William Sylvanus Baxter at last reaches the impressive age of seventeen, and as he emerges from the corner drugstore after indulging in two chocolate and strawberry sodas, he tries to impress the town with his lofty air of self-importance. No one notices him except his friend, Johnny Watson, who destroys William’s hauteur in one breath by calling him “Silly Bill.” At that moment, William sees a feminine vision in pink and white. A stranger in town, she carries her parasol and her little white dog with easy grace. William, not daring to speak, manages only an insincere yawn. The vision, taking no apparent notice of William, speaks in charming lisps to her little dog Flopit and disappears around the corner.
William goes home in a daze, hardly bothering to speak to his outrageous little sister, Jane, who greets him between mouthfuls of applesauce and bread. Scorning her, he goes up to his room, his heart full of the mystery of love, and composes a poem to his new and unknown lady. He is interrupted by his mother, who asks William to go with Genesis, the black handyman, to pick up some laundry tubs from the secondhand store. The errand, to William, is worse than being seen in public with a leper, for he looks on Genesis as a ragged, bedraggled, down-at-the-heels pariah, whose presence is an unwholesome reproach to the whole neighborhood.
Genesis is in reality a wise old philosopher, despite his seminudity and the ubiquitous presence of his mongrel dog, Clematis. However, William is in no mood to be tolerant. His worst fears are realized when, on the way home, he hears behind him the silvery voice of the fair stranger referring to Clematis as a nasty old dog. William is hidden by the laundry tub he carries over his head, but his invisibility in no way diminishes his growing horror at being taken for a companion of Genesis and the owner of the dreadful Clematis. Clematis, meanwhile, is fascinated by Flopit. When William hears the yips and barks of the two dogs, he runs away, still hidden under his protecting tub.
The young vision in pink and white is the summer visitor of May Parcher. Her name, William learns, is Miss Pratt. Soon the boys in the neighborhood collect on the Parcher porch and swarm around the adorable girl every evening after supper, much to the disgust of Mr. Parcher, who lies awake for hours in his room over the porch and listens reluctantly to the drivel of conversation below. William has an advantage over the other suitors, for he borrows his father’s dress suit without his parents’ knowledge and arrives each night in splendid attire.
During the day, William cannot escape his...
(The entire section is 1081 words.)