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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSeventeen - Chapter XXVI. MISS BOKE
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Seventeen - Chapter XXVI. MISS BOKE Post by :LindaCaroll Category :Long Stories Author :Booth Tarkington Date :February 2011 Read :1093

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Seventeen - Chapter XXVI. MISS BOKE

Nothing could have been more evident
than William's difficulties. They continued
to exist, with equal obviousness, when the
group broke up in some confusion, after a few
minutes of animated discussion; Mr. Wallace
Banks, that busy and executive youth, bearing
Miss Pratt triumphantly off to the lemonade-
punch-bowl, while William pursued Johnnie Watson
and Joe Bullitt. He sought to detain them
near the edge of the platform, though they
appeared far from anxious to linger in his
company; and he was able to arrest their attention
only by clutching an arm of each. In fact, the
good feeling which had latterly prevailed among
these three appeared to be in danger of
disintegrating. The occasion was too vital; and the
watchword for ``Miss Pratt's last night'' was
Devil-Take-the-Hindmost!

``Now you look here, Johnnie,'' William said,
vehemently, ``and you listen, too, Joe! You both
got seven dances apiece with her, anyway, all on
account of my not getting here early enough, and
you got to--''

``It wasn't because of any such reason,'' young
Mr. Watson protested. ``I asked her for mine
two days ago.''

``Well, THAT wasn't fair, was it?'' William cried.
``Just because I never thought of sneaking in
ahead like that, you go and--''

``Well, you ought to thought of it,'' Johnnie
retorted, jerking his arm free of William's grasp.
``I can't stand here GABBIN' all night!'' And he
hurried away.

``Joe,'' William began, fastening more securely
upon Mr. Bullitt--``Joe, I've done a good many
favors for you, and--''

``I've got to see a man,'' Mr. Bullitt
interrupted. ``Lemme go, Silly Bill. There's some
body I got to see right away before the next
dance begins. I GOT to! Honest I have!''

William seized him passionately by the lapels
of his coat. ``Listen, Joe. For goodness' sake
can't you listen a MINUTE? You GOT to give me--''

``Honest, Bill,'' his friend expostulated,
backing away as forcefully as possible, ``I got to find
a fellow that's here to-night and ask him about
something important before--''

``Ye gods! Can't you wait a MINUTE?'' William
cried, keeping his grip upon Joe's lapels.
``You GOT to give me anyway TWO out of all your
dances with her! You heard her tell me, yourself,
that she'd be willing if you or Johnnie
or--''

``Well, I only got five or six with her, and a
couple extras. Johnnie's got seven. Whyn't
you go after Johnnie? I bet he'd help you out,
all right, if you kept after him. What you want
to pester ME for, Bill?''

The brutal selfishness of this speech, as well as
its cold-blooded insincerity, produced in William
the impulse to smite. Fortunately, his only hope
lay in persuasion, and after a momentary struggle
with his own features he was able to conceal
what he desired to do to Joe's.

He swallowed, and, increasing the affectionate
desperation of his clutch upon Mr. Bullitt's
lapels, ``Joe,'' he began, huskily--``Joe, if _I_'d got
six reg'lar and two extras with Miss Pratt her last
night here, and you got here late, and it wasn't
your fault--I couldn't help being late, could I?
It wasn't my fault I was late, I guess, was it?
Well, if I was in YOUR place I wouldn't act the way
you and Johnnie do--not in a thousand years I
wouldn't! I'd say, `You want a couple o' my
dances with Miss Pratt, ole man? Why, CERTAINLY--' ''

``Yes, you would!'' was the cynical comment of
Mr. Bullitt, whose averted face and reluctant
shoulders indicated a strong desire to conclude
the interview. ``To-night, especially!'' he
added.

``Look here, Joe,'' said William, desperately,
``don't you realize that this is the very last night
Miss Pratt's going to be in this town?''

``You bet I do!'' These words, though vehement,
were inaudible; being formed in the mind
of Mr. Bullitt, but, for diplomatic reasons, not
projected upon the air by his vocal organs.

William continued: ``Joe, you and I have been
friends ever since you and I were boys.'' He
spoke with emotion, but Joe had no appearance
of being favorably impressed. ``And when I look
back,'' said William, ``I expect I've done more
favors for you than I ever have for any oth--''

But Mr. Bullitt briskly interrupted this
appealing reminiscence. ``Listen here, Silly Bill,''
he said, becoming all at once friendly and
encouraging--'' Bill, there's other girls here you
can get dances with. There's one or two of 'em
sittin' around in the yard. You can have a bully
time, even if you did come late.'' And, with the
air of discharging happily all the obligations of
which William had reminded him, he added,
``I'll tell you THAT much, Bill!''

