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A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson

Sylvia had not the faintest notion of what proxy meant


Mrs.

Owen did not sigh at the thought of her burdens, but smiled quite cheerfully as though the fact of the world's being a busy place was wholly agreeable. She sat down beside Sylvia in the window-seat and took one of the cakes and nibbled it while they talked. Sylvia had never been so wholly at ease in her life. It was as though she had been launched into the midst of an old friendship, and she felt that she had conferred the greatest possible favor in consenting to visit this house, for was not this dear old lady saying,--

"You see, I'm lonesome sometimes and I almost kidnap people to get them to visit me. I'm a terribly practical old woman. If you haven't heard it I must tell 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 tell oats from corn and horses from pigs I'm going to handle my own money. We women are a lot of geese, I tell you, child! I'm treasurer of a lot of things women run, and I can see a deficit through a brick wall as quick as any man on earth. Don't you ever let any man vote any proxy for you--you tell 'em you'll attend the stockholders' meetings yourself, and when you go, kick!"

Sylvia had not the faintest notion of what proxy meant, but she was sure it must be something both interesting and important or Mrs. Owen would not feel so strongly about it.

"When I was your

age," Mrs. Owen continued, "girls weren't allowed to learn anything but embroidery and housekeeping. But my father had some sense. He was a Kentucky farmer and raised horses and mules. I never knew anything about music, for I wouldn't learn; but I own a stock farm near Lexington, and just between ourselves I don't lose any money on it. And most that I know about men I 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 that Mrs. Owen was unlike any other woman in the world, Sylvia had not thought very much 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, had really an educational value struck her as decidedly novel, and she did not know just what to make of it. Mrs. Owen readjusted the pillow at her back, and went 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's father was. I remember perfectly well when your grandpa went to the Naval Academy; 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 the prevailing manner. Her eyes narrowed occasionally with an effect of sudden dreaminess, and these momentary reveries seemed to the adoring Sylvia wholly fascinating. She spoke incisively and her voice was deep and resonant. She was exceedingly thin and wiry, and her movements were quick and nervous. Hearing the whirr of a lawn-mower in the yard she drew a pair of spectacles from a case she produced from an incredibly deep pocket, put them on, and criticized the 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 our capital a woman in a kimono may still admonish her servants from a second-story window without loss of dignity, and gentlemen holding high place in dignified callings may sprinkle their own lawns in the cool of the evening if they find delight in that cheering diversion. Joy in the simple life dies in us slowly. The galloping Time-Spirit will run us down eventually, but on Sundays that are not too hot or too cold one may even to-day count a handsome total of bank balances represented in our churches, so strong is habit in a people bred to righteousness.


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