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A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson

Replied Professor Kelton quietly


Kelton's occasional lectures in the college were a feature of the year, and were given in Mills Hall to accommodate the large audience of students and town folk that never failed to assemble every winter to hear him. For into discourses on astronomy he threw an immense amount of knowledge of all the sciences, and once every year, though no one ever knew when he would be moved to relate it, he told a thrilling story of how once, guided by the stars, he had run a Confederate blockade in a waterlogged ironclad under a withering fire from the enemy's batteries. And when he had finished and the applause ceased, he glanced about with an air of surprise and said: "Thank you, young gentlemen; it pleases me to find you so enthusiastic in your pursuit of knowledge. Learn the stars and you won't get lost in strange waters. As we were saying--" It was because of still other stories which he never told or referred to, but which are written in the nation's history, that the students loved him; and it was for this that they gave him at every opportunity their lustiest cheer.

The professor found the stranger Sylvia had announced waiting for him at the cottage. The young man did not mention his own name but drew from his pocket a sealed letter.

"Is this Professor Andrew Kelton? I am to give you this letter and wait for an answer."

Professor Kelton sat down at his desk and slit the envelope.

The letter covered only one page and he read slowly to the end. He then re-read the whole carefully, and placed the sheet on his desk and laid a weight upon it before he faced the messenger. He passed his hand across his forehead, stroked his beard, and said, speaking slowly,--

"You were to bring this letter and bear back an answer to the writer, but you were instructed not to discuss it in any way or disclose the name or the residence of the person who sent you. So much I learn from the letter itself."

"Yes, sir. I know nothing of the contents of the letter. I was told to deliver it and to carry back the answer."

"Very good, sir. You have fulfilled your mission. Please note carefully what I say. The reply is _No_. There must be no mistake about that,--do you understand?"

"I am to report that you answered 'No'."

"That is correct, sir," replied Professor Kelton quietly. The young man rose, and the Professor followed him to the door.

"I thank you for your trouble; it has been a warm day, the warmest of the season. Good-afternoon, sir."

He watched the young fellow's prompt exit through the gate in the hedge to the Lane and then returned to the library, where he re-read the letter. Now that he was alone he relaxed somewhat; his manner expressed mingled trepidation and curiosity. The letter was type-written and was neither dated nor signed. He carried it to the window and held it against the sunlight, but there was not even a watermark by which it might be traced. Nor was there anything in the few straightforward sentences that proved suggestive. The letter ran:--

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