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Seventeen, a novel by Booth Tarkington


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_ Mrs. Baxter was troubled. During the
afternoon she glanced often from the
open window of the room where she had gone to
sew, but the peaceful neighborhood continued
to be peaceful, and no sound of the harassed
footsteps of William echoed from the pavement.
However, she saw Genesis arrive (in his week-
day costume) to do some weeding, and Jane
immediately skip forth for mingled purposes of
observation and conversation.

``What DO they say?'' thought Mrs. Baxter,
observing that both Jane and Genesis were unusually
animated. But for once that perplexity was
to be dispersed. After an exciting half-hour
Jane came flying to her mother, breathless.

``Mamma,'' she cried, ``I know where Willie is!
Genesis told me, 'cause he saw him, an' he
talked to him while he was doin' it.''

``Doing what? Where?''

``Mamma, listen! What you think Willie's
doin'? I bet you can't g--''

``Jane!'' Mrs Baxter spoke sharply. ``Tell
me what Genesis said, at once.''

``Yes'm. Willie's sittin' in a lumber-yard that
Genesis comes by on his way from over on the
avynoo where all the colored people live--an' he's
countin' knot-holes in shingles.''

``He is WHAT?''

``Yes'm. Genesis knows all about it, because
he was thinkin' of doin' it himself, only he says
it would be too slow. This is the way it is,
mamma. Listen, mamma, because this is just
exackly the way it is. Well, this lumber-yard
man got into some sort of a fuss because he
bought millions an' millions of shingles, mamma,
that had too many knots in, an' the man don't
want to pay for 'em, or else the store where he
bought 'em won't take 'em back, an' they got to
prove how many shingles are bad shingles, or
somep'm, an' anyway, mamma, that's what
Willie's doin'. Every time he comes to a bad
shingle, mamma, he puts it somewheres else,
or somep'm like that, mamma, an' every time
he's put a thousand bad shingles in this other
place they give him six cents. He gets the six
cents to keep, mamma--an' that's what he's been
doin' all day!''

``Good gracious!''

``Oh, but that's nothing, mamma--just you
wait till you hear the rest. THAT part of it isn't
anything a TALL, mamma! You wouldn't hardly
notice that part of it if you knew the other part
of it, mamma. Why, that isn't ANYTHING!'' Jane
made demonstrations of scorn for the insignificant
information already imparted.



``I want to know everything Genesis told
you,'' said her mother, ``and I want you to tell
it as quickly as you can.''

``Well, I AM tellin' it, mamma!'' Jane
protested. ``I'm just BEGINNING to tell it. I can't
tell it unless there's a beginning, can I? How
could there be ANYTHING unless you had to begin
it, mamma?''

``Try your best to go on, Jane!''

``Yes'm. Well, Genesis says-- Mamma!''
Jane interrupted herself with a little outcry.
``Oh! I bet THAT'S what he had those two market-
baskets for! Yes, sir! That's just what he did!
An' then he needed the rest o' the money an'
you an' papa wouldn't give him any, an' so he
began countin' shingles to-day 'cause to-night's
the night of the party an' he just HASS to have it!''

Mrs. Baxter, who had risen to her feet,
recalled the episode of the baskets and sank into a
chair. ``How did Genesis know Willie wanted
forty dollars, and if Willie's pawned something how
did Genesis know THAT? Did Willie tell Gen--''

``Oh no, mamma, Willie didn't want forty
dollars--only fourteen!''

``But he couldn't get even the cheapest ready-
made dress-suit for fourteen dollars.''

``Mamma, you're gettin' it all mixed up!''
Jane cried. ``Listen, mamma! Genesis knows
all about a second-hand store over on the avynoo;
an' it keeps 'most everything, an' Genesis says
it's the nicest store! It keeps waiter suits all
the way up to nineteen dollars and ninety-nine
cents. Well, an' Genesis wants to get one of
those suits, so he goes in there all the time, an'
talks to the man an' bargains an' bargains with
him, 'cause Genesis says this man is the
bargainest man in the wide worl', mamma! That's
what Genesis says. Well, an' so this man's name
is One-eye Beljus, mamma. That's his name,
an' Genesis says so. Well, an' so this man that
Genesis told me about, that keeps the store--I
mean One-eye Beljus, mamma--well, One-eye
Beljus had Willie's name written down in a book,
an' he knew Genesis worked for fam'lies that
have boys like Willie in 'em, an' this morning
One-eye Beljus showed Genesis Willie's name
written down in this book, an' One-eye Beljus
asked Genesis if he knew anybody by that name
an' all about him. Well, an' so at first Genesis
pretended he was tryin' to remember, because he
wanted to find out what Willie went there for.
Genesis didn't tell any stories, mamma; he just
pretended he couldn't remember, an' so, well,
One-eye Beljus kept talkin' an' pretty soon
Genesis found out all about it. One-eye Beljus
said Willie came in there an' tried on the coat
of one of those waiter suits--''

``Oh no!'' gasped Mrs. Baxter.

