every reason to suppose that she
meant to remain all summer. And as any
foliage or anything whatever that she touched,
or that touched her, was thenceforth suitable for
William's museum, there appeared to be some
probability that autumn might see it so enlarged
as to lack that rarity in the component items
which is the underlying value of most collections.

William's writing-table was beside an open
window, through which came an insistent whirring,
unagreeable to his mood; and, looking down
upon the sunny lawn, he beheld three lowly
creatures. One was Genesis; he was cutting
the grass. Another was Clematis; he had
assumed a transient attitude, curiously triangular,
in order to scratch his ear, the while his anxious
eyes never wavered from the third creature.

This was Jane. In one hand she held a little
stack of sugar-sprinkled wafers, which she slowly
but steadily depleted, unconscious of the
increasingly earnest protest, at last nearing agony,
in the eyes of Clematis. Wearing unaccustomed
garments of fashion and festivity, Jane stood, in
speckless, starchy white and a blue sash, watching
the lawn-mower spout showers of grass as the
powerful Genesis easily propelled it along over
lapping lanes, back and forth, across the yard.

From a height of illimitable loftiness the owner
of the cardboard treasury looked down upon the
squat commonplaceness of those three lives.
The condition of Jane and Genesis and Clematis
seemed almost laughably pitiable to him, the
more so because they were unaware of it. They
breathed not the starry air that William breathed,
but what did it matter to them? The wretched
things did not even know that they meant
nothing to Miss Pratt!

Clematis found his ear too pliable for any great
solace from his foot, but he was not disappointed;
he had expected little, and his thoughts were
elsewhere. Rising, he permitted his nose to follow
his troubled eyes, with the result that it touched
the rim of the last wafer in Jane's external

This incident annoyed William. ``Look there!''
he called from the window. ``You mean to eat
that cake after the dog's had his face on it?''

Jane remained placid. ``It wasn't his face.''

``Well, if it wasn't his face, I'd like to know

``It wasn't his face,'' Jane repeated. ``It was
his nose. It wasn't all of his nose touched it,
either. It was only a little outside piece of his

``Well, are you going to eat that cake, I ask

Jane broke off a small bit of the wafer. She
gave the bit to Clematis and slowly ate what
remained, continuing to watch Genesis and
apparently unconscious of the scorching gaze from
the window.

``I never saw anything as disgusting as long
as I've lived!'' William announced. ``I wouldn't
'a' believed it if anybody'd told me a sister of
mine would eat after--''

``I didn't,'' said Jane. ``I like Clematis, anyway.''

``Ye gods!'' her brother cried. ``Do you think
that makes it any better? And, BY the WAY,'' he
continued, in a tone of even greater severity, ``I'd
a like to know where you got those cakes. Where'd
you get 'em, I'd just like to inquire?''

``In the pantry.'' Jane turned and moved
toward the house. ``I'm goin' in for some more,

William uttered a cry; these little cakes were
sacred. His mother, growing curious to meet a
visiting lady of whom (so to speak) she had
heard much and thought more, had asked May
Parcher to bring her guest for iced tea, that
afternoon. A few others of congenial age had been
invited: there was to be a small matinee, in fact,
for the honor and pleasure of the son of the house,
and the cakes of Jane's onslaught were part of
Mrs. Baxter's preparations. There was no telling
where Jane would stop; it was conceivable that
Miss Pratt herself might go waferless.

William returned the cardboard box to its
drawer with reverent haste; then, increasing the
haste, but dropping the reverence, he hied himself
to the pantry with such advantage of longer
legs that within the minute he and the wafers
appeared in conjunction before his mother, who
was arranging fruit and flowers upon a table in
the ``living-room.''

William entered in the stained-glass attitude
of one bearing gifts. Overhead, both hands
supported a tin pan, well laden with small cakes and
wafers, for which Jane was silently but repeatedly
and systematically jumping. Even under the
stress of these efforts her expression was cool and
collected; she maintained the self-possession that
was characteristic of her.

Not so with William; his cheeks were flushed,
his eyes indignant. ``You see what this child is
doing?'' he demanded. ``Are you going to let her
ruin everything?''

``Ruin?'' Mrs. Baxter repeated, absently,
refreshing with fair water a bowl of flowers upon
the table. ``Ruin?''

