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Seventeen by Booth Tarkington

Part 6 out of 6

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``Yes, dear,'' she said. ``I understand, of
course. Jane only told me she met Mr. Parcher
on the street, and he mentioned that Miss Pratt
was going at one o'clock to-day. That's all

``You say you understand,'' he wailed, shaking
his head drearily at the closed door, ``and yet,
even on such a day as this, you keep TALKING!
Can't you see sometimes there's times when a
person can't stand to--''

``Yes, Willie,'' Mrs. Baxter interposed,
hurriedly. ``Of course! I'm going now. I have
to go hunt up those children, anyway. You try
to be back for lunch at half past one--and don't
worry, dear; you really WILL be all right!''

She departed, a sigh from the abyss following
her as she went down the hall. Her comforting
words meant nothing pleasant to her son, who
felt that her optimism was out of place and
tactless. He had no intention to be ``all right,'' and
he desired nobody to interfere with his misery.

He went to his mirror, and, gazing long--long
and piercingly--at the William there limned, enacted,
almost unconsciously, a little scene of parting.
The look of suffering upon the mirrored face
slowly altered; in its place came one still
sorrowful, but tempered with sweet indulgence. He
stretched out his hand, as if he set it upon a head
at about the height of his shoulder.

``Yes, it may mean--it may mean forever!''
he said in a low, tremulous voice. ``Little girl,
we MUST be brave!''

And the while his eyes gazed into the mirror,
they became expressive of a momentary pleased
surprise, as if, even in the arts of sorrow, he
found himself doing better than he knew. But his
sorrow was none the less genuine because of that.

Then he noticed the ink upon his forehead, and
went away to wash. When he returned he did
an unusual thing--he brushed his coat thoroughly,
removing it for this special purpose.
After that, he earnestly combed and brushed his
hair, and retied his tie. Next, he took from a
drawer two clean handkerchiefs. He placed one
in his breast pocket, part of the colored border
of the handkerchief being left on exhibition,
and with the other he carefully wiped his shoes.
Finally, he sawed it back and forth across them,
and, with a sigh, languidly dropped it upon the
floor, where it remained.

Returning to the mirror, he again brushed his
hair--he went so far, this time, as to brush his
eyebrows, which seemed not much altered by the
operation. Suddenly, he was deeply affected by
something seen in the glass.

``By George!'' he exclaimed aloud.

Seizing a small hand-mirror, he placed it in
juxtaposition to his right eye, and closely studied
his left profile as exhibited in the larger mirror.
Then he examined his right profile, subjecting it
to a like scrutiny emotional, yet attentive and

``By George!'' he exclaimed, again. ``By

He had made a discovery. There was a downy
shadow upon his upper lip. What he had just
found out was that this down could be seen
projecting beyond the line of his lip, like a tiny
nimbus. It could be seen in PROFILE.

``By GEORGE!'' William exclaimed.

He was still occupied with the two mirrors when
his mother again tapped softly upon his door,
rousing him as from a dream (brief but engaging)
to the heavy realities of that day.

``What you want now?''

``I won't come in,'' said Mrs. Baxter. ``I just
came to see.''

``See what?''

``I wondered-- I thought perhaps you needed
something. I knew your watch was out of

``F'r 'evan's sake what if it is?''

She offered a murmur of placative laughter as
her apology, and said: ``Well, I just thought
I'd tell you--because if you did intend going
to the station, I thought you probably wouldn't
want to miss it and get there too late. I've got
your hat here all nicely brushed for you. It's
nearly twenty minutes of one, Willie.''


``Yes, it is. It's--''

She had no further speech with him.

Breathless, William flung open his door, seized
the hat, racketed down the stairs, and out
through the front door, which he left open behind
him. Eight seconds later he returned at a gallop,
hurtled up the stairs and into his room, emerging
instantly with something concealed under his
coat. Replying incoherently to his mother's
inquiries, he fell down the stairs as far as the
landing, used the impetus thus given as a help
to greater speed for the rest of the descent--and
passed out of hearing.