``Yes'm, an' One-eye Beljus said it was the
only one that would fit Willie, an' One-eye
Beljus told Willie that suit was worth fourteen
dollars, an' Willie said he didn't have any money,
but he'd like to trade something else for it.
Well, an' so One-eye Beljus said this was an
awful fine suit an' the only one he had that
had b'longed to a white gentleman. Well, an'
so they bargained, an' bargained, an' bargained,
an' BARGAINED! An' then, well, an' so at last
Willie said he'd go an' get everything that
b'longed to him, an' One-eye Beljus could pick
out enough to make fourteen dollars' worth,
an' then Willie could have the suit. Well, an'
so Willie came home an' put everything he had
that b'longed to him into those two baskets,
mamma--that's just what he did, 'cause Genesis
says he told One-eye Beljus it was everything
that b'longed to him, an' that would take two
baskets, mamma. Well, then, an' so he told
One-eye Beljus to pick out fourteen dollars'
worth, an' One-eye Beljus ast Willie if he didn't
have a watch. Well, Willie took out his watch
an' One-eye Beljus said it was an awful bad
watch, but he would put it in for a dollar; an'
he said, `I'll put your necktie pin in for forty
cents more,' so Willie took it out of his necktie
an' then One-eye Beljus said it would take all
the things in the baskets to make I forget how
much, mamma, an' the watch would be a dollar
more, an' the pin forty cents, an' that would
leave just three dollars an' sixty cents more for
Willie to pay before he could get the suit.''

Mrs. Baxter's face had become suffused with
high color, but she wished to know all that
Genesis had said, and, mastering her feelings
with an effort, she told Jane to proceed--a
command obeyed after Jane had taken several long

``Well, an' so the worst part of it is, Genesis
says, it's because that suit is haunted.''


``Yes'm,'' said Jane, solemnly; ``Genesis says
it's haunted. Genesis says everybody over on
the avynoo knows all about that suit, an' he says
that's why One-eye Beljus never could sell it
before. Genesis says One-eye Beljus tried to sell
it to a colored man for three dollars, but the man
said he wouldn't put in on for three hunderd
dollars, an' Genesis says HE wouldn't, either,
because it belonged to a Dago waiter that--that--''
Jane's voice sank to a whisper of unctuous horror.
She was having a wonderful time! ``Mamma,
this Dago waiter, he lived over on the avynoo,
an' he took a case-knife he'd sharpened--

Mrs. Baxter screamed faintly.

``An' he got hung, mamma! If you don't
believe it, you can ask One-eye Beljus--I guess HE
knows! An' you can ask--''


``An' he sold this suit to One-eye Beljus when
he was in jail, mamma. He sold it to him before
he got hung, mamma.''

``Hush, Jane!''

But Jane couldn't hush now. ``An' he had
that suit on when he cut the lady's head off,
mamma, an' that's why it's haunted. They
cleaned it all up excep' a few little spots of

``JANE!'' shouted her mother. ``You must not
talk about such things, and Genesis mustn't tell,
you stories of that sort!''

``Well, how could he help it, if he told me about
Willie?'' Jane urged, reasonably.

``Never mind! Did that crazy ch-- Did
Willie LEAVE the baskets in that dreadful place?''

``Yes'm--an' his watch an' pin,'' Jane
informed her, impressively. ``An' One-eye Beljus
wanted to know if Genesis knew Willie, because
One-eye Beljus wanted to know if Genesis
thought Willie could get the three dollars an;
sixty cents, an' One-eye Beljus wanted to know
if Genesis thought he could get anything more
out of him besides that. He told Genesis he
hadn't told Willie he COULD have the suit, after
all; he just told him he THOUGHT he could, but he
wouldn't say for certain till he brought him the
three dollars an' sixty cents. So Willie left all
his things there, an' his watch an--''

``That will do!'' Mrs. Baxter's voice was
sharper than it had ever been in Jane's recollection.
``I don't need to hear any more--and I
don't WANT to hear any more!''

Jane was justly aggrieved. ``But, mamma,
it isn't MY fault!''

Mrs. Baxter's lips parted to speak, but she
checked herself. ``Fault?'' she said, gravely.
``I wonder whose fault it really is!''

And with that she went hurriedly into William's
room and made a brief inspection of his
clothes-closet and dressing-table. Then, as Jane
watched her in awed silence, she strode to the
window, and called, loudly:


``Yes'm?'' came the voice from below.