``Yes, ruin!'' William was hotly emphatic,
``If you don't do something with her it 'll all be
ruined before Miss Pr--before they even get

Mrs. Baxter laughed. ``Set the pan down,

``Set it DOWN?'' he echoed, incredulously
``With that child in the room and grabbing

``There!'' Mrs. Baxter took the pan from him,
placed it upon a chair, and with the utmost coolness
selected five wafers and gave them to Jane.
``I'd already promised her she could have five
more. You know the doctor said Jane's digestion
was the finest he'd ever misunderstood. They
won't hurt her at all, Willie.''

This deliberate misinterpretation of his motives
made it difficult for William to speak. ``Do YOU
think,'' he began, hoarsely, ``do you THINK--''

``They're so small, too,'' Mrs. Baxter went on.
``SHE probably wouldn't be sick if she ate them

``My heavens!'' he burst forth. ``Do you think
I was worrying about--'' He broke off, unable to
express himself save by a few gestures of despair.
Again finding his voice, and a great deal of it, he
demanded: ``Do you realize that Miss PRATT will
be here within less than half an hour? What do
you suppose she'd think of the people of this
town if she was invited out, expecting decent
treatment, and found two-thirds of the cakes
eaten up before she got there, and what was left
of 'em all mauled and pawed over and crummy
and chewed-up lookin' from some wretched
CHILD?'' Here William became oratorical, but not
with marked effect, since Jane regarded him with
unmoved eyes, while Mrs. Baxter continued to
be mildly preoccupied in arranging the table.
In fact, throughout this episode in controversy
the ladies' party had not only the numerical but
the emotional advantage. Obviously, the
approach of Miss Pratt was not to them what it
was to William. ``I tell you,'' he declaimed;--
``yes, I tell you that it wouldn't take much
of this kind of thing to make Miss Pratt think
the people of this town were--well, it wouldn't
take much to make her think the people of this
town hadn't learned much of how to behave in
society and were pretty uncilivized!'' He
corrected himself . ``Uncivilized! And to think
Miss Pratt has to find that out in MY house!
To think--''

``Now, Willie,'' said Mrs. Baxter, gently,
``you'd better go up and brush your hair again
before your friends come. You mustn't let yourself
get so excited.''

`` `Excited!' '' he cried, incredulously. ``Do
you think I'm EXCITED? Ye gods!''
He smote his hands together and, in his despair
of her intelligence, would have flung himself
down upon a chair, but was arrested half-way by
simultaneous loud outcries from his mother and

``Don't sit on the CAKES!'' they both screamed.

Saving himself and the pan of wafers by a
supreme contortion at the last instant, William
decided to remain upon his feet. ``What do I
care for the cakes?'' he demanded, contemptuously,
beginning to pace the floor. ``It's the
question of principle I'm talking about! Do you
think it's right to give the people of this town a
poor name when strangers like Miss PRATT come
to vis--''

``Willie!'' His mother looked at him hopelessly.
``Do go and brush your hair. If you
could see how you've tousled it you would.''

He gave her a dazed glance and strode from
the room.

Jane looked after him placidly. ``Didn't he
talk funny!'' she murmured.

``Yes, dear,'' said Mrs. Baxter. She shook her
head and uttered the enigmatic words, ``They

``I mean Willie, mamma,'' said Jane. ``If it's
anything about Miss Pratt. he always talks awful
funny. Don't you think Willie talks awful funny
if it's anything about Miss Pratt, mamma?''

``Yes, but--''

``What, mamma?'' Jane asked as her mother

``Well--it happens. People do get like that at
his age, Jane.''

``Does everybody?''

``No, I suppose not everybody. Just some.''

Jane's interest was roused. ``Well, do those
that do, mamma,'' she inquired, ``do they all act
like Willie?''

``No,'' said Mrs. Baxter. ``That's the trouble;
you can't tell what's coming.''

Jane nodded. ``I think I know,'' she said.
``You mean Willie--''

William himself interrupted her. He returned
violently to the doorway, his hair still tousled,
and, standing upon the threshold, said, sternly:

``What is that child wearing her best dress

``Willie!'' Mrs. Baxter cried. ``Go brush your

``I wish to know what that child is all dressed
up for?'' he insisted.

``To please you! Don't you want her to look
her best at your tea?''

