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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSeventeen - Chapter XXIX. "DON'T FORGET!"
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Seventeen - Chapter XXIX. 'DON'T FORGET!' Post by :cdmpro Category :Long Stories Author :Booth Tarkington Date :February 2011 Read :877

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Seventeen - Chapter XXIX. "DON'T FORGET!"

Up-stairs, Mrs. Baxter moved to the door
of her son's room, pretending to be unconscious
of the gaze he maintained upon her. Mustering
courage to hum a little tune and affecting
inconsequence, she had nearly crossed the
threshold when he said, sternly:

``And this is all you intend to say to that
child?''

``Why, yes, Willie.''

``And yet I told you what she said!'' he cried.
``I told you I HEARD her stand there and tell that
dirty-faced little girl how that idiot boy that's
always walkin' past here four or five times a
day, whistling and looking back, was in `love
of' her! Ye gods! What kind of a person will
she grow up into if you don't punish her for
havin' ideas like that at her age?''

Mrs. Baxter regarded him mildly, not replying,
and he went on, with loud indignation:

``I never heard of such a thing! That Worm
walkin' past here four or five times a day just to
look at JANE! And her standing there, calmly
tellin' that sooty-faced little girl, `He's in love of
me'! Why, it's enough to sicken a man! Honestly,
if I had my way, I'd see that both she and
that little Freddie Banks got a first-class whipping!''

``Don't you think, Willie,'' said Mrs. Baxter--
``don't you think that, considering the rather
noncommittal method of Freddie's courtship, you are
suggesting extreme measures?''

``Well, SHE certainly ought to be punished!'' he
insisted, and then, with a reversal to agony, he
shuddered. ``That's the least of it!'' he cried.
``It's the insulting things you always allow her to
say of one of the noblest girls in the United
States--THAT'S what counts! On the very last
day--yes, almost the last hour--that Miss Pratt's
in this town, you let your only daughter stand
there and speak disrespectfully of her--and then
all you do is tell her to `go and play somewhere
else'! I don't understand your way of bringing
up a child,'' he declared, passionately. ``I do
NOT!''

``There, there, Willie,'' Mrs. Baxter said.
``You're all wrought up--''

``I am NOT wrought up!'' shouted William.
``Why should I be charged with--''

``Now, now!'' she said. ``You'll feel better to-morrow.''

``What do you mean by that?'' he demanded,
breathing deeply.

For reply she only shook her head in an odd
little way, and in her parting look at him there
was something at once compassionate, amused,
and reassuring.

``You'll be all right, Willie,'' she said, softly,
and closed the door.

Alone, William lifted clenched hands in a series
of tumultuous gestures at the ceiling; then he
moaned and sank into a chair at his writing-
table. Presently a comparative calm was
restored to him, and with reverent fingers he took
from a drawer a one-pound box of candy, covered
with white tissue-paper, girdled with blue ribbon.
He set the box gently beside him upon the table;
then from beneath a large, green blotter drew
forth some scribbled sheets. These he placed
before him, and, taking infinite pains with his
handwriting, slowly copied:


DEAR LOLA--I presume when you are reading these lines
it will be this afternoon and you will be on the train moving
rapidly away from this old place here farther and farther
from it all. As I sit here at my old desk and look back
upon it all while I am writing this farewell letter I hope when
you are reading it you also will look back upon it all and
think of one you called (Alias) Little Boy Baxter. As I
sit here this morning that you are going away at last I
look back and I cannot rember any summer in my whole
life which has been like this summer, because a great change
has come over me this summer. If you would like to know
what this means it was something like I said when John
Watson got there yesterday afternoon and interupted
what I said. May you enjoy this candy and think of the
giver. I will put something in with this letter. It is
something maybe you would like to have and in exchange
I would give all I possess for one of you if you would send
it to me when you get home. Please do this for now my
heart is braking.
Yours sincerely,
WILLIAM S. BAXTER (ALIAS) LITTLE BOY BAXTER.


William opened the box of candy and placed
the letter upon the top layer of chocolates. Upon
the letter he placed a small photograph (wrapped
in tissue-paper) of himself. Then, with a pair of
scissors, he trimmed an oblong of white cardboard
to fit into the box. Upon this piece of
cardboard he laboriously wrote, copying from a
tortured, inky sheet before him:

IN DREAM
BY WILLIAM S. BAXTER

The sunset light
Fades into night
But never will I forget
The smile that haunts me yet
Through the future four long years
I hope you will remember with tears
Whate'er my rank or station
Whilst receiving my education
Though far away you seem
I will see thee in dream.


