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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSeventeen - Chapter V. SORROWS WITHIN A BOILER
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Seventeen - Chapter V. SORROWS WITHIN A BOILER Post by :PinHead_Buddy Category :Long Stories Author :Booth Tarkington Date :February 2011 Read :2870

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Seventeen - Chapter V. SORROWS WITHIN A BOILER

There was something really pageant-like
about the little excursion now, and the glittering
clothes-boiler, borne on high, sent flashing
lights far down the street. The wash-tubs were
old-fashioned, of wood; they refused to fit one
within the other; so William, with his right hand,
and Genesis, with his left, carried one of the tubs
between them; Genesis carried the heavy wringer
with his right hand, and he had fastened the other
tub upon his back by means of a bit of rope
which passed over his shoulder; thus the tin
boiler, being a lighter burden, fell to William.

The cover would not stay in place, but
continually fell off when he essayed to carry the
boiler by one of its handles, and he made shift to
manage the accursed thing in various ways--the
only one proving physically endurable being,
unfortunately, the most grotesque. He was forced
to carry the cover in his left hand and to place his
head partially within the boiler itself, and to support
it--tilted obliquely to rest upon his shoulders
--as a kind of monstrous tin cowl or helmet.
This had the advantage of somewhat concealing
his face, though when he leaned his head back, in
order to obtain clearer vision of what was before
him, the boiler slid off and fell to the pavement
with a noise that nearly caused a runaway, and
brought the hot-cheeked William much derisory
attention from a passing street-car. However, he
presently caught the knack of keeping it in position,
and it fell no more.

Seen from the rear, William was unrecognizable
--but interesting. He appeared to be a walking
clothes-boiler, armed with a shield and connected,
by means of a wash-tub, with a negro of informal
ideas concerning dress. In fact, the group was
whimsical, and three young people who turned in
behind it, out of a cross-street, indulged immediately
in fits of inadequately suppressed laughter,
though neither Miss May Parcher nor Mr.
Johnnie Watson even remotely suspected that
the legs beneath the clothes-boiler belonged to
an acquaintance. And as for the third of this
little party, Miss Parcher's visitor, those
peregrinating legs suggested nothing familiar to her.

``Oh, see the fun-ee laundrymans!'' she cried,
addressing a cottony doglet's head that bobbed
gently up and down over her supporting arm.
``Sweetest Flopit must see, too! Flopit, look at
the fun-ee laundrymans!''

`` 'Sh!'' murmured Miss Parcher, choking. ``He
might hear you.''

He might, indeed, since they were not five
yards behind him and the dulcet voice was clear
and free. Within the shadowy interior of the
clothes-boiler were features stricken with sudden,
utter horror. ``FLOPIT!''

The attention of Genesis was attracted by a
convulsive tugging of the tub which he supported
in common with William; it seemed passionately
to urge greater speed. A hissing issued from the
boiler, and Genesis caught the words, huskily

``Walk faster! You got to walk faster.''

The tub between them tugged forward with a
pathos of appeal wasted upon the easy-going

``I got plenty time cut 'at grass befo' you' pa
gits home,'' he said, reassuringly. ``Thishere
rope what I got my extry tub slung to is 'mos'
wo' plum thew my hide.''

Having uttered this protest, he continued to
ambulate at the same pace, though somewhat
assisted by the forward pull of the connecting
tub, an easance of burden which he found pleasant;
and no supplementary message came from
the clothes-boiler, for the reason that it was
incapable of further speech. And so the two groups
maintained for a time their relative positions,
about fifteen feet apart.

The amusement of the second group having
abated through satiety, the minds of its components
turned to other topics. ``Now Flopit must
have his darlin' 'ickle run,'' said Flopit's mistress,
setting the doglet upon the ground. ``That's
why sweetest Flopit and I and all of us came for
a walk, instead of sitting on the nice, cool porch-
kins. SEE the sweetie toddle! Isn't he adorable,
May? ISN'T he adorable, Mr. Watson?''

Mr. Watson put a useless sin upon his soul,
since all he needed to say was a mere ``Yes.''
He fluently avowed himself to have become
insane over the beauty of Flopit.

Flopit, placed upon the ground, looked like
something that had dropped from a Christmas
tree, and he automatically made use of fuzzy
legs, somewhat longer than a caterpillar's, to
patter after his mistress. He was neither
enterprising nor inquisitive; he kept close to the rim
of her skirt, which was as high as he could see,
and he wished to be taken up and carried again.
He was in a half-stupor; it was his desire to
remain in that condition, and his propulsion was
almost wholly subconscious, though surprisingly
rapid, considering his dimensions.

``My goo'ness!'' exclaimed Genesis, glancing
back over his shoulder. `` 'At li'l' thing ack like
he think he go'n a GIT somewheres!'' And then, in
answer to a frantic pull upon the tub, ``Look like
you mighty strong t'day,'' he said. ``I cain' go
no fastuh!'' He glanced back again, chuckling.
`` 'At li'l' bird do well not mix up nothin' 'ith ole
man Clematis!''