``I thought that was it!'' he cried, and upon
this confirmation of his worst fears he did
increased violence to his rumpled hair. ``I
suspected it, but I wouldn't 'a' believed it! You
mean to let this child--you mean to let--'' Here
his agitation affected his throat and his utterance
became clouded. A few detached phrases fell
from him: ``--Invite MY friends--children's
party--ye gods!--think Miss Pratt plays dolls--''

``Jane will be very good,'' his mother said. ``I
shouldn't think of not having her, Willie, and
you needn't bother about your friends; they'll be
very glad to see her. They all know her, except
Miss Pratt, perhaps, and--'' Mrs. Baxter
paused; then she asked, absently: ``By the way,
haven't I heard somewhere that she likes
pretending to be a little girl, herself?''


``Yes,'' said Mrs. Baxter, remaining calm;
``I'm sure I've heard somewhere that she likes
to talk `baby-talk.' ''

Upon this a tremor passed over William, after
which he became rigid. ``You ask a lady to your
house,'' he began, ``and even before she gets here,
before you've even seen her, you pass judgment
upon one of the--one of the noblest--''

``Good gracious! _I_ haven't `passed judgment.'
If she does talk `baby-talk,' I imagine she does it
very prettily, and I'm sure I've no objection.
And if she does do it, why should you be insulted
by my mentioning it?''

``It was the way you said it,'' he informed her,

``Good gracious! I just said it!'' Mrs. Baxter
laughed, and then, probably a little out of
patience with him, she gave way to that innate
mischievousness in such affairs which is not unknown
to her sex. ``You see, Willie, if she pretends to
be a cunning little girl, it will be helpful to Jane
to listen and learn how.''

William uttered a cry; he knew that he was
struck, but he was not sure how or where. He
was left with a blank mind and no repartee.
Again he dashed from the room.

In the hall, near the open front door, he came
to a sudden halt, and Mrs. Baxter and Jane heard
him calling loudly to the industrious Genesis:

``Here! You go cut the grass in the back yard,
and for Heaven's sake, take that dog with you!''

``Grass awready cut roun' back,'' responded
the amiable voice of Genesis, while the lawn-
mower ceased not to whir. ``Cut all 'at back yod
's mawnin'.''

``Well, you can't cut the front yard now. Go
around in the back yard and take that dog with

``Nemmine 'bout 'at back yod! Ole Clem ain'
trouble nobody.''

``You hear what I tell you?'' William shouted.
``You do what I say and you do it quick!''

Genesis laughed gaily. ``I got my grass to

``You decline to do what I command you?''
William roared.

``Yes, indeedy! Who pay me my wages? 'At's
MY boss. You' ma say, 'Genesis, you git all 'at
lawn mowed b'fo' sundown.' No, suh! Nee'n'
was'e you' bref on me, 'cause I'm got all MY time
good an' took up!''

Once more William presented himself fatefully
to his mother and Jane. ``May I just kindly ask
you to look out in the front yard?''

``I'm familiar with it, Willie,'' Mrs. Baxter
returned, a little wearily.

``I mean I want you to look at Genesis.''

``I'm familiar with his appearance, too,'' she
said. ``Why in the world do you mind his cutting
the grass?''

William groaned. ``Do you honestly want
guests coming to this house to see that awful old
darky out there and know that HE'S the kind of
servants we employ? Ye gods!''

``Why, Genesis is just a neighborhood outdoors
darky, Willie; he works for half a dozen
families besides us. Everybody in this part of
town knows him.''

``Yes,'' he cried, ``but a lady that didn't live
here wouldn't. Ye gods! What do you suppose
she WOULD think? You know what he's got on!''

``It's a sort of sleeveless jersey he wears, Willie,
I think.''

``No, you DON'T think that!'' he cried, with
great bitterness. ``You know it's not a jersey!
You know perfectly well what it is, and yet you
expect to keep him out there when--when one of
the one of the nobl--when my friends arrive!
And they'll think that's our DOG out there, won't
they? When intelligent people come to a house
and see a dog sitting out in front, they think it's
the family in the house's dog, don't they?''
William's condition becoming more and more
disordered, he paced the room, while his agony rose
to a climax. ``Ye gods! What do you think Miss
Pratt will think of the people of this town, when
she's invited to meet a few of my friends and the
first thing she sees is a nigger in his undershirt?
What 'll she think when she finds that child's
eaten up half the food, and the people have to
explain that the dog in the front yard belongs to
the darky--'' He interrupted himself with a
groan: ``And prob'ly she wouldn't believe it.
Anybody'd SAY they didn't own a dog like that!
And that's what you want her to see, before she
even gets inside the house! Instead of a regular
gardener in livery like we ought to have, and a
bulldog or a good Airedale or a fox-hound, or
something, the first things you want intelligent
people from out of town to see are that awful old
darky and his mongrel scratchin' fleas and like
as not lettin' 'em get on other people! THAT'd be
nice, wouldn't it? Go out to tea expecting decent
treatment and get fl--''