He placed his poem between the photograph
and the letter, closed the box, and tied the tissue-
paper about it again with the blue ribbon.
Throughout these rites (they were rites both in
spirit and in manner) he was subject to little
catchings of the breath, half gulp, half sigh.
But the dolorous tokens passed, and he sat with
elbows upon the table, his chin upon his hands,
reverie in his eyes. Tragedy had given way to
gentler pathos;--beyond question, something had
measurably soothed him. Possibly, even in this
hour preceding the hour of parting, he knew a
little of that proud amazement which any poet
is entitled to feel over each new lyric miracle
just wrought.

Perhaps he was helped, too, by wondering what
Miss Pratt would think of him when she read ``In
Dream,'' on the train that afternoon. For reasons
purely intuitive, and decidedly without foundation
in fact, he was satisfied that no rival
farewell poem would be offered her, and so it may
be that he thought ``In Dream'' might show her
at last, in one blaze of light, what her eyes had
sometimes fleetingly intimated she did perceive
in part--the difference between William and
such every-day, rather well-meaning, fairly good-
hearted people as Joe Bullitt, Wallace Banks,
Johnnie Watson, and others. Yes, when she
came to read ``In Dream,'' and to ``look back
upon it all,'' she would surely know--at last!

And then, when the future four long years
(while receiving his education) had passed, he
would go to her. He would go to her, and she
would take him by the hand, and lead him to her
father, and say, ``Father, this is William.''

But William would turn to her, and, with the
old, dancing light in his eyes, ``No, Lola,'' he
would say, ``not William, but Ickle Boy Baxter!
Always and always, just that for you; oh, my
dear!''

And then, as in story and film and farce and
the pleasanter kinds of drama, her father would
say, with kindly raillery, ``Well, when you two
young people get through, you'll find me in the
library, where I have a pretty good BUSINESS
proposition to lay before YOU, young man!''

And when the white-waistcoated, white-side-
burned old man had, chuckling, left the room,
William would slowly lift his arms; but Lola
would move back from him a step--only a step--
and after laying a finger archly upon her lips to
check him, ``Wait, sir!'' she would say. ``I have
a question to ask you, sir!''

``What question, Lola?''

``THIS question, sir!'' she would reply. ``In all
that summer, sir, so long ago, why did you never
tell me what you WERE, until I had gone away and
it was too late to show you what I felt? Ah,
Ickle Boy Baxter, I never understood until I
looked back upon it all, after I had read `In
Dream,' on the train that day! THEN I KNEW!''
``And now, Lola?'' William would say. ``Do
you understand me, NOW?''

Shyly she would advance the one short step
she had put between them, while he, with lifted,
yearning arms, this time destined to no
disappointment----

At so vital a moment did Mrs. Baxter knock at
his door and consoling reverie cease to minister
unto William. Out of the rosy sky he dropped,
falling miles in an instant, landing with a bump.
He started, placed the sacred box out of sight,
and spoke gruffly.

``What you want?''

``I'm not coming in, Willie,'' said his mother.
``I just wanted to know--I thought maybe you
were looking out of the window and noticed where
those children went.''

``What children?''

``Jane and that little girl from across the
street--Kirsted, her name must be.''

``No. I did not.''

``I just wondered,'' Mrs. Baxter said, timidly.
``Genesis thinks he heard the little Kirsted girl
telling Jane she had plenty of money for car-
fare. He thinks they went somewhere on a
street-car. I thought maybe you noticed
wheth--''

``I told you I did not.''

``All right,'' she said, placatively. ``I didn't
mean to bother you, dear.''

Following this there was a silence; but no
sound of receding footsteps indicated Mrs.
Baxter's departure from the other side of the
closed door.

``Well, what you WANT?'' William shouted.

``Nothing--nothing at all,'' said the compassionate
voice. ``I just thought I'd have lunch a
little later than usual; not till half past one.
That is if--well, I thought probably you meant
to go to the station to see Miss Pratt off on the
one-o'clock train.''

Even so friendly an interest as this must have
appeared to the quivering William an intrusion in
his affairs, for he demanded, sharply:

``How'd you find out she's going at one
o'clock?''

``Why--why, Jane mentioned it,'' Mrs. Baxter
replied, with obvious timidity. ``Jane said--''

She was interrupted by the loud, desperate
sound of William's fist smiting his writing-table,
so sensitive was his condition. ``This is just
unbearable!'' he cried. ``Nobody's business is safe
from that child!''

``Why, Willie, I don't see how it matters if--''

He uttered a cry. ``No! Nothing matters!
Nothing matters at all! Do you s'pose I want
that child, with her insults, discussing when Miss
Pratt is or is not going away? Don't you know
there are SOME things that have no business to be
talked about by every Tom, Dick, and Harry?''

``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
I--''

``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
prolonged.

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

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
order--''

``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.''

``WHAT?''

``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
widower----

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
door.

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
saw.

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
mockery.

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
sight.

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
him.

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,
Willie.''

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