"I'm sixteen in October, grandpa," answered Sylvia.
"Is it possible!" murmured the professor. "And to think that you've never bee_o school."
"Why, I've been going to school every day, almost, ever since I can remember.
And haven't I had the finest teacher in the world, all to myself?"
His face brightened responsive to her laugh.
This was at the tea-table—for the Keltons dined at noon in conformity wit_ocal custom—nearly a week after the unsigned letter had been delivered t_ndrew Kelton by the unknown messenger. Sylvia and her grandfather had jus_eturned from a walk, prolonged into the cool dusk. They sat at the squar_alnut table, where they had so long faced each other three times a day.
Sylvia had never doubted that their lives would go on forever in just thi_ay,—that they would always be, as her grandfather liked to put it,
"shipmates," walking together, studying together, sitting as they sat now, a_heir simple meals, with just the same quaintly flowered dishes, the sam_ddly turned teapot, with its attendant cream pitcher (slightly cracked as t_ip) and the sugar-bowl, with a laboring ship depicted in blue on its curve_ide, which was not related, even by the most remote cousinship, to anythin_lse in the pantry.
Professor Kelton was unwontedly preoccupied to-night. Sylvia saw that he ha_arely touched his strawberries—their first of the season, though they wer_ine ones and the cream was the thickest. She folded her hands on the edge o_he table and watched him gravely in the light of the four candles whose flam_lared in the breeze that swept softly through the dining-room windows.
Feeling her eyes upon him the old gentleman suddenly roused himself.
"We've had good times, haven't we, Sylvia? And I wonder if I have reall_aught you anything. I suppose I ought to have been sending you to school wit_he other youngsters about here, but the fact is that I never saw a time whe_ wanted to part with you! You've been a fine little shipmate, but you're no_o little any more. Sixteen your next birthday! If that's so it isn't best fo_s to go on this way. You must try your oar in deeper water. You've outgrow_e—and I'm a dull old fellow at best. You must go where you will meet othe_irls, and deal with a variety of teachers,—not just one dingy old fellow lik_e. Have you ever thought what kind of a school you'd like to go to?"
"I don't believe I have; I don't know much about schools."
"Well, don't you think you'd like to get away from so much mathematics an_earn things that will fit you to be entertaining and amusing? You know I'v_aught you a lot of things just to amuse myself and they can never be of th_lightest use to you. I suppose you are the only girl of your age in Americ_ho can read the sextant and calculate latitude and longitude. But, bless me, what's the use?"
"Oh, if I could only—"
"Only what?" he encouraged her. He was greatly interested in getting her poin_f view, and it was perfectly clear that a great idea possessed her.
"Oh, if I could only go to college, that would be the finest thing in th_orld!"
"You think that would be more interesting than boarding-school? If you go t_ollege they may require Greek and you don't even know what the letters loo_ike!"
"Oh, yes, I know a little about it!"
"I think not, Sylvia. How could you?"
"Oh, the letters were so queer, I learned them just for fun out of an ol_extbook I found on the campus one day. Nobody ever came to claim it, so _ead it all through and learned all the declensions and vocabularies, though _nly guessed at the pronunciation."
Professor Kelton was greatly amused. "You tackled Greek just for fun, di_ou?" he laughed; then, after a moment's absorption: "I'm going t_ndianapolis to-morrow and I'll take you with me, if you care to go along. I_act, I've written to Mrs. Owen that we're coming, and I've kept this as _ittle surprise for you."
So, after an early breakfast the next morning, they were off for the statio_n one of those disreputable, shaky village hacks that Dr. Wandless alway_alled "dark Icarian birds," with their two bags piled on the seat befor_hem. On the few railway journeys Sylvia remembered, she had been carried o_alf-fare tickets, an ignominy which she recalled with shame. To-day she was _ull-grown passenger with a seat to herself, her grandfather being engage_hrough nearly the whole of their hour's swift journey in a politica_iscussion with a lawyer who was one of the college trustees.
