He was in desperate case.
The sorrow of the approaching great departure was but the heavier because it had been so long deferred. To William it had seemed that this flower-strewn summer could actually end no more than he could actually die, but Time had begun its awful lecture, and even Seventeen was listening.
Miss Pratt, that magic girl, was going home.
To the competent twenties, hundreds of miles suggesting no impossibilities, such departures may be rending, but not tragic. Implacable, the difference to Seventeen! Miss Pratt was going home, and Seventeen could not follow; it could only mourn upon the lonely shore, tracing little angelic footprints left in the sand.
To Seventeen such a departure is final; it is a vanishing.
And now it seemed possible that William might be deprived even of the last romantic consolations: of the “last waltz together,” of the last, last “listening to music in the moonlight together”; of all those sacred lasts of the “last evening together.”
He had pleaded strongly for a “dress-suit” as a fitting recognition of his seventeenth birthday anniversary, but he had been denied by his father with a jocularity more crushing than rigor. Since then—in particular since the arrival of Miss Pratt—Mr. Baxter’s temper had been growing steadily more and more even. That is, as affected by William’s social activities, it was uniformly bad. Nevertheless, after heavy brooding, William decided to make one final appeal before he resorted to measures which the necessities of despair had caused him to contemplate.
He wished to give himself every chance for a good effect; therefore, he did not act hastily, but went over what he intended to say, rehearsing it with a few appropriate gestures, and even taking some pleasure in the pathetic dignity of this performance, as revealed by occasional glances at the mirror of his dressing-table. In spite of these little alleviations, his trouble was great and all too real, for, unhappily, the previous rehearsal of an emotional scene does not prove the emotion insincere.
Descending, he found his father and mother still sitting upon the front porch. Then, standing before them, solemn-eyed, he uttered a preluding cough, and began:
“Father,” he said in a loud voice, “I have come to—”
“Dear me!” Mrs. Baxter exclaimed, not perceiving that she was interrupting an intended oration. “Willie, you do look pale! Sit down, poor child; you oughtn’t to walk so much in this heat.”
“Father,” William repeated. “Fath—”
“I suppose you got her safely home from church,” Mr. Baxter said. “She might have been carried off by footpads if you three boys hadn’t been along to take care of her!”
But William persisted heroically. “Father—” he said. “Father, I have come to—”