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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSeventeen - Chapter I. WILLIAM
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Seventeen - Chapter I. WILLIAM Post by :CONSTANCE Category :Long Stories Author :Booth Tarkington Date :February 2011 Read :2542

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Seventeen - Chapter I. WILLIAM

William Sylvanus Baxter paused
for a moment of thought in front of the
drug-store at the corner of Washington Street
and Central Avenue. He had an internal question
to settle before he entered the store: he
wished to allow the young man at the soda-
fountain no excuse for saying, ``Well, make up
your mind what it's goin' to be, can't you?''
Rudeness of this kind, especially in the presence
of girls and women, was hard to bear, and though
William Sylvanus Baxter had borne it upon
occasion, he had reached an age when he found
it intolerable. Therefore, to avoid offering
opportunity for anything of the kind, he decided
upon chocolate and strawberry, mixed, before
approaching the fountain. Once there, however,
and a large glass of these flavors and diluted
ice-cream proving merely provocative, he said,
languidly--an affectation, for he could have
disposed of half a dozen with gusto: ``Well, now
I'm here, I might as well go one more. Fill 'er
up again. Same.''

Emerging to the street, penniless, he bent a
fascinated and dramatic gaze upon his reflection
in the drug-store window, and then, as he turned
his back upon the alluring image, his expression
altered to one of lofty and uncondescending
amusement. That was his glance at the passing
public. From the heights, he seemed to bestow
upon the world a mysterious derision--for William
Sylvanus Baxter was seventeen long years
of age, and had learned to present the appearance
of one who possesses inside information about life
and knows all strangers and most acquaintances
to be of inferior caste, costume, and intelligence.

He lingered upon the corner awhile, not pressed
for time. Indeed, he found many hours of these
summer months heavy upon his hands, for he had
no important occupation, unless some intermittent
dalliance with a work on geometry (anticipatory
of the distant autumn) might be thought
important, which is doubtful, since he usually
went to sleep on the shady side porch at his
home, with the book in his hand. So, having
nothing to call him elsewhere, he lounged before
the drug-store in the early afternoon sunshine,
watching the passing to and fro of the lower
orders and bourgeoisie of the middle-sized mid-
land city which claimed him (so to speak) for a
native son.

Apparently quite unembarrassed by his presence,
they went about their business, and the only
people who looked at him with any attention
were pedestrians of color. It is true that when
the gaze of these fell upon him it was instantly
arrested, for no colored person could have passed
him without a little pang of pleasure and of
longing. Indeed, the tropical violence of William
Sylvanus Baxter's tie and the strange brilliancy
of his hat might have made it positively unsafe
for him to walk at night through the negro
quarter of the town. And though no man could
have sworn to the color of that hat, whether it
was blue or green, yet its color was a saner thing
than its shape, which was blurred, tortured, and
raffish; it might have been the miniature model
of a volcano that had blown off its cone and
misbehaved disastrously on its lower slopes as well.
He had the air of wearing it as a matter of course
and with careless ease, but that was only an air--
it was the apple of his eye.

For the rest, his costume was neutral, subordinate,
and even a little neglected in the matter of a
detail or two: one pointed flap of his soft collar
was held down by a button, but the other showed
a frayed thread where the button once had been;
his low patent-leather shoes were of a luster not
solicitously cherished, and there could be no
doubt that he needed to get his hair cut, while
something might have been done, too, about
the individualized hirsute prophecies which had
made independent appearances, here and there,
upon his chin. He examined these from time
to time by the sense of touch, passing his hand
across his face and allowing his finger-tips a
slight tapping motion wherever they detected a

Thus he fell into a pleasant musing and seemed
to forget the crowded street.

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He was roused by the bluff greeting of anacquaintance not dissimilar to himself inage, manner, and apparel.``H'lo, Silly Bill!'' said this person,William Sylvanus Baxter. ``What's the news?''William showed no enthusiasm; on thecontrary, a frown of annoyance appeared upon hisbrow. The nickname ``Silly Bill''--long agocompounded by merry child-comrades from``William'' and ``Sylvanus''--was not to histaste, especially in public he preferred tobe addressed simply and manfully as ``Baxter.'' Any direct expression of resentment, however,was difficult, since it was plain that JohnnieWatson intended no offense whatever and butspoke out of custom.``Don't know any,'' William replied, coldly.``Dull times, ain't it?'' said Mr. Watson,

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Denis had been called, but in spite of the parted curtains he haddropped off again into that drowsy, dozy state when sleep becomesa sensual pleasure almost consciously savoured. In thiscondition he might have remained for another hour if he had notbeen disturbed by a violent rapping at the door."Come in," he mumbled, without opening his eyes. The latchclicked, a hand seized him by the shoulder and he was rudelyshaken."Get up, get up!"His eyelids blinked painfully apart, and he saw Mary standingover him, bright-faced and earnest."Get up!" she repeated. "You must go and send the telegram.Don't you remember?""O Lord!"