"I told Mrs. Owen not to meet us; it's a nuisance having to meet people," sai_he professor when they had reached the city. "But she always sends a carriag_hen she expects me."
As they stepped out upon the street a station wagon driven by an old negr_ppeared promptly at the curb.
"Mawnin', Cap'n; mawnin'! Yo' just on time. Mis' Sally tole me to kerry yo_ll right up to the haouse. Yes, seh."
Sylvia did not know, what later historians may be interested to learn fro_hese pages, that the station wagon, drawn by a single horse, was for year_he commonest vehicle known to the people of the Hoosier capital. The panic o_873 had hit the town so hard, the community's punishment for its sins o_nflation had been so drastic, that it had accepted meekly the rebuke implie_n its designation as a one-horse town. In 1884 came another shock t_onfidence, and in 1893, still another earthquake, as though the knees of th_roud must at intervals be humbled. The one-horse station wagon continued t_ymbolize the quiet domesticity of the citizens of the Hoosier capital: wome_f unimpeachable social standing carried their own baskets through the aisle_f the city market or drove home with onion tops waving triumphantly on th_eat beside them. We had not yet hitched our wagon to a gasoline tank, bu_raffic regulations were enforced by cruel policemen, to the terror of wome_ong given to leisurely manoeuvres on the wrong side of our busies_horoughfares. The driving of cattle through Washington Street did not ceas_ntil 1888, when cobbles yielded to asphalt. It was in that same year tha_enjamin Harrison was chosen to the seat of the Presidents. What hallowe_iches now enshrine the General's fence, utterly disintegrated an_ppropriated, during that bannered and vociferous summer, by pious pilgrims!
Down the busy meridional avenue that opened before Sylvia as they drove uptow_oomed the tall shaft of the soldiers' monument, and they were soon swingin_ound the encompassing plaza. Professor Kelton explained that the monumen_illed a space once called Circle Park, where the Governor's Mansion had stoo_n old times. In her hurried glimpses Sylvia was unable to account for th_ack of sociability among the distinguished gentlemen posed in bronze aroun_he circular thoroughfare; and she thought it odd that William Henry Harriso_ore so much better clothes than George Rogers Clark, who was immortalized fo_er especial pleasure in the very act of delivering the Wabash from th_ritish yoke.
"I wonder whether Mrs. Owen will like me?" said Sylvia a little plaintively, the least bit homesick as they turned into Delaware Street.
"Of course she will like you!" laughed Professor Kelton, "though I will sa_hat she doesn't like everybody by any manner of means. You mustn't be afrai_f her; she gets on best with people who are not afraid to talk to her. Sh_sn't like anybody you ever saw, or, I think, anybody you are ever likely t_ee again!" And the professor chuckled softly to himself.
Mrs. Owen's big comfortable brick house stood in that broad part of Delawar_treet where the maple arch rises highest, and it was surrounded by th_moothest of lawns, broken only by a stone basin in whose centre posed th_olliest of Cupids holding a green glass umbrella, over which a jet of wate_layed in the most realistic rainstorm imaginable.
Another negro, not quite as venerable as the coachman, opened the door an_ook their bags. He explained that Mrs. Owen (he called her "Mis' Sally") ha_een obliged to attend a meeting of some board or other, but would retur_hortly. The guests' rooms were ready and he at once led the way upstairs, where a white maid met them.
Professor Kelton explained that he must go down into the city on some errands, but that he would be back shortly, and Sylvia was thus left to her ow_evices.
It was like a story book to arrive at a strange house and be carried off to _eautiful room, with a window-seat from which one could look down into th_ost charming of gardens. She opened her bag and disposed her few belonging_nd was exploring the bathroom wonderingly (for the bath at home was an affai_f a tin tub to which water was carried by hand) when a maid appeared with _lass of lemonade and a plate of cakes.
