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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSeventeen - Chapter XV. ROMANCE OF STATISTICS
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Seventeen - Chapter XV. ROMANCE OF STATISTICS Post by :automate Category :Long Stories Author :Booth Tarkington Date :February 2011 Read :2604

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Seventeen - Chapter XV. ROMANCE OF STATISTICS

On a warm morning, ten days later, William
stood pensively among his mother's flower-
beds behind the house, his attitude denoting a
low state of vitality. Not far away, an aged
negro sat upon a wheelbarrow in the hot sun,
tremulously yet skilfully whittling a piece of
wood into the shape of a boat, labor more to his
taste, evidently, than that which he had abandoned
at the request of Jane. Allusion to this
preference for a lighter task was made by Genesis,
who was erecting a trellis on the border of the
little garden.

``Pappy whittle all day,'' he chuckled. ``Whittle
all night, too! Pappy, I thought you 'uz
goin' to git 'at long bed all spade' up fer me by
noon. Ain't 'at what you tole me?''

``You let him alone, Genesis,'' said Jane, who
sat by the old man's side, deeply fascinated.
``There's goin' to be a great deal of rain in the
next few days. maybe, an' I haf to have this boat
ready.''

The aged darky lifted his streaky and diminished
eyes to the burnished sky, and laughed.
``Rain come some day, anyways,'' he said. ``We
git de boat ready 'fo' she fall, dat sho.'' His
glance wandered to William and rested upon him
with feeble curiosity. ``Dat ain' yo' pappy, is
it?'' he asked Jane.

``I should say it isn't!'' she exclaimed. ``It's
Willie. He was only seventeen about two or
three months ago, Mr. Genesis.'' This was not
the old man's name, but Jane had evolved it,
inspired by respect for one so aged and so kind
about whittling. He was the father of Genesis,
and the latter, neither to her knowledge nor to
her imagination, possessed a surname.

``I got cat'rack in my lef' eye,'' said Mr.
Genesis, ``an' de right one, she kine o' tricksy,
too. Tell black man f'um white man, little f'um
big.''

``I'd hate it if he was papa,'' said Jane,
confidentially. ``He's always cross about somep'm,
because he's in love.'' She approached her
mouth to her whittling friend's ear and continued
in a whisper: ``He's in love of Miss Pratt.
She's out walkin' with Joe Bullitt. I was in the
front yard with Willie, an' we saw 'em go by.
He's mad.''

William did not hear her. Moodily, he had
discovered that there was something amiss with
the buckle of his belt, and, having ungirded
himself, he was biting the metal tongue of the
buckle in order to straighten it. This fell under
the observation of Genesis, who remonstrated.

``You break you' teef on 'at buckle,'' he said.

``No, I won't, either,'' William returned,
crossly.

``Ain' my teef,'' said Genesis. ``Break 'em,
you want to!''

The attention of Mr. Genesis did not seem to be
attracted to the speakers; he continued his whittling
in a craftsman-like manner, which brought
praise from Jane.

``You can see to whittle, Mr. Genesis,'' she
said. ``You whittle better than anybody in the
world.''

``I speck so, mebbe,'' Mr. Genesis returned,
with a little complacency. ``How ole yo' pappy?''

``Oh, he's OLD!'' Jane explained.

William deigned to correct her. ``He's not
old, he's middle-aged.''

``Well, suh,'' said Mr. Genesis, ``I had three
chillum 'fo' I 'uz twenty. I had two when I 'uz
eighteem.''

William showed sudden interest. ``You did!''
he exclaimed. ``How old were you when you
had the first one?''

``I 'uz jes' yo' age,'' said the old man. ``I 'uz
seventeem.''

``By George!'' cried William.

Jane seemed much less impressed than William,
seventeen being a long way from ten,
though, of course, to seventeen itself hardly any
information could be imagined as more interesting
than that conveyed by the words of the aged
Mr. Genesis. The impression made upon William
was obviously profound and favorable.

``By George!'' he cried again.

``Genesis he de youngis' one,'' said the old
man. ``Genesis he 'uz bawn when I 'uz sixty-one.''

William moved closer. ``What became of the
one that was born when you were seventeen?''
he asked.

``Well, suh,'' said Mr. Genesis, ``I nev' did
know.''

At this, Jane's interest equaled William's.
Her eyes consented to leave the busy hands
of the aged darky, and, much enlarged, rose to
his face. After a little pause of awe and
sympathy she inquired:

``Was it a boy or a girl?''

The old man deliberated within himself.
``Seem like it mus' been a boy.''

``Did it die?'' Jane asked, softly.

``I reckon it mus' be dead by now,'' he
returned, musingly. ``Good many of 'em dead:
what I KNOWS is dead. Yes'm, I reckon so.''