``Joe, you got to give me anyway ONE da--''

``Look!'' said Mr. Bullitt, eagerly. ``Look
sittin' yonder, over under that tree all by herself!
That's a visiting girl named Miss Boke; she's
visiting some old uncle or something she's got
livin' here, and I bet you could--''

``Joe, you GOT to--''

``I bet that Miss Boke's a good dancer, Bill,''
Joe continued, warmly. ``May Parcher says
so. She was tryin' to get me to dance with
her myself, but I couldn't, or I would of.
Honest, Bill, I would of! Bill, if I was you
I'd sail right in there before anybody else got
a start, and I'd--''

``Ole man,'' said William, gently, ``you
remember the time Miss Pratt and I had an
engagement to go walkin', and you wouldn't of
seen her for a week on account of your aunt
dyin' in Kansas City, if I hadn't let you go along
with us? Ole man, if you--''

But the music sounded for the next dance, and
Joe felt that it was indeed time to end this
uncomfortable conversation. ``I got to go, Bill,''
he said. ``I GOT to!''

``Wait just one minute,'' William implored.
``I want to say just this: if--''

``Here!'' exclaimed Mr. Bullitt. ``I got to GO!''

``I know it. That's why--''

Heedless of remonstrance, Joe wrenched himself
free, for it would have taken a powerful
and ruthless man to detain him longer. ``What
you take me for?'' he demanded, indignantly.
``I got this with Miss PRATT!''

And evading a hand which still sought to
clutch him, he departed hotly.

. . . Mr. Parcher's voice expressed wonder, a
little later, as he recommended his wife to turn
her gaze in the direction of ``that Baxter boy''
again. ``Just look at him!'' said Mr. Parcher.
``His face has got more genuine idiocy in it than
I've seen around here yet, and God knows I've
been seeing some miracles in that line this
summer!''

``He's looking at Lola Pratt,'' said Mrs.
Parcher.

``Don't you suppose I can see that?'' Mr.
Parcher returned, with some irritation. ``That's
what's the trouble with him. Why don't he QUIT
looking at her?''

``I think probably he feels badly because she's
dancing with one of the other boys,'' said his
wife, mildly.

``Then why can't he dance with somebody else
himself?'' Mr. Parcher inquired, testily. ``Instead
of standing around like a calf looking out
of the butcher's wagon! By George! he looks
as if he was just going to MOO!''

``Of course he ought to be dancing with
somebody,'' Mrs. Parcher remarked, thoughtfully.
``There are one or two more girls than boys here,
and he's the only boy not dancing. I believe
I'll--'' And, not stopping to complete the sentence,
she rose and walked across the interval of
grass to William. ``Good evening, William,'' she
said, pleasantly. ``Don't you want to dance?''

``Ma'am?'' said William, blankly, and the eyes
he turned upon here were glassy with anxiety.
He was still determined to dance on and on and
on with Miss Pratt, but he realized that there
were great obstacles to be overcome before he
could begin the process. He was feverishly
awaiting the next interregnum between dances--
then he would show Joe Bullitt and Johnnie
Watson and Wallace Banks, and some others who
had set themselves in his way, that he was
``abs'lutely not goin' to stand it!''

He couldn't stand it, he told himself, even if he
wanted to--not to-night! He had ``been through
enough'' in order to get to the party, he thought,
thus defining sufferings connected with his costume,
and now that he was here he WOULD dance
and dance, on and on, with Miss Pratt.
Anything else was unthinkable.

He HAD to!

``Don't you want to dance?'' Mrs. Parcher
repeated. ``Have you looked around for a girl
without a partner?''

He continued to stare at her, plainly having
no comprehension of her meaning.

``Girl?'' he echoed, in a tone of feeble inquiry.

She smiled and nodded, taking his arm. ``You
come with me,'' she said. ``I'LL fix you up!''

William suffered her to conduct him across
the yard. Intensely preoccupied with what he
meant to do as soon as the music paused, he was
somewhat hazy, but when he perceived that he
was being led in the direction of a girl, sitting
solitary under one of the maple-trees, the sudden
shock of fear aroused his faculties.

``What--where--'' he stammered, halting and
seeking to detach himself from his hostess.

``What is it?'' she asked.