Mrs. Baxter sighed, and went to a window
in her own room, and looked out.

William was already more than half-way to
the next corner, where there was a car-line
that ran to the station; but the distance was
not too great for Mrs. Baxter to comprehend the
nature of the symmetrical white parcel now carried
in his right hand. Her face became pensive
as she gazed after the flying slender figure:--there
came to her mind the recollection of a seventeen-
year-old boy who had brought a box of candy (a
small one, like William's) to the station, once,
long ago, when she had been visiting in another
town. For just a moment she thought of that
boy she had known, so many years ago, and a
smile came vaguely upon her lips. She wondered
what kind of a woman he had married, and how
many children he had--and whether he was a

The fleeting recollection passed; she turned
from the window and shook her head, puzzled.

``Now where on earth could Jane and that
little Kirsted girl have gone?'' she murmured.

. . . At the station, William, descending from
the street-car, found that he had six minutes to
spare. Reassured of so much by the great clock
in the station tower, he entered the building, and,
with calm and dignified steps, crossed the large
waiting-room. Those calm and dignified steps
were taken by feet which little betrayed the
tremulousness of the knees above them. Moreover,
though William's face was red, his expression--
cold, and concentrated upon high matters
--scorned the stranger, and warned the lower
classes that the mission of this bit of gentry
was not to them.

With but one sweeping and repellent glance
over the canaille present, he made sure that the
person he sought was not in the waiting-room.
Therefore, he turned to the doors which gave
admission to the tracks, but before he went out
he paused for an instant of displeasure. Hard
by the doors stood a telephone-booth, and from
inside this booth a little girl of nine or ten
was peering eagerly out at William, her eyes just
above the lower level of the glass window in the

Even a prospect thus curtailed revealed her as
a smudged and dusty little girl; and, evidently,
her mother must have been preoccupied with
some important affair that day; but to William
she suggested nothing familiar. As his glance
happened to encounter hers, the peering eyes
grew instantly brighter with excitement;--she
exposed her whole countenance at the window,
and impulsively made a face at him.

William had not the slightest recollection of
ever having seen her before.

He gave her one stern look and went on;
though he felt that something ought to be done.
The affair was not a personal one--patently,
this was a child who played about the station
and amused herself by making faces at everybody
who passed the telephone-booth--still, the
authorities ought not to allow it. People did not
come to the station to be insulted.

Three seconds later the dusty-faced little girl
and her moue were sped utterly from William's
mind. For, as the doors swung together behind
him, he saw Miss Pratt. There were no gates
nor iron barriers to obscure the view; there was
no train-shed to darken the air. She was at
some distance, perhaps two hundred feet, along
the tracks, where the sleeping-cars of the long
train would stop. But there she stood, mistakable
for no other on this wide earth!

There she stood--a glowing little figure in the
hazy September sunlight, her hair an amber mist
under the adorable little hat; a small bunch of
violets at her waist; a larger bunch of fragrant
but less expensive sweet peas in her right hand;
half a dozen pink roses in her left; her little dog
Flopit in the crook of one arm; and a one-pound
box of candy in the crook of the other--ineffable,
radiant, starry, there she stood!

Near her also stood her young hostess, and
Wallace Banks, Johnnie Watson, and Joe Bullitt
--three young gentlemen in a condition of solemn
tensity. Miss Parcher saw William as he
emerged from the station building, and she
waved her parasol in greeting, attracting the
attention of the others to him, so that they:
all turned and stared.

Seventeen sometimes finds it embarrassing
(even in a state of deep emotion) to walk two
hundred feet, or thereabout, toward a group of
people who steadfastly watch the long approach.
And when the watching group contains the lady
of all the world before whom one wishes to
appear most debonair, and contains not only her,
but several rivals, who, though FAIRLY good-
hearted, might hardly be trusted to neglect such
an opportunity to murmur something jocular
about one-- No, it cannot be said that William
appeared to be wholly without self-consciousness.