It was while she munched her cakes and sipped the cool lemonade in the window- seat with an elm's branches so close that she could touch them, and wondere_ow near to this room her grandfather had been lodged, and what the mistres_f the house was like, that Mrs. Owen appeared, after the lightest tap on th_igh walnut door. Throughout her life Sylvia will remember that moment whe_he first measured Mrs. Owen's fine height and was aware of her quick, eage_ntrance; but above all else the serious gray eyes that were so alive wit_indness were the chief item of Sylvia's inventory.
"I thought you were older,—or younger! I didn't know you would be just lik_his! I didn't know just when you were coming or I should have tried to be a_ome—but there was a meeting,—there are so many things, child!"
Mrs. Owen did not sigh at the thought of her burdens, but smiled quit_heerfully as though the fact of the world's being a busy place was wholl_greeable. She sat down beside Sylvia in the window-seat and took one of th_akes and nibbled it while they talked. Sylvia had never been so wholly a_ase in her life. It was as though she had been launched into the midst of a_ld friendship, and she felt that she had conferred the greatest possibl_avor in consenting to visit this house, for was not this dear old lad_aying,—
"You see, I'm lonesome sometimes and I almost kidnap people to get them t_isit me. I'm a terribly practical old woman. If you haven't heard it I mus_ell you the truth—I'm a farmer! And I don't let anybody run my business.
Other widows have to take what the lawyers give them; but while I can tel_ats from corn and horses from pigs I'm going to handle my own money. We wome_re a lot of geese, I tell you, child! I'm treasurer of a lot of things wome_un, and I can see a deficit through a brick wall as quick as any man o_arth. Don't you ever let any man vote any proxy for you—you tell 'em you'l_ttend the stockholders' meetings yourself, and when you go, kick!"
Sylvia had not the faintest notion of what proxy meant, but she was sure i_ust be something both interesting and important or Mrs. Owen would not fee_o strongly about it.
"When I was your age," Mrs. Owen continued, "girls weren't allowed to lear_nything but embroidery and housekeeping. But my father had some sense. He wa_ Kentucky farmer and raised horses and mules. I never knew anything abou_usic, for I wouldn't learn; but I own a stock farm near Lexington, and jus_etween ourselves I don't lose any money on it. And most that I know about me_ learned from mules; there's nothing in the world so interesting as a mule."
When Professor Kelton had declared to Sylvia on the way from the station tha_rs. Owen was unlike any other woman in the world, Sylvia had not thought ver_uch about it. To be sure Sylvia's knowledge of the world was the meagrest, but certainly she could never have imagined any woman as remarkable as Mrs.
Owen. The idea that a mule, instead of being a dull beast of burden, ha_eally an educational value struck her as decidedly novel, and she did no_now just what to make of it. Mrs. Owen readjusted the pillow at her back, an_ent on spiritedly:—
"Your grandpa has often spoken of you, and it's mighty nice to have you here.
You see a good many of us Hoosiers are Kentucky people, and your grandpa'_ather was. I remember perfectly well when your grandpa went to the Nava_cademy; and we were all mighty proud of him in the war."
Mrs. Owen's white hair was beautifully soft and wavy, and she wore it in th_revailing manner. Her eyes narrowed occasionally with an effect of sudde_reaminess, and these momentary reveries seemed to the adoring Sylvia wholl_ascinating. She spoke incisively and her voice was deep and resonant. She wa_xceedingly thin and wiry, and her movements were quick and nervous. Hearin_he whirr of a lawn-mower in the yard she drew a pair of spectacles from _ase she produced from an incredibly deep pocket, put them on, and criticize_he black man below sharply for his manner of running the machine. This done, the spectacles went back to the case and the case to the pocket. In ou_apital a woman in a kimono may still admonish her servants from a second- story window without loss of dignity, and gentlemen holding high place i_ignified callings may sprinkle their own lawns in the cool of the evening i_hey find delight in that cheering diversion. Joy in the simple life dies i_s slowly. The galloping Time-Spirit will run us down eventually, but o_undays that are not too hot or too cold one may even to-day count a handsom_otal of bank balances represented in our churches, so strong is habit in _eople bred to righteousness.
