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A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson

Politeness certainly demanded that Sylvia should answer


Politeness

certainly demanded that Sylvia should answer; and now that the minister plied her with questions, her own interest was aroused, and she led him back and forth across the starry lanes, describing in the most artless fashion her own method of remembering the names and positions of the constellations. As their range of vision on the veranda was circumscribed, Ware suggested that they step down upon the lawn to get a wider sweep, a move which attracted the attention of the others.

"Sylvia, be careful of the wet. Josephus just moved the sprinkler and that ground is soaked."

"Don't call attention to our feet; our heads are in the stars," answered Ware. "I must tell the Indian boys on the Nipigon about this," he said to Sylvia as they returned to the veranda. "I didn't know anybody knew as much as you do. You make me ashamed of myself."

"You needn't be," laughed Sylvia. "Very likely most that I've told you is wrong. I'm glad grandfather didn't hear me."

The admiral and Professor Kelton were launched upon a fresh exchange of reminiscences and the return of Ware and Sylvia did not disturb them. It seemed, however, that Ware was a famous story-teller, and when he had lighted a fresh cigar he recounted a number of adventures, speaking in his habitual, dry, matter-of-fact tone, and with curious unexpected turns of phrase. Conversation in Indiana seems

to drift into story-telling inevitably. John Ware once read a paper before the Indianapolis Literary Club to prove that this Hoosier trait was derived from the South. He drew a species of ellipsoid of which the Ohio River was the axis, sketching his line to include the Missouri of Mark Twain, the Illinois of Lincoln, the Indiana of Eggleston and Riley, and the Kentucky that so generously endowed these younger commonwealths. North of the Ohio the anecdotal genius diminished, he declared, as one moved toward the Great Lakes into a region where there had been an infusion of population from New England and the Middle States. He suggested that the early pioneers, having few books and no newspapers, had cultivated the art of story-telling for their own entertainment and that the soldiers returning from the Civil War had developed it further. Having made this note of his thesis I hasten to run away from it. Let others, prone to interminable debate, tear it to pieces if they must. This kind of social intercourse, with its intimate talk, the references to famous public characters, as though they were only human beings after all, the anecdotal interchange, was wholly novel to Sylvia. She thought Ware's stories much droller than the admiral's, and quite as good as her grandfather's, which was a great concession.

The minister was beginning a new story. He knocked the ashes from his cigar and threw out his arms with one of his odd, jerky gestures.

"There's a good deal of fun in living in the woods. Up in the Adirondacks there was a lot for the boys to do when I was a youngster. I liked winter better than summer; school was in winter, but when you had the fun of fighting big drifts to get to it you didn't mind getting licked after you got there. The silence of night in the woods, when the snow is deep, the wind still, and the moon at full, is the solemnest thing in the world. Not really of this world, I guess. Sometimes you can hear a bough break under the weight of snow, with a report like a cannon. The only thing finer than winter is spring. I don't mean lilac time; but before that, the very earliest hint of the break-up. Used to seem that there was something wild in me that wanted to be on the march before there was a bud in sight. I'm a Northern animal some way; born in December; always feel better in winter. I used to watch for the northward flight of the game fowl--wanted to go with the birds. Too bad they're killing them all off. Wild geese are getting mighty scarce; geese always interested me. I once shot a gander in a Kankakee marsh that had an Eskimo arrow in its breast. A friend of mine, distinguished ethnologist, verified that; said he knew the tribe that made arrows of that pattern. But I was going to say that one night,--must have been when I was fourteen,--I had some fun with a bear . . ."


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