In fancy he had prophesied for this moment
something utterly different. He had seen himself
parting from her, the two alone as within a
cloud. He had seen himself gently placing his
box of candy in her hands, some of his fingers
just touching some of hers and remaining thus
lightly in contact to the very last. He had seen
himself bending toward the sweet blonde head to
murmur the few last words of simple eloquence,
while her eyes lifted in mysterious appeal to his
--and he had put no other figures, not even Miss
Parcher's, into this picture.

Parting is the most dramatic moment in young
love, and if there is one time when the lover
wishes to present a lofty but graceful appearance
it is at the last. To leave with the loved
one, for recollection, a final picture of manly
dignity in sorrow--that, above all things, is the
lover's desire. And yet, even at the beginning
of William's two-hundred-foot advance (later so
much discussed) he felt the heat surging over his
ears, and, as he took off his hat, thinking to
wave it jauntily in reply to Miss Parcher, he
made but an uncertain gesture of it, so that he
wished he had not tried it. Moreover, he had
covered less than a third of the distance, when
he became aware that all of the group were staring
at him with unaccountable eagerness, and
had begun to laugh.

William felt certain that his attire was in no
way disordered, nor in itself a cause for laughter;--
all of these people had often seen him
dressed as he was to-day, and had preserved
their gravity. But, in spite of himself, he took
off his hat again, and looked to see if anything
about it might explain this mirth, which, at his
action, increased. Nay, the laughter began to be
shared by strangers; and some set down their
hand-luggage for greater pleasure in what they

William's inward state became chaotic.

He tried to smile carelessly, to prove his
composure, but he found that he had lost almost all
control over his features. He had no knowledge
of his actual expression except that it hurt him.
In desperation he fell back upon hauteur; he
managed to frown, and walked proudly. At that
they laughed the more, Wallace Banks rudely
pointing again and again at William; and not
till the oncoming sufferer reached a spot within
twenty feet of these delighted people did he
grasp the significance of Wallace's repeated gesture
of pointing. Even then he understood only
when the gesture was supplemented by half-
articulate shouts:

``Behind you! Look BEHIND you!''

The stung youth turned.

There, directly behind him, he beheld an
exclusive little procession consisting of two damsels
in single file, the first soiled with house-moving,
the second with apple sauce.

For greater caution they had removed their
shoes; and each damsel, as she paraded, dangled
from each far-extended hand a shoe. And both
damsels, whether beneath apple sauce or dust
smudge, were suffused with the rapture of a great

They were walking with their stummicks out
o' joint.

At sight of William's face they squealed. They
turned and ran. They got themselves out of

Simultaneously, the air filled with solid thunder
and the pompous train shook the ground. Ah,
woe's the word! This was the thing that meant
to bear away the golden girl and honeysuckle of
the world--meant to, and would, not abating one
iron second!

Now a porter had her hand-bag.

Dear Heaven! to be a porter--yes, a colored
one! What of that, NOW? Just to be a simple
porter, and journey with her to the far, strange
pearl among cities whence she had come!

The gentle porter bowed her toward the steps
of his car; but first she gave Flopit into the hands
of May Parcher, for a moment, and whispered
a word to Wallace Banks; then to Joe Bullitt;
then to Johnnie Watson;--then she ran to William.

She took his hand.

``Don't forget!'' she whispered. ``Don't
forget Lola!''

He stood stock-still. His face was blank, his
hand limp. He said nothing.

She enfolded May Parcher, kissed her
devotedly; then, with Flopit once more under her
arm, she ran and jumped upon the steps just
as the train began to move. She stood there, on
the lowest step, slowly gliding away from them,
and in her eyes there was a sparkle of tears, left,
it may be, from her laughter at poor William's
pageant with Jane and Rannie Kirsted--or, it
may be, not.

She could not wave to her friends, in answer
to their gestures of farewell, for her arms were
too full of Flopit and roses and candy and sweet
peas; but she kept nodding to them in a way
that showed them how much she thanked them
for being sorry she was going--and made it clear
that she was sorry, too, and loved them all.

``Good-by!'' she meant.