Clematis, it happened, was just coming into
view, having been detained round the corner by
his curiosity concerning a set of Louis XVI.
furniture which some house-movers were unpacking
upon the sidewalk. A curl of excelsior, in fact,
had attached itself to his nether lip, and he was
pausing to remove it--when his roving eye fell
upon Flopit. Clematis immediately decided to
let the excelsior remain where it was, lest he miss
something really important.

He approached with glowing eagerness at a

Then, having almost reached his goal, he
checked himself with surprising abruptness and
walked obliquely beside Flopit, but upon a parallel
course, his manner agitated and his brow
furrowed with perplexity. Flopit was about the
size of Clematis's head, and although Clematis
was certain that Flopit was something alive, he
could not decide what.

Flopit paid not the slightest attention to
Clematis. The self-importance of dogs, like that of
the minds of men, is in directly inverse ratio to
their size; and if the self-importance of Flopit
could have been taken out of him and given to
an elephant, that elephant would have been

Flopit continued to pay no attention to

All at once, a roguish and irresponsible mood
seized upon Clematis; he laid his nose upon the
ground, deliberating a bit of gaiety, and then,
with a little rush, set a large, rude paw upon the
sensitive face of Flopit and capsized him. Flopit
uttered a bitter complaint in an asthmatic voice.

``Oh, nassy dray bid Horror!'' cried his
mistress, turning quickly at this sound and waving a
pink parasol at Clematis. ``Shoo! DIRTY dog!
Go 'way!'' And she was able somehow to connect
him with the wash-tub and boiler, for she
added, ``Nassy laundrymans to have bad

Mr. Watson rushed upon Clematis with angry
bellowings and imaginary missiles. ``You
disgusting brute!'' he roared. ``How DARE you?''

Apparently much alarmed, Clematis lowered
his ears, tucked his tail underneath him, and fled
to the rear, not halting once or looking back until
he disappeared round the corner whence he had
come. ``There!'' said Mr. Watson. ``I guess HE
won't bother us again very soon!''

It must be admitted that Milady was one of
those people who do not mind being overheard,
no matter what they say. ``Lucky for us,'' she
said, ``we had a nice dray bid MANS to protect
us, wasn't it, Flopit?'' And she thought it
necessary to repeat something she had already made
sufficiently emphatic.

``Nassy laundrymans!''

``I expect I gave that big mongrel the fright
of his life,'' said Mr. Watson, with complacency.
``He'll probably run a mile!''

The shoulders of Genesis shook as he was towed
along by the convulsive tub. He knew from previous
evidence that Clematis possessed both a
high quality and a large quantity of persistence,
and it was his hilarious opinion that the dog had
not gone far. As a matter of fact, the head of
Clematis was at this moment cautiously extended
from behind the fence-post at the corner whither
he had fled. Viewing with growing assurance the
scene before him, he permitted himself to emerge
wholly, and sat down, with his head tilted to
one side in thought. Almost at the next corner
the clothes-boiler with legs, and the wash-tubs,
and Genesis were marching on; and just behind
them went three figures not so familiar to Clematis,
and connected in his mind with a vague,
mild apprehension. But all backs were safely
toward him, and behind them pattered that small
live thing which had so profoundly interested him.

He rose and came on apace, silently.

When he reached the side of Flopit, some eight
or nine seconds later, Clematis found himself even
more fascinated and perplexed than during their
former interview, though again Flopit seemed
utterly to disregard him. Clematis was not at
all sure that Flopit WAS a dog, but he felt that
it was his business to find out. Heaven knows,
so far, Clematis had not a particle of animosity
in his heart, but he considered it his duty to himself--
in case Flopit turned out not to be a dog--
to learn just what he was. The thing might be

Therefore, again pacing obliquely beside Flopit
(while the human beings ahead went on, unconscious
of the approaching climax behind them)
Clematis sought to detect, by senses keener than
sight, some evidence of Flopit's standing in the
zoological kingdom; and, sniffing at the top of
Flopit's head--though Clematis was uncertain
about its indeed being a head--he found himself
baffled and mentally much disturbed.

Flopit did not smell like a dog; he smelled of

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Clematis frowned and sneezed as the infinitesimalparticles of sachet powder settled inthe lining of his nose. He became serious, andwas conscious of a growing feeling of dislike; hebegan to be upset over the whole matter. Buthis conscience compelled him to persist in hisattempt to solve the mystery; and also he rememberedthat one should be courteous, no matterwhat some other thing chooses to be. Hence hesought to place his nose in contact with Flopit's,for he had perceived on the front of themysterious stranger a buttony something whichmight possibly be a nose.Flopit evaded the contact. He felt that hehad

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Genesis and his dog were waiting just outsidethe kitchen door, and of all the worldthese two creatures were probably the last inwhose company William Sylvanus Baxter desiredto make a public appearance. Genesis was anout-of-doors man and seldom made much of atoilet; his overalls in particular betraying atimportant points a lack of the anxiety he shouldhave felt, since only Genesis himself, instead of asupplementary fabric, was directly underneaththem. And the aged, grayish, sleeveless andneckless garment which sheltered him from waistto collar-bone could not have been mistaken for ajersey, even though what there was of it wasdimly of a jerseyesque character.