Mrs. Baxter managed to obtain his attention.
``If you'll go and brush your hair I'll
send Genesis and Clematis away for the rest of
the afternoon. And then if you 'll sit down
quietly and try to keep cool until your friends
get here, I'll--''

`` `Quietly'!'' he echoed, shaking his head over
this mystery. ``I'm the only one that IS quiet
around here. Things 'd be in a fine condition to
receive guests if I didn't keep pretty cool, I

``There, there,'' she said, soothingly. ``Go and
brush your hair. And change your collar, Willie;
it's all wilted. I'll send Genesis away.''

His wandering eye failed to meet hers with any
intelligence. ``Collar,'' he muttered, as if in
soliloquy. ``Collar.''

``Change it!'' said Mrs. Baxter, raising her
voice. ``It's WILTED.''

He departed in a dazed manner.

Passing through the hall, he paused abruptly,
his eye having fallen with sudden disapproval
upon a large, heavily framed, glass-covered
engraving, ``The Battle of Gettysburg,'' which
hung upon the wall, near the front door. Undeniably,
it was a picture feeble in decorative
quality; no doubt, too, William was right in
thinking it as unworthy of Miss Pratt, as were
Jane and Genesis and Clematis. He felt that she
must never see it, especially as the frame had
been chipped and had a corner broken, but it was
more pleasantly effective where he found it than
where (in his nervousness) he left it. A few
hasty jerks snapped the elderly green cords by
which it was suspended; then he laid the picture
upon the floor and with his handkerchief made a
curious labyrinth of avenues in the large oblong
area of fine dust which this removal disclosed
upon the wall. Pausing to wipe his hot brow
with the same implement, he remembered that
some one had made allusions to his collar and
hair, whereupon he sprang to the stairs, mounted
two at a time, rushed into his own room, and
confronted his streaked image in the mirror.



After ablutions, he found his wet hair plastic,
and easily obtained the long, even sweep
backward from the brow, lacking which no male
person, unless bald, fulfilled his definition of a
man of the world. But there ensued a period of
vehemence and activity caused by a bent collar-
button, which went on strike with a desperation
that was downright savage. The day was warm
and William was warmer; moisture bedewed him
afresh. Belated victory no sooner arrived than
he perceived a fatal dimpling of the new collar,
and was forced to begin the operation of exchanging
it for a successor. Another exchange, however,
he unfortunately forgot to make: the
handkerchief with which he had wiped the wall
remained in his pocket.

Voices from below, making polite laughter,
warned him that already some of the bidden
party had arrived, and, as he completed the
fastening of his third consecutive collar, an
ecstasy of sound reached him through the open
window--and then, Oh then! his breath behaved
in an abnormal manner and he began to tremble.
It was the voice of Miss Pratt, no less!

He stopped for one heart-struck look from his
casement. All in fluffy white and heliotrope she
was--a blonde rapture floating over the sidewalk
toward William's front gate. Her little white
cottony dog, with a heliotrope ribbon round his
neck, bobbed his head over her cuddling arm; a
heliotrope parasol shielded her infinitesimally
from the amorous sun. Poor William!

Two youths entirely in William's condition of
heart accompanied the glamorous girl and hung
upon her rose-leaf lips, while Miss Parcher
appeared dimly upon the outskirts of the group,
the well-known penalty for hostesses who entertain
such radiance. Probably it serves them right.

To William's reddening ear Miss Pratt's voice
came clearly as the chiming of tiny bells, for she
spoke whimsically to her little dog in that tinkling
childlike fashion which was part of the spell she

``Darlin' Flopit,'' she said, ``wake up! Oo
tummin' to tea-potty wiz all de drowed-ups.
P'eshus Flopit, wake up!''

Dizzy with enchantment, half suffocated, his
heart melting within him, William turned from
the angelic sounds and fairy vision of the
window. He ran out of the room, and plunged down
the front stairs. And the next moment the crash
of breaking glass and the loud thump-bump of a
heavily falling human body resounded through
the house.

Mrs. Baxter, alarmed, quickly excused herself
from the tea-table, round which were gathered
four or five young people, and hastened to the
front hall, followed by Jane. Through the open
door were seen Miss Pratt, Miss Parcher, Mr.
Johnnie Watson and Mr. Joe Bullitt coming leisurely
up the sunny front walk, laughing and unaware
of the catastrophe which had just occurred
within the shadows of the portal. And at a little
distance from the foot of the stairs William was
seated upon the prostrate ``Battle of Gettysburg.''