Faster she glided; the engine passed from sight
round a curve beyond a culvert, but for a moment
longer they could see the little figure upon
the steps--and, to the very last glimpse they
had of her, the small, golden head was still
nodding ``Good-by!'' Then those steps whereon
she stood passed in their turn beneath the culvert,
and they saw her no more.

Lola Pratt was gone!

Wet-eyed, her young hostess of the long
summer turned away, and stumbled against William.
``Why, Willie Baxter!'' she cried, blinking at

The last car of the train had rounded the curve
and disappeared, but William was still waving
farewell--not with his handkerchief, but with a
symmetrical, one-pound parcel, wrapped in white
tissue-paper, girdled with blue ribbon.

``Never mind!'' said May Parcher. ``Let's
all walk Up-town together, and talk about her on
the way, and we'll go by the express-office, and
you can send your candy to her by express,



In the smallish house which all summer long,
from morning until late at night, had
resounded with the voices of young people, echoing
their songs, murmurous with their theories of
love, or vibrating with their glee, sometimes
shaking all over during their more boisterous
moods--in that house, now comparatively so
vacant, the proprietor stood and breathed deep

``Hah!'' he said, inhaling and exhaling the air

His wife was upon the porch, outside, sewing.
The silence was deep. He seemed to listen to it
--to listen with gusto; his face slowly broadening,
a pinkish tint overspreading it. His flaccid
cheeks appeared to fill, to grow firm again, a
smile finally widening them.

``HAH!'' he breathed, sonorously. He gave
himself several resounding slaps upon the chest,
then went out to the porch and sat in a rocking-
chair near his wife. He spread himself out
expansively. ``My Glory!'' he said. ``I believe
I'll take off my coat! I haven't had my coat off,
outside of my own room, all summer. I believe
I'll take a vacation! By George, I believe I'll
stay home this afternoon!''

``That's nice,'' said Mrs. Parcher.

``Hah!'' he said. ``My Glory! I believe I'll
take off my shoes!''

And, meeting no objection, he proceeded to
carry out this plan.

``Hah-AH!'' he said, and placed his stockinged
feet upon the railing, where a number of vines,
running upon strings, made a screen between
the porch and the street. He lit a large cigar.
``Well, well!'' he said. ``That tastes good!
If this keeps on, I'll be in as good shape as I
was last spring before you know it!'' Leaning
far back in the rocking-chair, his hands
behind his head, he smoked with fervor; but
suddenly he jumped in a way which showed that his
nerves were far from normal. His feet came to
the floor with a thump, he jerked the cigar out of
his mouth, and turned a face of consternation
upon his wife.

``What's the matter?''

``Suppose,'' said Mr. Patcher, huskily--
``suppose she missed her train.''

Mrs. Parcher shook her head.

``Think not?'' he said, brightening. ``I ordered
the livery-stable to have a carriage here in
lots of time.''

``They did,'' said Mrs. Parcher, severely.
``About five dollars' worth.''

``Well, I don't mind that,'' he returned,
putting his feet up again. ``After all, she was a
mighty fine little girl in her way. The only
trouble with me was that crowd of boys;--having
to listen to them certainly liked to killed me, and
I believe if she'd stayed just one more day I'd
been a goner! Of all the dam boys I ever--''
He paused, listening.

``Mr. Parcher!'' a youthful voice repeated.

He rose, and, separating two of the vines which
screened the end of the porch from the street,
looked out. Two small maidens had paused upon
the sidewalk, and were peering over the
picket fence.

``Mr. Parcher,'' said Jane, as soon as his head
appeared between the vines--``Mr. Parcher, Miss
Pratt's gone. She's gone away on the cars.''

``You think so?'' he asked, gravely.

``We saw her,'' said Jane. ``Rannie an' I
were there. Willie was goin' to chase us, I guess,
but we went in the baggage-room behind trunks,
an' we saw her go. She got on the cars, an' it
went with her in it. Honest, she's gone away,
Mr. Parcher.''

Before speaking, Mr. Parcher took a long look
at this telepathic child. In his fond eyes she was
a marvel and a darling.

``Well--THANK you, Jane!'' he said.