``How old were you when you were married?''
William asked, with a manner of peculiar
earnestness;--it was the manner of one who
addresses a colleague.

``Me? Well, suh, dat 'pen's.'' He seemed to
search his memory. ``I rickalect I 'uz ma'ied
once in Looavle,'' he said.

Jane's interest still followed the first child.
``Was that where it was born, Mr. Genesis?'' she
asked.

He looked puzzled, and paused in his whittling
to rub his deeply corrugated forehead. ``Well,
suh, mus' been some bawn in Looavle. Genesis,''
he called to his industrious son, ``whaih 'uz YOU
bawn?''

``Right 'n 'is town,'' laughed Genesis. ``You
fergit a good deal, pappy, but I notice you don'
fergit come to meals!''

The old man grunted, resuming his whittling
busily. ``Hain' much use,'' he complained.
``Cain' eat nuff'm 'lessen it all gruelly. Man
cain' eat nuff'm 'lessen he got teef. Genesis,
di'n' I hyuh you tellin' dis white gemmun take
caih his teef--not bite on no i'on?''

William smiled in pity. ``I don't need to
bother about that, I guess,'' he said. ``I can
crack nuts with my teeth.''

``Yes, suh,'' said the old man. ``You kin now.
Ev'y nut you crac' now goin' cos' you a yell
when you git 'long 'bout fawty an' fifty. You
crack nuts now an' you'll holler den!''

``Well, I guess I won't worry myself much now
about what won't happen till I'm forty or fifty,''
said William. ``My teeth 'll last MY time, I
guess.''

That brought a chuckle from Mr. Genesis.
``Jes' listen!'' he exclaimed. ``Young man
think he ain' nev' goin' be ole man. Else he think,
`Dat ole man what I'm goin' to be, dat ain'
goin' be me 'tall--dat goin' be somebody else!
What I caih 'bout dat ole man? I ain't a-goin'
take caih o' no teef fer HIM!' Yes, suh, an' den
when he GIT to be ole man, he say, `What become
o' dat young man I yoosta be? Where is dat
young man agone to? He 'uz a fool, dat's what
--an' _I ain' no fool, so he mus' been somebody
else, not me; but I do jes' wish I had him hyuh
'bout two minutes--long enough to lam him
fer not takin' caih o' my teef fer me!' Yes, suh!''

William laughed; his good humor was restored
and he found the conversation of Mr. Genesis
attractive. He seated himself upon an upturned
bucket near the wheelbarrow, and reverted to a
former theme. ``Well, I HAVE heard of people
getting married even younger 'n you were,'' he said.
``You take India, for instance. Why, they get
married in India when they're twelve, and even
seven and eight years old.''

``They do not!'' said Jane, promptly. ``Their
mothers and fathers wouldn't let 'em, an' they
wouldn't want to, anyway.''

``I suppose you been to India and know all
about it!'' William retorted. ``For the matter o'
that, there was a young couple got married in
Pennsylvania the other day; the girl was only
fifteen, and the man was sixteen. It was in the
papers, and their parents consented, and said
it was a good thing. Then there was a case in
Fall River, Massachusetts, where a young man
eighteen years old married a woman forty-one
years old; it was in the papers, too. And I
heard of another case somewhere in Iowa--a boy
began shaving when he was thirteen, and shaved
every day for four years, and now he's got a full
beard, and he's goin' to get married this year--
before he's eighteen years old. Joe Bullitt's got
a cousin in Iowa that knows about this case--he
knows the girl this fellow with the beard is
goin' to marry, and he says he expects it 'll turn
out the best thing could have happened. They're
goin' to live on a farm. There's hunderds of
cases like that, only you don't hear of more'n
just a few of 'em. People used to get married at
sixteen, seventeen, eighteen--anywhere in there
--and never think anything of it at all. Right up
to about a hunderd years ago there were more
people married at those ages than there were
along about twenty-four and twenty-five, the way
they are now. For instance, you take Shakespeare--''

William paused.

Mr. Genesis was scraping the hull of the miniature
boat with a piece of broken glass, in lieu of
sandpaper, but he seemed to be following his
young friend's remarks with attention. William
had mentioned Shakespeare impulsively, in the
ardor of demonstrating his point; however, upon
second thought he decided to withdraw the name.

