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Chapter 2 SYLVIA GOES VISITING

  • "How old did you say you were, Sylvia?"
  • "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.
  • Owen.
  • "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.
  • "I hope so, too," Sylvia replied.