Jane, however, had turned her head and was
staring at the corner, which was out of his sight.

``Oo-oo-ooh!'' she murmured.

``What's the trouble, Jane?''

``Willie!'' she said. ``It's Willie an' that Joe
Bullitt, an' Johnnie Watson, an' Mr. Wallace
Banks. They're with Miss May Parcher. They're
comin' right here!''

Mr. Parcher gave forth a low moan, and turned
pathetically to his wife, but she cheered him
with a laugh.

``They've only walked up from the station
with May,'' she said. ``They won't come in.
You'll see!''

Relieved, Mr. Parcher turned again to speak
to Jane--but she was not there. He caught
but a glimpse of her, running up the street as
fast as she could, hand in hand with her companion.

``Run, Rannie, run!'' panted Jane. ``I got
to get home an' tell mamma about it before
Willie. I bet I ketch Hail Columbia, anyway,
when he does get there!''

And in this she was not mistaken: she caught
Hail Columbia. It lasted all afternoon.

It was still continuing after dinner. Thatt
evening, when an oft-repeated yodel, followed by
a shrill-wailed, ``Jane-ee! Oh, Jane-NEE-ee!''
brought her to an open window down-stairs. In
the early dusk she looked out upon the washed face
of Rannie Kirsted, who stood on the lawn below.

``Come on out, Janie. Mamma says I can
stay outdoors an' play till half past eight.''

Jane shook her head. ``I can't. I can't go
outside the house till to-morrow. It's because
we walked after Willie with our stummicks out
o' joint.''

``Pshaw!'' Rannie cried, lightly. ``My mother
didn't do anything to me for that.''

``Well, nobody told her on you,'' said Jane,

``Can't you come out at all?'' Rannie urged.
``Go ask your mother. Tell her--''

``How can I,'' Jane inquired, with a little heat,
``when she isn't here to ask? She's gone out to
play cards--she and papa.''

Rannie swung her foot. ``Well,'' she said,
``I guess I haf to find SOMEp'n to do! G' night!''

With head bowed in thought she moved away,
disappearing into the gray dusk, while Jane, on
her part, left the window and went to the open
front door. Conscientiously, she did not cross
the threshold, but restrained herself to looking
out. On the steps of the porch sat William,
alone, his back toward the house.

``Willie?'' said Jane, softly; and, as he made
no response, she lifted her voice a little.

``Whatchwant!'' he grunted, not moving.

``Willie, I told mamma I was sorry I made you
feel so bad.''

``All right!'' he returned, curtly.

``Well, when I haf to go to bed, Willie,'' she
said, ``mamma told me because I made you feel
bad I haf to go up-stairs by myself, to-night.''

She paused, seeming to hope that he would
say something, but he spake not.

``Willie, I don't haf to go for a while yet, but
when I do--maybe in about a half an hour--I
wish you'd come stand at the foot of the stairs
till I get up there. The light's lit up-stairs,
but down around here it's kind of dark.''

He did not answer.

``Will you, Willie?''

``Oh, all RIGHT!'' he said.

This contented her, and she seated herself so
quietly upon the floor, just inside the door, that
he ceased to be aware of her, thinking she had
gone away. He sat staring vacantly into the
darkness, which had come on with that abruptness
which begins to be noticeable in September.
His elbows were on his knees, and his body was
sunk far forward in an attitude of desolation.

The small noises of the town--that town so
empty to-night--fell upon his ears mockingly.
It seemed to him incredible that so hollow a town
could go about its nightly affairs just as usual.
A man and a woman, going by, laughed loudly at
something the man had said: the sound of their
laughter was horrid to William. And from a
great distance from far out in the country--
there came the faint, long-drawn whistle of an

That was the sorrowfulest sound of all to
William. His lonely mind's eye sought the
vasty spaces to the east; crossed prairie, and
river, and hill, to where a long train whizzed
onward through the dark--farther and farther
and farther away. William uttered a sigh, so
hoarse, so deep from the tombs, so prolonged,
that Jane, who had been relaxing herself at full
length upon the floor, sat up straight with a jerk.