``It slid,'' he said, hoarsely. ``I carried it
upstairs with me''--he believed this--``and somebody
brought it down and left it lying flat on
the floor by the bottom step on purpose to trip
me! I stepped on it and it slid.'' He was in a
state of shock: it seemed important to impress
upon his mother the fact that the picture had
not remained firmly in place when he stepped
upon it. ``It SLID, I tell you!''

``Get up, Willie!'' she urged, under her breath,
and as he summoned enough presence of mind to
obey, she beheld ruins other than the wrecked
engraving. She stifled a cry. ``WILLIE! Did the
glass cut you?''

He felt himself. ``No'm.''

``It did your trousers! You'll have to change
them. Hurry!''

Some of William's normal faculties were
restored to him by one hasty glance at the back of
his left leg, which had a dismantled appearance.
A long blue strip of cloth hung there, with white
showing underneath.

``HURRY!'' said Mrs. Baxter. And hastily gathering
some fragments of glass, she dropped them
upon the engraving, pushed it out of the way,
and went forward to greet Miss Pratt and her

As for William, he did not even pause to close
his mouth, but fled with it open. Upward he
sped, unseen, and came to a breathless halt upon
the landing at the top of the stairs.

As it were in a dream he heard his mother's
hospitable greetings at the door, and then the
little party lingered in the hall, detained by Miss
Pratt's discovery of Jane.

``Oh, tweetums tootums ickle dirl!'' he heard
the ravishing voice exclaim. ``Oh, tootums ickle
blue sash!''

``It cost a dollar and eighty-nine cents,'' said
Jane. ``Willie sat on the cakes.''

``Oh no, he didn't,'' Mrs. Baxter laughed. ``He
didn't QUITE!''

``He had to go up-stairs,'' said Jane. And as
the stricken listener above smote his forehead,
she added placidly, ``He tore a hole in his

She seemed about to furnish details, her mood
being communicative, but Mrs. Baxter led the
way into the ``living-room''; the hall was vacated,
and only the murmur of voices and laughter
reached William. What descriptive information
Jane may have added was spared his hearing,
which was a mercy.

And yet it may be that he could not have felt
worse than he did; for there IS nothing worse than
to be seventeen and to hear one of the Noblest
girls in the world told by a little child that you
sat on the cakes and tore a hole in your clo'es.

William leaned upon the banister railing and
thought thoughts about Jane. For several long,
seething moments he thought of her exclusively.
Then, spurred by the loud laughter of rivals and
the agony of knowing that even in his own
house they were monopolizing the attention of
one of the Noblest, he hastened into his own,
room and took account of his reverses.

Standing with his back to the mirror, he
obtained over his shoulder a view of his trousers
which caused him to break out in a fresh
perspiration. Again he wiped his forehead with the
handkerchief, and the result was instantly visible
in the mirror.

The air thickened with sounds of frenzy, followed
by a torrential roar and great sputterings
in a bath-room, which tumult subsiding, William
returned at a tragic gallop to his room and, having
removed his trousers, began a feverish examination
of the garments hanging in a clothes-
closet. There were two pairs of flannel trousers
which would probably again be white and possible,
when cleaned and pressed, but a glance
showed that until then they were not to be
considered as even the last resort of desperation.
Beside them hung his ``last year's summer suit''
of light gray.

Feverishly he brought it forth, threw off his
coat, and then--deflected by another glance at
the mirror--began to change his collar again.
This was obviously necessary, and to quicken
the process he decided to straighten the bent
collar-button. Using a shoe-horn as a lever, he
succeeded in bringing the little cap or head of the
button into its proper plane, but, unfortunately,
his final effort dislodged the cap from the rod
between it and the base, and it flew off
malignantly into space. Here was a calamity; few
things are more useless than a decapitated collar-
button, and William had no other. He had made
sure that it was his last before he put it on, that
day; also he had ascertained that there was none
in, on, or about his father's dressing-table.
Finally, in the possession of neither William nor
his father was there a shirt with an indigenous

For decades, collar-buttons have been on the
hand-me-down shelves of humor; it is a mistake
in the catalogue. They belong to pathos. They
have done harm in the world, and there have
been collar-buttons that failed when the destinies
of families hung upon them. There have been
collar-buttons that thwarted proper matings.
There have been collar-buttons that bore last
hopes, and, falling to the floor, NEVER were found!
William's broken collar-button was really the
only collar-button in the house, except such as
were engaged in serving his male guests below.

