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Seventeen, a novel by Booth Tarkington


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_ In the morning sunshine, Mrs. Baxter stood
at the top of the steps of the front porch,
addressing her son, who listened impatiently and
edged himself a little nearer the gate every time
he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

``Willie,'' she said, ``you must really pay some
attention to the laws of health, or you'll never
live to be an old man.''

``I don't want to live to be an old man,'' said
William, earnestly. ``I'd rather do what I please
now and die a little sooner.''

``You talk very foolishly,'' his mother returned.
``Either come back and put on some heavier
THINGS or take your overcoat.''

``My overcoat!'' William groaned. ``They'd
think I was a lunatic, carrying an overcoat in

``Not to a picnic,'' she said.

``Mother, it isn't a picnic, I've told you a
hunderd times! You think it's one those ole-
fashion things YOU used to go to--sit on the damp
ground and eat sardines with ants all over 'em?
This isn't anything like that; we just go out on
the trolley to this farm-house and have noon
dinner, and dance all afternoon, and have supper,
and then come home on the trolley. I guess we'd
hardly of got up anything as out o' date as a
picnic in honor of Miss PRATT!''

Mrs. Baxter seemed unimpressed.

``It doesn't matter whether you call it a picnic
or not, Willie. It will be cool on the open trolley-
car coming home, especially with only those white
trousers on--''

``Ye gods!'' he cried. ``I've got other things
on besides my trousers! I wish you wouldn't
always act as if I was a perfect child! Good
heavens! isn't a person my age supposed to know
how much clothes to wear?''

``Well, if he is,'' she returned, ``it's a mere
supposition and not founded on fact. Don't get so
excited, Willie, please; but you'll either have to
give up the picnic or come in and ch--''

``Change my `things'!'' he wailed. ``I can't
change my `things'! I've got just twenty minutes
to get to May Parcher's--the crowd meets
there, and they're goin' to take the trolley in
front the Parchers' at exactly a quarter after
'leven. PLEASE don't keep me any longer, mother
--I GOT to go!''

She stepped into the hall and returned
immediately. ``Here's your overcoat, Willie.''

His expression was of despair. ``They'll think
I'm a lunatic and they'll say so before everybody
--and I don't blame 'em! Overcoat on a hot day
like this! Except me, I don't suppose there was
ever anybody lived in the world and got to be
going on eighteen years old and had to carry his
silly old overcoat around with him in August--
because his mother made him!''

``Willie,'' said Mrs. Baxter, ``you don't know
how many thousands and thousands of mothers
for thousands and thousands of years have kept
their sons from taking thousands and thousands
of colds--just this way!''

He moaned. ``Well, and I got to be called a
lunatic just because you're nervous, I s'pose. All

She hung it upon his arm, kissed him; and he
departed in a desperate manner.

However, having worn his tragic face for three
blocks, he halted before a corner drug-store, and
permitted his expression to improve as he gazed
upon the window display of My Little Sweetheart
All-Tobacco Cuban Cigarettes, the Package of
Twenty for Ten Cents. William was not a
smoker--that is to say, he had made the usual
boyhood experiments, finding them discouraging;
and though at times he considered it humorously
man-about-town to say to a smoking friend,
``Well, _I_'ll tackle one o' your ole coffin-nails,'' he
had never made a purchase of tobacco in his life.
But it struck him now that it would be rather
debonair to disport himself with a package of
Little Sweethearts upon the excursion.

And the name! It thrilled him inexpressibly,
bringing a tenderness into his eyes and a glow
into his bosom. He felt that when he should
smoke a Little Sweetheart it would be a tribute
to the ineffable visitor for whom this party was
being given--it would bring her closer to him.
His young brow grew almost stern with determination,
for he made up his mind, on the spot,
that he would smoke oftener in the future--he
would become a confirmed smoker, and all his life
he would smoke My Little Sweetheart All-Tobacco
Cuban Cigarettes.

He entered and managed to make his purchase
in a matter-of-fact way, as if he were doing
something quite unemotional; then he said to the

``Oh, by the by--ah--''

The clerk stared. ``Well, what else?''