But she was wise enough not to speak.

Now the full moon came masquerading among
the branches of the shade-trees; it came in the
likeness of an enormous football, gloriously
orange. Gorgeously it rose higher, cleared the
trees, and resumed its wonted impersonation of
a silver disk. Here was another mockery: What
was the use of a moon NOW?

Its use appeared straightway.

In direct coincidence with that rising moon,
there came from a little distance down the
street the sound of a young male voice, singing.
It was not a musical voice, yet sufficiently loud;
and it knew only a portion of the words and air it
sought to render, but, upon completing the portion
it did know, it instantly began again, and
sang that portion over and over with brightest
patience. So the voice approached the residence
of the Baxter family, singing what the shades of
night gave courage to sing--instead of whistle,
as in the abashing sunlight.


``My countree, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liber-tee,
My countree, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liber-tee,
My countree, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liber-tee,
My countree, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liber-tee,
My countree, 'tis--''

Jane spoke unconsciously. ``It's Freddie,'' she

William leaped to his feet; this was something
he could NOT bear! He made a bloodthirsty dash
toward the gate, which the singer was just in the
act of passing.

``You GET OUT O' HERE!'' William roared.

The song stopped. Freddie Banks fled like a
rag on the wind.

. . . Now here is a strange matter.

The antique prophets prophesied successfully;
they practised with some ease that art since lost
but partly rediscovered by M. Maeterlinck, who
proves to us that the future already exists,
simultaneously with the present. Well, if his
proofs be true, then at this very moment when
William thought menacingly of Freddie Banks,
the bright air of a happy June evening--an
evening ordinarily reckoned ten years, nine months
and twenty-one days in advance of this present
sorrowful evening--the bright air of that happy
June evening, so far in the future, was actually
already trembling to a wedding-march played
upon a church organ; and this selfsame Freddie,
with a white flower in his buttonhole, and in
every detail accoutred as a wedding usher, was
an usher for this very William who now (as we
ordinarily count time) threatened his person.

But for more miracles:

As William turned again to resume his meditations
upon the steps, his incredulous eyes fell upon
a performance amazingly beyond fantasy, and
without parallel as a means to make scorn of
him. Not ten feet from the porch--and in the
white moonlight that made brilliant the path to
the gate--Miss Mary Randolph Kirsted was
walking. She was walking with insulting pomposity
in her most pronounced semicircular manner.

``YOU GET OUT O' HERE!'' she said, in a voice as
deep and hoarse as she could make it. ``YOU

Her intention was as plain as the moon. She
was presenting in her own person a sketch of
William, by this means expressing her opinion
of him and avenging Jane.

``YOU GET OUT O' HERE!'' she croaked.

The shocking audacity took William's breath.
He gasped; he sought for words.

``Why, you--you--'' he cried. ``You--you
sooty-faced little girl!''

In this fashion he directly addressed Miss
Mary Randolph Kirsted for the first time in his

And that was the strangest thing of this strange
evening. Strangest because, as with life itself,
there was nothing remarkable upon the surface
of it. But if M. Maeterlinck has the right
of the matter, and if the bright air of that June
evening, almost eleven years in the so-called
future, was indeed already trembling to ``Lohengrin,''
then William stood with Johnnie Watson
against a great bank of flowers at the foot of a
church aisle; that aisle was roped with white-
satin ribbons; and William and Johnnie were
waiting for something important to happen.
And then, to the strains of ``Here Comes the
Bride,'' it did--a stately, solemn, roseate, gentle
young thing with bright eyes seeking through a
veil for William's eyes.

Yes, if great M. Maeterlinck is right, it seems
that William ought to have caught at least some
eerie echo of that wedding-march, however faint
--some bars or strains adrift before their time
upon the moonlight of this September night in
his eighteenth year.

For there, beyond the possibility of any fate to
intervene, or of any later vague, fragmentary
memory of even Miss Pratt to impair, there in
that moonlight was his future before him.

He started forward furiously. ``You--you--
you little--''

But he paused, not wasting his breath upon the
empty air.

His bride-to-be was gone.

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