At first he did not realize the extent of his
misfortune. How could he? Fate is always
expected to deal its great blows in the grand
manner. But our expectations are fustian
spangled with pinchbeck; we look for tragedy
to be theatrical. Meanwhile, every day before
our eyes, fate works on, employing for its
instruments the infinitesimal, the ignoble and the
petty--in a word, collar-buttons.

Of course William searched his dressing-
table and his father's, although he had been
thoroughly over both once before that day. Next
he went through most of his mother's and Jane's
accessories to the toilette; through trinket-boxes,
glove-boxes, hairpin-boxes, handkerchief-cases--
even through sewing-baskets. Utterly he
convinced himself that ladies not only use no collar-
buttons, but also never pick them up and put
them away among their own belongings. How
much time he consumed in this search is difficult
to reckon;--it is almost impossible to believe
that there is absolutely no collar-button in a

And what William's state of mind had become
is matter for exorbitant conjecture. Jane,
arriving at his locked door upon an errand, was
bidden by a thick, unnatural voice to depart.

``Mamma says, `What in mercy's name is the
matter?' '' Jane called. ``She whispered to me,
`Go an' see what in mercy's name is the matter
with Willie; an' if the glass cut him, after all; an'
why don't he come down'; an' why don't you,
Willie? We're all havin' the nicest time!''

``You g'way!'' said the strange voice within
the room. ``G'way!''

``Well, did the glass cut you?''

``No! Keep quiet! G'way!''

``Well, are you EVER comin' down to your

``Yes, I am! G'way!''

Jane obeyed, and William somehow completed
the task upon which he was engaged. Genius
had burst forth from his despair; necessity had
become a mother again, and William's collar was
in place. It was tied there. Under his necktie
was a piece of string.

He had lost count of time, but he was frantically
aware of its passage; agony was in the
thought of so many rich moments frittered away;
up-stairs, while Joe Bullitt and Johnnie Watson
made hay below. And there was another spur
to haste in his fear that the behavior of Mrs.
Baxter might not be all that the guest of honor
would naturally expect of William's mother.
As for Jane, his mind filled with dread; shivers
passed over him at intervals.

It was a dismal thing to appear at a ``party''
(and that his own) in ``last summer's suit,'' but
when he had hastily put it on and faced the
mirror, he felt a little better--for three or four
seconds. Then he turned to see how the back of
it looked.

And collapsed in a chair, moaning.



He remembered now what he had been too
hurried to remember earlier. He had worn
these clothes on the previous Saturday, and,
returning from a glorified walk with Miss Pratt,
he had demonstrated a fact to which his near-
demolition of the wafers, this afternoon, was
additional testimony. This fact, roughly stated,
is that a person of seventeen, in love, is liable
to sit down anywhere. William had dreamily
seated himself upon a tabouret in the library,
without noticing that Jane had left her open
paint-box there. Jane had just been painting
sunsets; naturally all the little blocks of color
were wet, and the effect upon William's pale-
gray trousers was marvelous--far beyond the
capacity of his coat to conceal. Collar-
buttons and children's paint-boxes--those are the
trolls that lie in wait!

The gray clothes and the flannel trousers had
been destined for the professional cleaner, and
William, rousing himself from a brief stupor,
made a piteous effort to substitute himself for
that expert so far as the gray trousers were
concerned. He divested himself of them and brought
water, towels, bath-soap, and a rubber bath-
sponge to the bright light of his window; and;
there, with touching courage and persistence,
he tried to scrub the paint out of the cloth. He
obtained cloud studies and marines which would
have interested a Post-Impressionist, but upon
trousers they seemed out of place.

There came one seeking and calling him again;
raps sounded upon the door, which he had not
forgotten to lock.

``Willie,'' said a serious voice, ``mamma wants
to know what in mercy's name is the matter!
She wants to know if you know for mercy's name
what time it is! She wants to know what in
mercy's name you think they're all goin' to think!
She says--''


``Well, she said I had to find out what in
mercy's name you're doin', Willie.''

``You tell her,'' he shouted, hoarsely--``tell her
I'm playin' dominoes! What's she THINK I'm

``I guess''--Jane paused, evidently to complete
the swallowing of something--``I guess she
thinks you're goin' crazy. I don't like Miss
Pratt, but she lets me play with that little dog.
It's name's Flopit!''