``I got--I got to--'' William began, uneasily.
``I got to--''

His purpose was to excuse himself on the
ground that he had to find a man and tell him
something important before the next dance, for in
the confusion of the moment his powers refused
him greater originality. But the vital part of
his intended excuse remained unspoken, being
disregarded and cut short, as millions of other
masculine diplomacies have been, throughout the
centuries, by the decisive action of ladies.

Miss Boke had been sitting under the maple-
tree for a long time--so long, indeed, that she
was acquiring a profound distaste for forestry
and even for maple syrup. In fact, her state of
mind was as desperate, in its way, as William's;
and when a hostess leads a youth (in almost
perfectly fitting conventional black) toward a girl
who has been sitting alone through dance after
dance, that girl knows what that youth is going
to have to do.

It must be confessed for Miss Boke that her
eyes had been upon William from the moment
Mrs. Parcher addressed him. Nevertheless, as
the pair came toward her she looked casually
away in an indifferent manner. And yet this
may have been but a seeming unconsciousness,
for upon the very instant of William's halting,
and before he had managed to stammer ``I got
to--'' for the fourth time, Miss Boke sprang to
her feet and met Mrs. Parcher more than halfway.

``Oh, Mrs. Parcher!'' she called, coming forward.

``I got--'' the panic-stricken William again
hastily began. ``I got to--''

``Oh, Mrs. Parcher,'' cried Miss Boke, ``I've
been SO worried! There's a candle in that
Japanese lantern just over your head, and I
think it's going out.''

``I'll run and get a fresh one in a minute,'' said
Mrs. Parcher, smiling benevolently and retaining
William's arm with a little difficulty. ``We were
just coming to find you. I've brought--''

``I got to--I got to find a m--'' William made
a last, stricken effort.

``Miss Boke, this is Mr. Baxter,'' said Mrs.
Parcher, and she added, with what seemed to
William hideous garrulity, ``He and you both
came late, dear, and he hasn't any dances
engaged, either. So run and dance, and have a
nice time together.''

Thereupon this disastrous woman returned to
her husband. Her look was conscientious; she
thought she had done something pleasant!

The full horror of his position was revealed to
William in the relieved, confident, proprietor's
smile of Miss Boke. For William lived by a code
from which no previous experience had taught
him any means of escape. Mrs. Parcher had
made the statement--so needless and so ruinous--
that he had no engagements; and in his dismay
he had been unable to deny this fatal truth; he
had been obliged to let it stand. Henceforth, he
was committed absolutely to Miss Boke until
either some one else asked her to dance, or
(while yet in her close company) William could
obtain an engagement with another girl. The
latter alternative presented certain grave
difficulties, also contracting William to dance with
the other girl before once more obtaining his
freedom, but undeniably he regarded it from the
first as the more hopeful.

He had to give form to the fatal invitation.
``M'av this dance 'thyou?'' he muttered, doggedly.

``Vurry pleased to!'' Miss Boke responded,
whereupon they walked in silence to the platform,
stepped upon its surface, and embraced.

They made a false start.

They made another.

They stood swaying to catch the time; then
made another. After that they tried again, and
were saved from a fall only by spasmodic and
noticeable contortions.

Miss Boke laughed tolerantly, as if forgiving
William for his awkwardness, and his hot heart
grew hotter with that injustice. She was a large,
ample girl, weighing more than William (this
must be definitely claimed in his behalf), and she
had been spending the summer at a lakeside
hotel where she had constantly danced ``man's
part.'' To paint William's predicament at a
stroke, his partner was a determined rather than
a graceful dancer--and their efforts to attune
themselves to each other and to the music were
in a fair way to attract general attention.

A coarse chuckle, a half-suppressed snort,
assailed William's scarlet ear, and from the corner
of his eye he caught a glimpse of Joe Bullitt
gliding by, suffused; while over Joe's detested
shoulder could be seen the adorable and piquant
face of the One girl--also suffused.

``Doggone it!'' William panted.

``Oh, you mustn't be discouraged with yourself,''
said Miss Boke, genially. ``I've met lots
of Men that had trouble to get started and
turned out to be right good dancers, after all. It
seems to me we're kind of workin' against each
other. I'll tell you--you kind of let me do the
guiding and I'll get you going fine. Now! ONE,
two, ONE, two! There!''