"You needn't be afraid of me; my bark is worse than my bite; you have to tal_ust that way to these black people. They've all worked for me for years an_hey don't any of 'em pay the slightest attention to what I say. But," sh_oncluded, "they'd be a lot worse if I didn't say it."
We reckon time in our capital not from fires or floods or even _anno urbi_onditæ_ , but from seemingly minor incidents that have nevertheless marke_ew eras and changed the channels of history. Precedents sustain us in this. _tartled goose rousing the sleeping sentinels on the ramparts; a dull peasan_ending an army in the wrong direction; the mischievous phrase uttered by a_nconspicuous minister of the gospel to a few auditors,—such unconsidere_rifles play havoc with Fame's calculations. And so in our calendar th_isbanding of the volunteer fire department in 1859 looms gloomily above th_ighest altitudes of the strenuous sixties; the fact that Billy Sanderson, after his father's failure in 1873, became a brakeman on the J.M. & I.
Railroad and invested his first month's salary in a silver-mounted lantern, i_ore luminous in the retrospect than the panic itself; the coming of a lad_ith a lorgnette in 1889 (the scion of one of our ancient houses married he_n Ohio) overshadows even the passing of Beecher's church; and the three-days'
sojourn of Henry James in 1905 shattered all records and established a ne_rientation for our people. It was Sally Owen who said, when certain citizen_eclared that Mr. James was inaudible, that many heard him perfectly tha_ight in the Propylæum who had always thought Balzac the name of a tooth- powder.
Mrs. Owen's family, the Singletons, had crossed the Ohio into Hoosie_erritory along in the fifties, in time for Sally to have been a student—no_he demurest from all accounts—at Indiana Female College. Where stood th_ollege the Board of Trade has lately planted itself, frowning down upo_hrist Church, whose admirable Gothic spire chimed for Union victories in th_ixties (there's a story about that, too!) and still pleads with the ungodl_n those days of the week appointed by the Book of Common Prayer for office_o be said or sung. Mrs. Jackson Owen was at this time sixty years old, an_he had been a widow for thirty years. The old citizens who remembered Jackso_wen always spoke of him with a smile. He held an undisputed record of havin_een defeated for more offices than any other Hoosier of his time. His chie_ssets when he died were a number of farms, plastered with mortgages, scattered over the commonwealth in inaccessible localities. His wife, left _idow with a daughter who died at fourteen, addressed herself zealously to th_ask of paying the indebtedness with which the lamented Jackson had encumbere_is property. She had made a point of clinging to all the farms that had bee_o profitless under his direction, and so successfully had she managed the_hat they were all paying handsomely. A four-hundred-acre tract of the talles_orn I ever saw was once pointed out to me in Greene County and thi_lantation, it was explained, had been a worthless bog before Mrs. Owen
"tiled" it; and later I saw stalks of this corn displayed in the rooms of th_gricultural Society to illustrate what intelligent farming can do.
At the State Fair every fall it was taken as a matter of course that "S. Owen"
(such was her business designation) should win more red ribbons than any othe_xhibitor either of cereals or live stock. There was nothing that Sally Owe_id not know about feeding cattle, and a paper she once read before the Short- Horn Breeders' Association is a classic on this important subject. Mrs. Owe_till retained the active control of her affairs, though she had graduall_iven over to a superintendent much of the work long done by herself; but wo_nto him who ever tried to deceive her! She maintained an office on the groun_loor of her house where she transacted business and kept inventories of ever_tick of wood, every bushel of corn, every litter of pigs to which she ha_ver been entitled. For years she had spent much time at her farms, particularly through the open months of the year when farm tasks are mos_rgent; but as her indulgence in masculine pursuits had not abated her womanl_astidiousness, she carried with her in all her journeys a negro woman whos_usiness it was to cook for her mistress and otherwise care for her comfort.
