So passed the long, ineffable afternoon away—ah, Seventeen!
“... ’Jav a good time at the trolley-party?” the clerk in the corner drug-store inquired that evening.
“Fine!” said William, taking his overcoat from the hook where he had left it.
“How j’ like them Little Sweethearts I sold you?”
“Fine!” said William.
Now the last rose had blown; the dandelion globes were long since on the wind; gladioli and golden-glow and salvia were here; the season moved toward asters and the goldenrod. This haloed summer still idled on its way, yet all the while sped quickly; like some languid lady in an elevator.
There came a Sunday—very hot.
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter, having walked a scorched half-mile from church, drooped thankfully into wicker chairs upon their front porch, though Jane, who had accompanied them, immediately darted away, swinging her hat by its ribbon and skipping as lithesomely as if she had just come forth upon a cool morning.
“I don’t know how she does it!” her father moaned, glancing after her and drying his forehead temporarily upon a handkerchief. “That would merely kill me dead, after walking in this heat.”
Then, for a time, the two were content to sit in silence, nodding to occasional acquaintances who passed in the desultory after-church procession. Mr. Baxter fanned himself with sporadic little bursts of energy which made his straw hat creak, and Mrs. Baxter sighed with the heat, and gently rocked her chair.
But as a group of five young people passed along the other side of the street Mr. Baxter abruptly stopped fanning himself, and, following the direction of his gaze, Mrs. Baxter ceased to rock. In half-completed attitudes they leaned slightly forward, sharing one of those pauses of parents who unexpectedly behold their offspring.
“My soul!” said William’s father. “Hasn’t that girl gone home yet?”
“He looks pale to me,” Mrs. Baxter murmured, absently. “I don’t think he seems at all well, lately.”
During seventeen years Mr. Baxter had gradually learned not to protest anxieties of this kind, unless he desired to argue with no prospect of ever getting a decision. “Hasn’t she got any home?” he demanded, testily. “Isn’t she ever going to quit visiting the Parchers and let people have a little peace?”
Mrs. Baxter disregarded this outburst as he had disregarded her remark about William’s pallor. “You mean Miss Pratt?” she inquired, dreamily, her eyes following the progress of her son. “No, he really doesn’t look well at all.”
“Is she going to visit the Parchers all summer?” Mr. Baxter insisted.
“She already has, about,” said Mrs. Baxter.
“Look at that boy!” the father grumbled. “Mooning along with those other moon-calves—can’t even let her go to church alone! I wonder how many weeks of time, counting it out in hours, he’s wasted that way this summer?”