For the rest, his costume was neutral, subordinate, and even a little neglected in the matter of a detail or two: one pointed flap of his soft collar was held down by a button, but the other showed a frayed thread where the button once had been; his low patent-leather shoes were of a luster not solicitously cherished, and there could be no doubt that he needed to get his hair cut, while something might have been done, too, about the individualized hirsute prophecies which had made independent appearances, here and there, upon his chin. He examined these from time to time by the sense of touch, passing his hand across his face and allowing his finger-tips a slight tapping motion wherever they detected a prophecy.
Thus he fell into a pleasant musing and seemed to forget the crowded street.
He was roused by the bluff greeting of an acquaintance not dissimilar to himself in age, manner, and apparel.
“H’lo, Silly Bill!” said this person, William Sylvanus Baxter. “What’s the news?”
William showed no enthusiasm; on the contrary, a frown of annoyance appeared upon his brow. The nickname “Silly Bill”—long ago compounded by merry child-comrades from “William” and “Sylvanus”—was not to his taste, especially in public, where he preferred to be addressed simply and manfully as “Baxter.” Any direct expression of resentment, however, was difficult, since it was plain that Johnnie Watson intended no offense whatever and but spoke out of custom.
“Don’t know any,” William replied, coldly.
“Dull times, ain’t it?” said Mr. Watson, a little depressed by his friend’s manner. “I heard May Parcher was comin’ back to town yesterday, though.”
“Well, let her!” returned William, still severe.
“They said she was goin’ to bring a girl to visit her,” Johnnie began in a confidential tone. “They said she was a reg’lar ringdinger and—”
“Well, what if she is?” the discouraging Mr. Baxter interrupted. “Makes little difference to me, I guess!”
“Oh no, it don’t. You don’t take any interest in girls! Oh no!”
“No, I do not!” was the emphatic and heartless retort. “I never saw one in my life I’d care whether she lived or died!”
“Honest?” asked Johnnie, struck by the conviction with which this speech was uttered. “Honest, is that so?”
“Yes, ’honest’!” William replied, sharply. “They could all die, I wouldn’t notice!”
Johnnie Watson was profoundly impressed. “Why, I didn’t know you felt that way about ’em, Silly Bill. I always thought you were kind of—”
“Well, I do feel that way about ’em!” said William Sylvanus Baxter, and, outraged by the repetition of the offensive nickname, he began to move away. “You can tell ’em so for me, if you want to!” he added over his shoulder. And he walked haughtily up the street, leaving Mr. Watson to ponder upon this case of misogyny, never until that moment suspected.