She had acquired the farm in Kentucky to continue her ties with the state o_er birth, but this sentimental consideration did not deter her from makin_he Lexington farm pay; Sally Owen made everything pay! Her Southern ancestr_as manifest in nothing more strikingly than in her treatment of the black_he had always had about her. She called them niggers—as only a Southerne_ay, and they called her "Mis' Sally" and were her most devoted and obedien_ervants.
Much of this Sylvia was to learn later; but just now, as Mrs. Owen sat in th_ool window-seat, it was enough for Sylvia to be there, in the company of th_irst woman—so it seemed to her—she had ever known, except Irish Mary at home.
The wives of the professors in Buckeye Lane were not like this; no one wa_ver like this, she was sure!
"We shall be having luncheon at half-past twelve, and my grandniece Maria_ill be here. Marian is the daughter of my niece, Mrs. Morton Bassett, wh_ives at Fraserville. Marian comes to town pretty often and I've asked he_own to-day particularly to meet you."
"I'm sure that is very kind," murmured Sylvia, though she would have bee_erfectly happy if just she and her grandfather had been left alone with Mrs.
"There's the bell; that must be Marian now," said Mrs. Owen a moment later, and vanished in her quick fashion. Then the door opened again instantly an_he returned to the room smiling.
"What _is_ your name, dear?" Mrs. Owen demanded. "How very stupid of me not t_ave asked before! Your grandpa in speaking of you always says m_randdaughter, and that doesn't tell anything, does it?"
"My name is Sylvia—Sylvia Garrison."
"And that's a very nice name," said Mrs. Owen, looking at her fixedly with he_ine gray eyes. "You're the first Sylvia I have ever known. I'm just plai_ally!" Then she seized Sylvia's hands and drew her close and kissed her.
As Sylvia had brought but one white gown, she decided that the blue serg_kirt and linen shirt-waist in which she had traveled would do for luncheon.
She put on a fresh collar and knotted a black scarf under it and wen_ownstairs.
She ran down quickly, to have the meeting with the strange niece over a_uickly as possible. Mrs. Owen was not in sight, and her grandfather had no_eturned from town; but as Sylvia paused a moment at the door of the spaciou_igh-ceilinged drawing-room she saw a golden head bent over a music rack b_he piano. Sylvia stood on the threshold an instant, shy and uncertain as t_ow she should make herself known. The sun flooding the windows glinted on th_right hair of the girl at the piano; she was very fair, and her features wer_lear-cut and regular. There was no sound in the room but the crisp rustle o_he leaves of music as the girl tossed them about. Then as she flung aside th_ast sheet with an exclamation of disappointment, Sylvia made herself known.
"I'm Sylvia Garrison," she said, advancing.
They gravely inspected each other for a moment; then Marian put out her hand.
"I'm Marian Bassett. Aunt Sally told me you were coming."
Marian seated herself with the greatest composure and Sylvia noted her whit_awn gown and white half-shoes, and the bow of white ribbon at the back of he_ead. Sylvia, in her blue serge, black ribbons, and high shoes, felt th_uperiority of this radiant being. Marian took charge of the conversation.
"I suppose you like to visit; I love it. I've visited a lot, and I'm alway_oming to Aunt Sally's. I'm in Miss Waring's School, here in this city, so _ome to spend Sundays with Aunt Sally very often. Mama is always coming t_own to see how I'm getting on. She's terribly ambitious for me, but I hat_chool, and I simply _cannot_ learn French. Miss Waring is terribly severe; she says it's merely a lack of application in my case; that I _could_ lear_ut won't. When mama comes she takes me to luncheon at the Whitcomb an_ometimes to the matinée. We saw John Drew last winter: he's simply perfect—s_efined and gentlemanly; and I've seen Julia Marlowe twice; she's my favorit_ctress. Mama says that if I just will read novels I ought to read good ones, and she gave me a set of Thackeray for my own; but you can skip a whole lot i_im, I'm here to state! One of our best critics has said (mama's always sayin_hat) that the best readers are those who know how to skip, and I'm a goo_kipper. I always want to know how it's going to come out. If they can't liv_appy forever afterward I want them to part beautifully, with soft musi_laying; and _he_ must go away and leave _her_ holding a rose as a pledge tha_he_ will never forget."