``I mean, you take the olden times,'' he went
on; ``hardly anybody got married after they
were nineteen or twenty years old, unless they
were widowers, because they were all married
by that time. And right here in our own county,
there were eleven couples married in the last
six months under twenty-one years of age.
I've got a friend named Johnnie Watson; his
uncle works down at the court-house and told
him about it, so it can't be denied. Then there
was a case I heard of over in--''

Mr. Genesis uttered a loud chuckle. ``My
goo'ness!'' he exclaimed. ``How you c'leck all'
dem fac's? Lan' name! What puzzlin' ME is
how you 'member 'em after you done c'leck 'em.
Ef it uz me I couldn't c'leck 'em in de firs' place,
an' ef I could, dey wouldn' be no use to me,
'cause I couldn't rickalect 'em!''

``Well, it isn't so hard,'' said William, ``if you
kind of get the hang of it.'' Obviously pleased,
he plucked a spear of grass and placed it between
his teeth, adding, ``I always did have a pretty
good memory.''

``Mamma says you're the most forgetful boy
she ever heard of,'' said Jane, calmly. ``She
says you can't remember anything two minutes.''

William's brow darkened. ``Now look here--''
he began, with severity.

But the old darky intervened. ``Some folks
got good rickaleckshum an' some folks got bad,''
he said, pacifically. ``Young white germmun
rickalect mo' in two minute dan what I kin in two
years!''

Jane appeared to accept this as settlement of
the point at issue, while William bestowed upon
Mr. Genesis a glance of increased favor. William's
expression was pleasant to see; in fact,
it was the pleasantest expression Jane had seen
him wearing for several days. Almost always,
lately, he was profoundly preoccupied, and so
easily annoyed that there was no need to be
careful of his feelings, because--as his mother
observed--he was ``certain to break out about
every so often, no matter what happened!''

``I remember pretty much everything,'' he
said, as if in modest explanation of the performance
which had excited the aged man's admira-
tion. ``I can remember things that happened
when I was four years old.''

``So can I,'' said Jane. ``I can remember
when I was two. I had a kitten fell down the
cistern and papa said it hurt the water.''

``My goo'ness!'' Mr. Genesis exclaimed. ``An'
you 'uz on'y two year ole, honey! Bes' _I kin do
is rickalect when I 'uz 'bout fifty.''

``Oh no!'' Jane protested. ``You said you
remembered havin' a baby when you were seventeen,
Mr. Genesis.''

``Yes'm,'' he admitted. ``I mean rickalect
good like you do 'bout yo' li'l' cat an' all how yo'
pappy tuck on 'bout it. I kin rickalect SOME,
but I cain' rickalect GOOD.''

William coughed with a certain importance.
``Do you remember,'' he asked, ``when you
were married, how did you feel about it? Were
you kind of nervous, or anything like that, before-
hand?''

Mr. Genesis again passed a wavering hand
across his troubled brow.

``I mean,'' said William, observing his
perplexity, ``were you sort of shaky--f'rinstance, as
if you were taking an important step in life?''

``Lemme see.'' The old man pondered for a
moment. ``I felt mighty shaky once, I rickalect;
dat time yalla m'latta man shootin' at me
f 'um behime a snake-fence.''

``Shootin' at you!'' Jane cried, stirred from her
accustomed placidity. ``Mr. Genesis! What
DID he do that for?''

``Nuff'm!'' replied Mr. Genesis, with feeling.
``Nuff'm in de wide worl'! He boun' to shoot
SOMEbody, an' pick on me 'cause I 'uz de
handies'.''

He closed his knife, gave the little boat a final
scrape with the broken glass, and then a soothing
rub with the palm of his hand. ``Dah, honey,''
he said--and simultaneously factory whistles began
to blow. ``Dah yo' li'l' steamboat good as I
kin git her widout no b'iler ner no smoke-
stack. I reckon yo' pappy 'll buy 'em fer you.''

Jane was grateful. ``It's a beautiful boat,
Mr. Genesis. I do thank you!''

Genesis, the son, laid aside his tools and
approached. ``Pappy finish whittlin' spang on
'em noon whistles,'' he chuckled. ``Come 'long,
pappy. I bet you walk fas' 'nuff goin' todes
dinnuh. I hear fry-cakes ploppin' in skillet!''

Mr. Genesis laughed loudly, his son's words
evidently painting a merry and alluring picture; and
the two, followed by Clematis, moved away in
the direction of the alley gate. William and
Jane watched the brisk departure of the antique
with sincere esteem and liking.

``He must have been sixteen,'' said William,
musingly.

``When?'' Jane asked.

William, in deep thought, was still looking
after Mr. Genesis; he was almost unconscious
that he had spoken aloud and he replied, automatically:

``When he was married.''

Then, with a start, he realized into how great a
condescension he had been betrayed, and hastily
added, with pronounced hauteur, ``Things you
don't understand. You run in the house.''

Jane went into the house, but she did not
carry her obedience to the point of running.
She walked slowly, and in that state of profound
reverie which was characteristic of her when she
was immersed in the serious study of William's
affairs.

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