William ceased to struggle for dominance, and
their efforts to ``get started'' were at once
successful. With a muscular power that was
surprising, Miss Boke bore him out into the circling
current, swung him round and round, walked him
backward half across the platform, then swung
him round and round and round again. For a
girl, she ``guided'' remarkably well; nevertheless,
a series of collisions, varying in intensity,
marked the path of the pair upon the rather
crowded platform. In such emergencies Miss
Boke proved herself deft in swinging William to
act as a buffer, and he several times found himself
heavily stricken from the rear; anon his face
would be pressed suffocatingly into Miss Boke's
hair, without the slightest wish on his part for
such intimacy. He had a helpless feeling, fully
warranted by the circumstances. Also, he soon
became aware that Miss Boke's powerful ``guiding''
was observed by the public; for, after one
collision, more severe than others, a low voice
hissed in his ear:

``SHE WON'T HURT YOU MUCH, SILLY BILL. SHE'S
ONLY IN FUN!''

This voice belonged to the dancer with whom
he had just been in painful contact, Johnnie
Watson. However, Johnnie had whirled far
upon another orbit before William found a retort,
and then it was a feeble one.

``I wish YOU'D try a few dances with her!''
he whispered, inaudibly, but with unprecedented
bitterness, as the masterly arm of his partner
just saved him from going over the edge of the
platform. ``I bet she'd kill you!''

More than once he tried to assert himself and
resume his natural place as guide, but each time
he did so he immediately got out of step with his
partner, their knees collided embarrassingly, they
staggered and walked upon each other's insteps--
and William was forced to abandon the unequal
contest.

``I just love dancing,'' said Miss Boke, serenely.
``Don't you, Mr. Baxter?''

``What?'' he gulped. ``Yeh.''

``It's a beautiful floor for dancing, isn't
it?''

``Yeh.''

``I just love dancing,'' Miss Boke thought
proper to declare again. ``Don't you love it, Mr.
Baxter?''

This time he considered his enthusiasm to be
sufficiently indicated by a nod. He needed all
his breath.

``It's lovely,'' she murmured. ``I hope they
don't play `Home, Sweet Home' very early at
parties in this town. I could keep on like this
all night!''

To the gasping William it seemed that she
already had kept on like this all night, and he
expressed himself in one great, frank, agonized
moan of relief when the music stopped. ``I sh'
think those musicians 'd be dead!'' he said, as he
wiped his brow. And then discovering that May
Parcher stood at his elbow, he spoke hastily to
her. ``M'av the next 'thyou?''

But Miss Parcher had begun to applaud the
musicians for an encore. She shook her head.
``Next's the third extra,'' she said. ``And,
anyhow, this one's going to be encored now. You can
have the twenty-second--if there IS any!''
William threw a wild glance about him, looking
for other girls, but the tireless orchestra began to
play the encore, and Miss Boke, who had been
applauding, instantly cast herself upon his bosom.
``Come on!'' she cried. ``Don't let's miss a second
of it; It's just glorious!''

When the encore was finished she seized William's
arm, and, mentioning that she'd left her
fan upon the chair under the maple-tree, added,
``Come on! Let's go get it QUICK!''

Under the maple-tree she fanned herself and
talked of her love for dancing until the music
sounded again. ``Come on!'' she cried, then.
``Don't let's miss a second of it! It's just
glorious!''

And grasping his arm, she propelled him toward
the platform with a merry little rush.

So passed five dances. Long, long dances.

Likewise five encores. Long encores.

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At every possible opportunity William hailedother girls with a hasty ``M'av the next'thyou?'' but he was indeed unfortunate tohave arrived so late.The best he got was a promise of ``the nine-teenth--if there IS any!''After each dance Miss Boke conducted himback to the maple-tree, aloof from the generalthrong, and William found the intermissionsalmost equal to his martyrdoms upon the platform. But, as there was a barely perceptible balance intheir favor, he collected some fragments of hisbroken spirit, when Miss Boke would have bornehim to the platform for the sixth time, and beggedto ``sit this one out,'' alleging that he had ``kindof turned
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As a hurried worldling, in almost perfectlyfitting evening clothes, passed out of hisfather's gateway and hurried toward the placewhence faintly came the sound of dance-music, achild's voice called sweetly from an unidentifiedwindow of the darkened house behind him:``Well, ANYWAY, you try and have a good time,Willie!''William made no reply; he paused not in hisstride. Jane's farewell injunction, thoughobviously not ill-intended, seemed in poor taste,and a reply might have encouraged her tobelieve that, in some measure at least, hecondescended to discuss his inner life with her. Hedeparted rapidly, but with hauteur. The moonwas up, but shade-trees were thick along
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