When Marian paused there was a silence as Sylvia tried to pick out of thi_ong speech something to which she could respond. Marian was astonishingl_ise; Sylvia felt herself immeasurably younger, and she was appalled by he_wn ignorance before this child who had touched so many sides of life and wh_ecounted her experiences so calmly and lightly.
"This is the first time I ever visited," Sylvia confessed. "I live with m_randfather Kelton, right by Madison College, that's at Montgomery, you know.
Grandfather was a professor in the college, and still lectures ther_ometimes. I've never been to school—"
"How on earth do you escape?" demanded Marian.
"It's not an escape," laughed Sylvia; "you see grandfather, being a professor, began teaching me almost before I began remembering."
"Oh! But even that would be better than a boarding-school, where they make yo_tudy. It would be easy to tell your grandfather that you didn't want to d_hings."
"I suppose it would," Sylvia acknowledged; "but it's so nice to have him for _eacher that I shouldn't know just how to do it."
This point of view did not interest Marian, and she recurred to her ow_ffairs.
"I've been to Europe. Papa took us all last year. We went to Paris and London.
It was fine."
"My grandfather was in the United States Navy, before he began teaching a_adison, so I know a good deal from him about Europe."
"Blackford—he's my brother—is going to Annapolis," said Marian, thus reminde_f her brother's aspirations. "At least he says he is, though he used to tal_bout West Point. I hope he will go into the Army. I should like to visit Wes_oint; it must be perfectly fascinating."
"I suppose it is. I think I should like college."
"Not for me!" exclaimed Marian. "I want to go to a convent in Paris. I know _irl right here in Indianapolis who did that, and it's perfectly fine and eve_o romantic. To get into college you have to know algebra, don't you?"
"Yes; I think they require that," Sylvia replied, on guard against a displa_f too much knowledge.
"Do you know algebra?" demanded Marian.
"Sometimes I think I don't!"
"Well, there's no doubt about me! I'm sure I don't. It's perfectly horrid."
The entrance of Mrs. Owen and the return of Professor Kelton terminated thes_onfidences. The four were soon at the luncheon table, where the array o_rystal and silver seemed magnificent to Sylvia's unaccustomed eyes. She ha_upposed that luncheon meant some such simple meal as the suppers she had bee_sed to at home; but it included fried chicken and cold ham, and there wer_everal vegetables; and hot biscuits and hot corn bread; and it becam_ecessary for Sylvia to decline an endless succession of preserves an_ellies. For dessert there were the most fragrant red raspberries conceivable, with golden sponge cake. The colored man who served the table seemed to enjo_imself immensely. He condescended to make suggestions as he moved about. "_ittle mo' of the cold ham, Cap'n?" or, "I 'membah you like the sparrograss, Mis' Marian," he murmured. "The co'n bread's extra fine, Mis'"—to Sylvia. "Th_ossis is awdahed for three, Mis' Sally"—to Mrs. Owen.
"You still have Kentucky cooking, Sally," remarked Professor Kelton, who ha_raised the corn bread.
"I do, Andrew," replied the old lady; "everybody knows that the best things i_ndiana came through Kentucky. That includes you and me!"
Prompted by Mrs. Owen's friendly questioning, Sylvia found herself talking.
She felt that she was talking more than Marian; but she was much less trouble_y this than by Marian's sophisticated manner of lifting her asparagus stalk_ith her fingers, while Sylvia resorted to the fork. But Sylvia comforte_erself with the reflection that this was all in keeping with Marian Bassett'_eneral superiority. Marian conducted herself with the most mature air, an_he made it quite necessary for Professor Kelton to defend the Navy agains_er assertion that the Army was much more useful to the country. The unhurrie_eal passed, and after they had returned to the drawing-room Marian left t_eet her mother at the dressmaker's and return with her to Fraserville.
"I hope to see you again," said Marian, shaking hands with Sylvia.