``You go 'way from that door and stop bothering
me,'' said William. ``I got enough on my

``Mamma looks at Miss Pratt,'' Jane remarked.
``Miss Pratt puts cakes in that Mr. Bullitt's
mouth and Johnnie Watson's mouth, too. She's

William made it plain that these bulletins from
the party found no favor with him. He bellowed,
``If you don't get away from that DOOR--''

Jane was interested in the conversation, but
felt that it would be better to return to the
refreshment-table. There she made use of her
own conception of a whisper to place before
her mother a report which was considered
interesting and even curious by every one present;
though, such was the courtesy of the little
assembly, there was a general pretense of not

``I told him,'' thus whispered Jane, ``an' he
said, `You g'way from that door or I'll do
somep'm'--he didn't say what, mamma. He
said, `What you think I'm doin'? I'm playin'
dominoes.' He didn't mean he WAS playin'
dominoes, mamma. He just said he was. I
think maybe he was just lookin' in the lookin'-
glass some more.''

Mrs. Baxter was becoming embarrassed. She
resolved to go to William's room herself at the
first opportunity; but for some time her
conscientiousness as a hostess continued to occupy
her at the table, and then, when she would have
gone, Miss Pratt detained her by a roguish appeal
to make Mr. Bullitt and Mr. Watson behave.
Both refused all nourishment except such as was
placed in their mouths by the delicate hand of
one of the Noblest, and the latter said that really
she wanted to eat a little tweetie now and
then herself, and not to spend her whole time
feeding the Men. For Miss Pratt had the
same playfulness with older people that she had
with those of her own age; and she elaborated
her pretended quarrel with the two young gentlemen,
taking others of the dazzled company into
her confidence about it, and insisting upon
``Mamma Batster's'' acting formally as judge
to settle the difficulty. However, having thus
arranged matters, Miss Pratt did not resign the
center of interest, but herself proposed a
compromise: she would continue to feed Mr. Bullitt
and Mr. Watson ``every other tweetie''--that is,
each must agree to eat a cake ``all by him own
self,'' after every cake fed to him. So the
comedietta went on, to the running accompaniment
of laughter, with Mr. Bullitt and Mr.
Watson swept by such gusts of adoration they
were like to perish where they sat. But Mrs.
Baxter's smiling approval was beginning to be
painful to the muscles of her face, for it was
hypocritical. And if William had known her
thoughts about one of the Noblest, he could only
have attributed them to that demon of groundless
prejudice which besets all females, but most
particularly and outrageously the mothers and
sisters of Men.

A colored serving-maid entered with a laden
tray, and, having disposed of its freight of bon-
bons among the guests, spoke to Mrs. Baxter in
a low voice.

``Could you manage step in the back hall a
minute, please, ma'am?''

Mrs. Baxter managed and, having closed the
door upon the laughing voices, asked, quickly--
``What is it, Adelia? Have you seen Mr. William?
Do you know why he doesn't come down?''

``Yes'm,'' said Adelia. ``He gone mighty near
out his head, Miz Baxter.''


``Yes'm. He come floppin' down the back
stairs in his baf-robe li'l' while ago. He jes'
gone up again. He 'ain't got no britches, Miz

``No WHAT?''

``No'm,'' said Adelia. ``He 'ain't got no
britches at all.''

A statement of this kind is startling under
Almost any circumstances, and it is unusually so
when made in reference to a person for whom a
party is being given. Therefore it was not
unreasonable of Mrs. Baxter to lose her breath.

``But--it can't BE!'' she gasped. ``He has!
He has plenty!''

``No'm, he 'ain't,'' Adelia assured her. ``An'
he's carryin' on so I don't scarcely think he
knows much what he's doin', Miz Baxter. He
brung down some gray britches to the kitchen
to see if I couldn' press an' clean 'em right quick:
they was the ones Miss Jane, when she's paintin'
all them sunsets, lef' her paint-box open, an' one
them sunsets got on these here gray britches,
Miz Baxter; an' hones'ly, Miz Baxter, he's fixed
'em in a condishum, tryin' to git that paint out,
I don't believe it 'll be no use sendin' 'em to the
cleaner. `Clean 'em an' press 'em QUICK?' I says.
`I couldn' clean 'em by Resurreckshum, let alone
pressin' 'em!' No'm! Well, he had his blue
britches, too, but they's so ripped an' tore an'
kind o' shredded away in one place, the cook she
jes' hollered when he spread 'em out, an' he
didn' even ast me could I mend 'em. An' he
had two pairs o' them white flannen britches, but
hones'ly, Miz Baxter, I don't scarcely think
Genesis would wear 'em, the way they is now!
`Well,' I says, `ain't but one thing lef' to do _I_ can
see,' I says. `Why don't you go put on that
nice black suit you had las' winter?' ''