``I mean,'' said William, hurriedly, ``there's
something I wanted to 'tend to, now I happen to
be here. I was on my way to take this overcoat
to--to get something altered at the tailor's for
next winter. 'Course I wouldn't want it till
winter, but I thought I might as well get it DONE.''
He paused, laughing carelessly, for greater plaus-
ibility. ``I thought he'd prob'ly want lots of
time on the job--he's a slow worker, I've noticed
--and so I decided I might just as well go ahead
and let him get at it. Well, so I was on my way
there, but I just noticed I only got about six
minutes more to get to a mighty important
engagement I got this morning, and I'd like to
leave it here and come by and get it on my way
home, this evening.''

``Sure,'' said the clerk. ``Hang it on that
hook inside the p'scription-counter. There's one
there already, b'longs to your friend, that young
Bullitt fella. He was in here awhile ago and said
he wanted to leave his because he didn't have
time to take it to be pressed in time for next
winter. Then he went on and joined that crowd
in Mr. Parcher's yard, around the corner, that's
goin' on a trolley-party. I says, `I betcher mother
maje carry it,' and he says, `Oh no. Oh no,'
he says. `Honest, I was goin' to get it pressed!'
You can hang yours on the same nail.''

The clerk spoke no more, and went to serve
another customer, while William stared after him
a little uneasily. It seemed that here was a man
of suspicious nature, though, of course, Joe
Bullitt's shallow talk about getting an overcoat
pressed before winter would not have imposed
upon anybody. However, William felt strongly
that the private life of the customers of a store
should not be pried into and speculated about by
employees, and he was conscious of a distaste
for this clerk.

Nevertheless, it was with a lighter heart that
he left his overcoat behind him and stepped out
of the side door of the drug-store. That brought
him within sight of the gaily dressed young
people, about thirty in number, gathered upon
the small lawn beside Mr. Parcher's house.

Miss Pratt stood among them, in heliotrope
and white, Flopit nestling in her arms. She was
encircled by girls who were enthusiastically
caressing the bored and blinking Flopit; and when
William beheld this charming group, his breath
became eccentric, his knee-caps became cold and
convulsive, his neck became hot, and he broke
into a light perspiration.

She saw him! The small blonde head and the
delirious little fluffy hat above it shimmered a
nod to him. Then his mouth fell unconsciously
open, and his eyes grew glassy with the intensity
of meaning he put into the silent response he sent
across the picket fence and through the interstices
of the intervening group. Pressing with his
elbow upon the package of cigarettes in his pocket,
he murmured, inaudibly, ``My Little Sweetheart,
always for you!''--a repetition of his vow that,
come what might, he would forever remain a
loyal smoker of that symbolic brand. In fact,
William's mental condition had never shown one
moment's turn for the better since the fateful
day of the distracting visitor's arrival.

Mr. Johnnie Watson and Mr. Joe Bullitt met
him at the gate and offered him hearty greeting.
All bickering and dissension among these three
had passed. The lady was so wondrous impartial
that, as time went on, the sufferers had come
to be drawn together, rather than thrust asunder,
by their common feeling. It had grown to be a
bond uniting them; they were not so much rivals
as ardent novices serving a single altar, each
worshiping there without visible gain over the
other. Each had even come to possess, in the
eyes of his two fellows, almost a sacredness as a
sharer in the celestial glamor; they were tender
one with another. They were in the last stages.

Johnnie Watson had with him to-day a visitor
of his own--a vastly overgrown person of eighteen,
who, at Johnnie's beckoning, abandoned a
fair companion of the moment and came forward
as William entered the gate.

``I want to intradooce you to two of my most
int'mut friends, George,'' said Johnnie, with the
anxious gravity of a person about to do something
important and unfamiliar. ``Mr. Baxter, let me
intradooce my cousin, Mr.Crooper. Mr.Crooper,
this is my friend, Mr. Baxter.''

The gentlemen shook hands solemnly, saying,

``'M very glad to meet you,'' and Johnnie turned
to Joe Bullitt. ``Mr. Croo--I mean, Mr. Bullitt,
let me intradooce my friend, Mr. Crooper--I
mean my cousin, Mr. Crooper. Mr. Crooper is a
cousin of mine.''