``Go to that lumber-yard where Mr. William
is at work and bring him here to me at once.
If he declines to come, tell him--'' Her voice
broke oddly; she choked, but Jane could not
decide with what emotion. ``Tell him--tell him
I ordered you to use force if necessary! Hurry!''


Jane ran to the window in time to see Genesis
departing seriously through the back gate.


``Don't talk to me now, Jane,'' Mrs. Baxter
said, crisply. ``I want you to go down in the
yard, and when Willie comes tell him I'm waiting
for him here in his own room. And don't come
with him, Jane. Run!''

``Yes, mamma.'' Jane was pleased with this
appointment; she anxiously desired to be the
first to see how Willie ``looked.''

. . . He looked flurried and flustered and
breathless, and there were blisters upon the reddened
palms of his hands. ``What on earth's the
matter, mother?'' he asked, as he stood panting
before her. ``Genesis said something was wrong,
and he said you told him to hit me if I wouldn't

``Oh NO!'' she cried. ``I only meant I thought
perhaps you wouldn't obey any ordinary message--''

``Well, well, it doesn't matter, but please hurry
and say what you want to, because I got to get
back and--''

``No,'' Mrs. Baxter said, quietly, ``you're not
going back to count any more shingles, Willie.
How much have you earned?''

He swallowed, but spoke bravely. ``Thirty-
six cents. But I've been getting lots faster the
last two hours and there's a good deal of time
before six o'clock. Mother--''

``No,'' she said. ``You're going over to that
horrible place where you've left your clothes and
your watch and all those other things in the two
baskets, and you're going to bring them home
at once.''

``Mother!'' he cried, aghast. ``Who told you?''

``It doesn't matter. You don't want your
father to find out, do you? Then get those
things back here as quickly as you can. They'll
have to be fumigated after being in that den.''

``They've never been out of the baskets,'; he
protested, hotly, ``except just to be looked at.
They're MY things, mother, and I had a right to
do what I needed to with 'em, didn't I?'' His
utterance became difficult. ``You and father
just CAN'T understand--and you won't do anything
to help me--''

``Willie, you can go to the party,'' she said,
gently. ``You didn't need those frightful clothes
at all.''

``I do!'' he cried. ``I GOT to have 'em! I CAN'T
go in my day clo'es! There's a reason you
wouldn't understand why I can't. I just CAN'T!''

``Yes,'' she said, ``you can go to the party.''

``I can't, either! Not unless you give me three
dollars and twenty-four cents, or unless I can
get back to the lumber-yard and earn the rest

``No!'' And the warm color that had rushed
over Mrs. Baxter during Jane's sensational
recital returned with a vengeance. Her eyes
flashed. ``If you'd rather I sent a policeman for
those baskets, I'll send one. I should prefer to
do it--much! And to have that rascal arrested.
If you don't want me to send a policeman you
can go for them yourself, but you must start
within ten minutes, because if you don't I'll
telephone headquarters. Ten minutes, Willie,
and I mean it!''

He cried out, protesting. She would make him
a thing of scorn forever and soil his honor, if she
sent a policeman. Mr. Beljus was a fair and
honest tradesman, he explained, passionately,
and had not made the approaches in this matter.
Also, the garments in question, though not
entirely new, nor of the highest mode, were of good
material and in splendid condition. Unmistakably
they were evening clothes, and such a
bargain at fourteen dollars that William would
guarantee to sell them for twenty after he had
worn them this one evening. Mr. Beljus himself
had said that he would not even think of
letting them go at fourteen to anybody else, and
as for the two poor baskets of worn and useless
articles offered in exchange, and a bent scarf-
pin and a worn-out old silver watch that had
belonged to great-uncle Ben--why, the ten dollars
and forty cents allowed upon them was
beyond all ordinary liberality; it was almost
charity. There was only one place in town where
evening clothes were rented, and the suspicious
persons in charge had insisted that William obtain
from his father a guarantee to insure the return
of the garments in perfect condition. So that
was hopeless. And wasn't it better, also, to
wear clothes which had known only one previous
occupant (as was the case with Mr. Beljus's
offering) than to hire what chance hundreds had
hired? Finally, there was only one thing to be
considered and this was the fact that William
HAD to have those clothes!

``Six minutes,'' said Mrs. Baxter, glancing
implacably at her watch. ``When it's ten I'll

And the end of it was, of course, victory for
the woman--victory both moral and physical.
Three-quarters of an hour later she was
unburdening the contents of the two baskets and
putting the things back in place, illuminating
these actions with an expression of strong
distaste--in spite of broken assurances that Mr.
Beljus had not more than touched any of the
articles offered to him for valuation.