``Of course!'' Mrs. Baxter cried. ``I'll go

``No'm,'' said Adelia. ``You don' need to.
He's up in the attic now, r'arin' roun' 'mongs'
them trunks, but seem to me like I remember
you put that suit away under the heavy blankets
in that big cedar ches' with the padlock. If you
jes' tell me where is the key, I take it up to him.''

``Under the bureau in the spare room,'' said
Mrs. Baxter. ``HURRY!''

Adelia hurried; and, fifteen minutes later,
William, for the last time that afternoon, surveyed
himself in his mirror. His face showed the
strain that had been upon him and under which
he still labored; the black suit was a map of
creases, and William was perspiring more freely
than ever under the heavy garments. But at
least he was clothed.

He emptied his pockets, disgorging upon the
floor a multitude of small white spheres, like
marbles. Then, as he stepped out into the hall,
he discovered that their odor still remained about
him; so he stopped and carefully turned his
pockets inside out, one after the other, but finding
that he still smelled vehemently of the ``moth-
balls,'' though not one remained upon him, he
went to his mother's room and sprinkled violet
toilet-water upon his chest and shoulders. He
disliked such odors, but that left by the moth-
balls was intolerable, and, laying hands upon a
canister labeled ``Hyacinth,'' he contrived to pour
a quantity of scented powder inside his collar,
thence to be distributed by the force of gravity
so far as his dampness permitted.

Lo, William was now ready to go to his party!
Moist, wilted, smelling indeed strangely, he was

But when he reached the foot of the stairs he
discovered that there was one thing more to be
done. Indignation seized him, and also a creeping
fear chilled his spine, as he beheld a lurking
shape upon the porch, stealthily moving toward
the open door. It was the lowly Clematis, dog
unto Genesis.

William instantly divined the purpose of
Clematis. It was debatable whether Clematis
had remained upon the premises after the
departure of Genesis, or had lately returned thither
upon some errand of his own, but one thing was
certain, and the manner of Clematis--his attitude,
his every look, his every gesture--made
it as clear as day. Clematis had discovered, by
one means or another, the presence of Flopit in
the house, and had determined to see him personally.

Clematis wore his most misleading expression;
a stranger would have thought him shy and
easily turned from his purpose--but William was
not deceived. He knew that if Clematis meant
to see Flopit, a strong will, a ready brain, and
stern action were needed to thwart him; but
at all costs that meeting must be prevented.
Things had been awful enough, without that!

He was well aware that Clematis could not be
driven away, except temporarily, for nothing was
further fixed upon Clematis than his habit of
retiring under pressure, only to return and return
again. True, the door could have been shut in
the intruder's face, but he would have sought
other entrance with possible success, or, failing
that, would have awaited in the front yard the
dispersal of the guests and Flopit's consequent
emerging. This was a contretemps not to be

The door of the living-room was closed, muffling
festal noises and permitting safe passage
through the hall. William cast a hunted look
over his shoulder; then he approached Clematis.

``Good ole doggie,'' he said, huskily. ``Hyuh,
Clem! Hyuh, Clem!''

Clematis moved sidelong, retreating with his
head low and his tail denoting anxious thoughts.

``Hyuh, Clem!'' said William, trying, with
only fair success, to keep his voice from sounding
venomous. ``Hyuh, Clem!''

Clematis continued his deprecatory retreat.

Thereupon William essayed a ruse--he pretended
to nibble at something, and then extended
his hand as if it held forth a gift of food. ``Look,
Clem,'' he said. ``Yum-yum! Meat, Clem!
Good meat!''

For once Clematis was half credulous. He did
not advance, but he elongated himself to investigate
the extended hand, and the next instant
found himself seized viciously by the scruff of
the neck. He submitted to capture in absolute
silence. Only the slightest change of countenance
betrayed his mortification at having been
found so easy a gull; this passed, and a look
of resolute stoicism took its place.

He refused to walk, but offered merely nominal
resistance, as a formal protest which he wished
to be of record, though perfectly understanding
that it availed nothing at present. William

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