5 AUGUST 1916, Page 18



THE age indicated by the title of Mr. Booth Tarkington's novel is tradi- tionally or proverbially associated in romance with the charm of girl- hood, and girls play an active part in his diverting chronicle of " youth and summer time." But the central figure is not a representative of "sweet seventeen," but a susceptible American boy, and, to speak plainly, the story is one of calf, or perhaps we should say moonealf, • Seventeen : a Tale of You& and Sumner Tisw. By Booth Tatichistss Tenanted London: Hodder and Stoughton. (63.1

eve. Let us therefore reassure our readers by stating that William Sylvanus Baxter is not an adolescent version of Buster Brown. True, he is precocious, but not outrageously so, and he is very far from invariably riding roughshod over all obstacles. He takes himself with portentous seriousness, but he is very sensitive to criticism. He wishes to be thought manly and robust, but is constantly betrayed into ridiculous or humiliating positions. He is as wax in the hands of the object of his attentions, and he is entirely unable to cope with the chief disinte- grator of his dignity, his ten-year-old sister Jane, an undefeated and imperturbable child of Nature who adds to a ceaseless appetite and a magnificent digestion extraordinary powers of vision, hearing, and memory. Jane is an enfant terrible who disproves the old maxim about the power and knowledge of youth, but she is not in the least an


wholesome imp ; indeed, she proves an invaluable and helpful ally to the grown-up contingent in controlling the extravagances of the calf lovers. As Mr. Booth Tarkington observes, after a remarkable exhi- bition of Jane's superb curiosity and powerful memory, " During the glamors of early love, if there be a creature more deadly than the little brother of a budding woman, that creature is the little sister of a budding man. The little brother at least tells in the open all he knows, often at full power of his lungs, and even that may be avoided, since he is wax in the hands of bribery ; but the little sister is more apt to save her knowledge for use upon a terrible occasion ; and, no matter what bribes she may accept, she is certain to tell her mother everything. All in all, a young lover should arrange, if possible, to be the only child of elderly parents ; otherwise his mother and sister are sure to know a great deal more about him than he knows that they know."

William lived in a " middle-sized midland city" in the States, and at the time we make his acquaintance was supposed to be working at mathematics in his holidays. As a matter of fact, he spent most of his time worshipping at the shrine of Miss Lola Pratt, a golden-haired young beauty who was spending the summer with his friends and neighbours, the Perchers. There wore other rivals, but William was the most serious, the most chivalrous, and also quite the most gorgeous ass of the lot. It was a terrible ordeal for Mr. Percher, who was a studious man, addicted to the perusal of Pltdarch's Lives, and a foe to sentiment, but, like most American parents, singularly tolerant of the extravagances of youth. Still, he did explode at times, and the unexpected presence of Jane on the occasion of one explosion led to the strange, we had almost said the unholy, affiance between this il I-assorted couple which was fraught with so much disoomfiture for William. Miss Pratt in her way was a wonderful young woman. She distributed her attentions with the utmost impartiality, and she had a gift of switching off the conversation when it threatened to become too serious which was nothing short of masterly. In these manusuvres she made use of a distressing but invaluable habit of talking to her admirers is the lan- guage which she habitually employed in addressing her toy-dog Flopit. The effect of this device, though most efficient for the purpose in hand, was occasionally too much for Mr. Percher, as may be gathered from the following episode. It should be explained that William was sitting on the jasmine-scented porch talking to his enchantress, while Mr. Percher was trying to read Plutarch in his library, a few feet off :-

" It was William who broke the silence. How—' he began, and his voice trembled a little. ' How—how do you—how do you think of me when I'm not with you I '—' Think nice-cums,' Miss Pratt re- sponded. ' Flopit an' me think nice-cums.'—' No,' said William ; ' I mean what name do you, have for me when you're—when you're thinking about me ' M' Pratt seemed to be puzzled, perhaps justifiably, and she made a cooing sound of interrogation. ' I mean like this, William explained. F'rinstance, when you first came, I always thought of you as "Milady "—when I wrote that poem, you know.'—' Ess. Boo'fums.'—' But now I don't,' he said. Now I think of you by another name when I'm alone. It—it just sort of came to me. I was kind of just sitting around this afternoon, and I didn't know I was thinking about anything at all very much, and then all of a sudden I said it to myself out loud. It was about as strange a thing as I ever knew of. Don't you think so 1 '—' Ess. It uz deist weird!' she answered. What are dat pitty names '—' I called you,' said William, huskily and reverently, ' I called you " My Baby-Talk Lady." ' Bang I They were startled by a crash from within the library ; a heavy weight seemed to have fallen (or to have been hurled) a considerable distanoe. Stepping to the window, William beheld a large volume lying in a distorted attitude at the foot of the wall opposite to that in which the reading-lamp was a fixture. But of all human life the room was empty ; for Mr. Percher had given up, and was now hastening to his bed in the last faint hope of saving his reason. His synaptoms, however, all pointed to its having fled ; and his wife, looking up from some computations in laundry charges, had but a vision of windmill gestures as he passed the door of her room. Then, not only for her, but for the inoffensive people who lived in the other half of the house, the closing of his own door took place in a really memorable manner."

But even more remarkable than Miss Pratt's skill in handling her team of moon-calves is the exquisite good nature of Mrs. Baxter in humouring the vagaries of her son. How good is her remark to Jane when that unconscionable child reported that William had been barking at his looking-glass—the infatuated youth sought to curry favour with Miss Pratt by imitations of her dog. " That,' said Mrs. Baxter, ' is beyond me. Young people and children do the strangest things, Jane 1 And then, when they get to be middle-aged, they forget all those strange things they did, and they can't understand what the new young people— like you and Willie—mean by the strange things they do.' " Mrs. Baxter did not forget, and therein lay her power. At the same time, she was capable of putting her foot down firmly when the need arose.

This is a most entertaining and wholesome book on a theme which requires delicate handling. Mr. Booth Tarkington has achieved a real triumph by avoiding the extremes of cynicism and sentimentality, and none will laugh more heartily at his comedy than those who have experienced the symptoms so faithfully described in the portrait of William.