. . . At dinner, which was unusually early that
evening, Mrs. Baxter did not often glance toward
her son; she kept her eyes from that white face
and spent most of her time in urging upon Mr.
Baxter that he should be prompt in dressing for a
card-club meeting which he and she were to attend
that evening. These admonitions of hers
were continued so pressingly that Mr. Baxter,
after protesting that there was no use in being a
whole hour too early, groaningly went to dress
without even reading his paper.

William had retired to his own room, where he
lay upon his bed in the darkness. He heard the
evening noises of the house faintly through the
closed door: voices and the clatter of metal and
china from the far-away kitchen, Jane's laugh in
the hall, the opening and closing of the doors.
Then his father seemed to be in distress about
something. William heard him complaining to
Mrs. Baxter, and though the words were indistinct,
the tone was vigorously plaintive. Mrs.
Baxter laughed and appeared to make light of
his troubles, whatever they were--and presently
their footsteps were audible from the stairway;
the front door closed emphatically, and they were

Everything was quiet now. The open window
showed as a greenish oblong set in black, and
William knew that in a little while there would
come through the stillness of that window the
distant sound of violins. That was a moment he
dreaded with a dread that ached. And as he lay
on his dreary bed he thought of brightly lighted
rooms where other boys were dressing eagerly
faces and hair shining, hearts beating high--boys
who would possess this last evening and the ``last
waltz together,'' the last smile and the last sigh.

It did not once enter his mind that he could
go to the dance in his ``best suit,'' or that
possibly the other young people at the party would
be too busy with their own affairs to notice
particularly what he wore. It was the unquestionable
and granite fact, to his mind, that the whole
derisive World would know the truth about his
earlier appearances in his father's clothes. And
that was a form of ruin not to be faced. In the
protective darkness and seclusion of William's
bedroom, it is possible that smarting eyes relieved
themselves by blinking rather energetically; it is
even possible that there was a minute damp spot
upon the pillow. Seventeen cannot always manage
the little boy yet alive under all the coverings.

Now arrived that moment he had most painfully
anticipated, and dance-music drifted on the
night;--but there came a tapping upon his door
and a soft voice spoke.


With a sharp exclamation William swung his
legs over the edge of the bed and sat up. Of all
things he desired not, he desired no conversation
with, or on the part of, Jane. But he had
forgotten to lock his door--the handle turned, and a
dim little figure marched in.

``Willie, Adelia's goin' to put me to bed.''

``You g'way from here,'' he said, huskily. ``I
haven't got time to talk to you. I'm busy.''

``Well, you can wait a minute, can't you?'' she
asked, reasonably. ``I haf to tell you a joke on

``I don't want to hear any jokes!''

``Well, I HAF to tell you this one 'cause she told
me to! Oh!'' Jane clapped her hand over her
mouth and jumped up and down, offering a
fantastic silhouette against the light of the Open
door. ``Oh, oh, OH!''

``What's matter?''

``She said I mustn't, MUSTN'T tell that she told
me to tell! My goodness! I forgot that!
Mamma took me off alone right after dinner, an'
she told me to tell you this joke on her a little
after she an' papa had left the house, but she said,
`Above all THINGS,' she said, `DON'T let Willie know
_I_ said to tell him.' That's just what she said,
an' here that's the very first thing I had to go an'

``Well, what of it?''

Jane quieted down. The pangs of her remorse
were lost in her love of sensationalism, and her
voice sank to the thrilling whisper which it was
one of her greatest pleasures to use. ``Did you
hear what a fuss papa was makin' when he was
dressin' for the card-party?''

``_I_ don't care if--''

``He had to go in his reg'lar clo'es!'' whispered
Jane, triumphantly. ``An' this is the joke on
mamma: you know that tailor that let papa's
dress-suit 'way, 'way out; well, Mamma thinks
that tailor must think she's crazy, or somep'm
'cause she took papa's dress-suit to him last
Monday to get it pressed for this card-party,
an she guesses he must of understood her to
tell him to do lots besides just pressin' it.
Anyway, he went an' altered it, an' he took it 'way,
'way IN again; an' this afternoon when it came
back it was even tighter 'n what it was in the first
place, an' papa couldn't BEGIN to get into it!
Well, an' so it's all pressed an' ev'ything, an' she
stopped on the way out, an' whispered to me
that she'd got so upset over the joke on her that
she couldn't remember where she put it when
she took it out o' papa's room after he gave up
tryin' to get inside of it. An' that,'' cried Jane--
``that's the funniest thing of all! Why, it's
layin' right on her bed this very minute!''

In one bound William leaped through the open
door. Two seconds sufficed for his passage
through the hall to his mother's bedroom--and
there, neatly spread upon the lace coverlet and
brighter than coronation robes, fairer than
Joseph's holy coat, It lay! _



Table of content of Seventeen


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