``Glad to make your acquaintance, Mr.
Crooper,'' said Joe. ``I suppose you're a cousin
of Johnnie's, then?''

``Yep,'' said Mr. Crooper, becoming more
informal. ``Johnnie wrote me to come over for
this shindig, so I thought I might as well come.''
He laughed loudly, and the others laughed with
the same heartiness. ``Yessir,'' he added, ``I
thought I might as well come, 'cause I'm pretty
apt to be on hand if there's anything doin'!''

``Well, that's right,'' said William, and while
they all laughed again, Mr. Crooper struck his
cousin a jovial blow upon the back.

``Hi, ole sport!'' he cried, ``I want to meet that
Miss Pratt before we start. The car'll be along
pretty soon, and I got her picked for the girl I'm
goin' to sit by.''

The laughter of William and Joe Bullitt,
designed to express cordiality, suddenly became
flaccid and died. If Mr. Crooper had been a
sensitive person he might have perceived the chilling
disapproval in their glances, for they had just
begun to be most unfavorably impressed with
him. The careless loudness--almost the
notoriety--with which he had uttered Miss Pratt's
name, demanding loosely to be presented to her,
regardless of the well-known law that a lady must
first express some wish in such matters--these
were indications of a coarse nature sure to be more
than uncongenial to Miss Pratt. Its presence
might make the whole occasion distasteful to her
--might spoil her day. Both William and Joe
Bullitt began to wonder why on earth Johnnie
Watson didn't have any more sense than to
invite such a big, fat lummox of a cousin to the

This severe phrase of theirs, almost simultaneous
in the two minds, was not wholly a failure as
a thumb-nail sketch of Mr. George Crooper.
And yet there was the impressiveness of size
about him, especially about his legs and chin.
At seventeen and eighteen growth is still going
on, sometimes in a sporadic way, several parts
seeming to have sprouted faster than others.
Often the features have not quite settled down
together in harmony, a mouth, for instance,
appearing to have gained such a lead over the rest
of a face, that even a mother may fear it can
never be overtaken. Voices, too, often seem
misplaced; one hears, outside the door, the bass
rumble of a sinister giant, and a mild boy, thin
as a cricket, walks in. The contrary was George
Crooper's case; his voice was an unexpected
piping tenor, half falsetto and frequently girlish
--as surprising as the absurd voice of an elephant.

He had the general outwardness of a vast and
lumpy child. His chin had so distanced his other
features that his eyes, nose, and brow seemed
almost baby-like in comparison, while his mountainous
legs were the great part of the rest of
him. He was one of those huge, bottle-shaped
boys who are always in motion in spite of their
cumbersomeness. His gestures were continuous,
though difficult to interpret as bearing upon the
subject of his equally continuous conversation;
and under all circumstances he kept his conspicuous
legs incessantly moving, whether he was
going anywhere or remaining in comparatively
one spot.

His expression was pathetically offensive, the
result of his bland confidence in the audible
opinions of a small town whereof his father was
the richest inhabitant--and the one thing about
him, even more obvious than his chin, his legs,
and his spectacular taste in flannels, was his
perfect trust that he was as welcome to every one
as he was to his mother. This might some day
lead him in the direction of great pain, but on
the occasion of the ``subscription party'' for Miss
Pratt it gave him an advantage.

``When do I get to meet that cutie?'' he
insisted, as Johnnie Watson moved backward from
the cousinly arm, which threatened further flailing.
``You intradooced me to about seven I
can't do much FOR, but I want to get the howdy
business over with this Miss Pratt, so I and she
can get things started. I'm goin' to keep her
busy all day!''

``Well, don't be in such a hurry,'' said Johnnie,
uneasily. ``You can meet her when we get out
in the country--if I get a chance, George.''

``No, sir!'' George protested, jovially. ``I
guess you're sad birds over in this town, but look
out! When I hit a town it don't take long till
they all hear there's something doin'! You know
how I am when I get started, Johnnie!'' Here
he turned upon William, tucking his fat arm
affectionately through William's thin one. ``Hi,
sport! Ole Johnnie's so slow, YOU toddle me over
and get me fixed up with this Miss Pratt, and
I'll tell her you're the real stuff--after we get

He was evidently a true cloud-compeller, this
horrible George. _



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