The Gentleman from Indiana

Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer, and David Widger

THE GENTLEMAN FROM INDIANA

By Booth Tarkington


CONTENTS

CHAPTER I.   THE YOUNG MAN WHO CAME TO STAY

CHAPTER II.   THE STRANGE LADY

CHAPTER III.   LONESOMENESS

CHAPTER IV.   THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER

CHAPTER V.   AT THE PASTURE BARS: ELDER-BUSHES MAY HAVE STINGS

CHAPTER VI.   JUNE

CHAPTER VII.   MORNING: “SOME IN RAGS AND SOME IN TAGS AND SOME IN VELVET

CHAPTER VIII.   GLAD AFTERNOON: THE GIRL BY THE BLUE TENT-POLE

CHAPTER IX.   NIGHT: IT IS BAD LUCK TO SING BEFORE BREAKFAST

CHAPTER X.   THE COURT-HOUSE BELL

CHAPTER XI.   JOHN BROWN’S BODY

CHAPTER XII.   JERRY THE TELLER

CHAPTER XIII.   JAMES FISBEE

CHAPTER XIV.   A RESCUE

CHAPTER XV.   NETTLES

CHAPTER XVI.   PRETTY MARQUISE

CHAPTER XVII.   HELEN’S TOAST

CHAPTER XVIII.     THE TREACHERY OF H. FISBEE

CHAPTER XIX.   THE GREAT HARKLESS COMES HOME


CHAPTER I. THE YOUNG MAN WHO CAME TO STAY

There is a fertile stretch of flat lands in Indiana where unagrarian Eastern travellers, glancing from car-windows, shudder and return their eyes to interior upholstery, preferring even the swaying caparisons of a Pullman to the monotony without. The landscape lies interminably level: bleak in winter, a desolate plain of mud and snow; hot and dusty in summer, in its flat lonesomeness, miles on miles with not one cool hill slope away from the sun. The persistent tourist who seeks for signs of man in this sad expanse perceives a reckless amount of rail fence; at intervals a large barn; and, here and there, man himself, incurious, patient, slow, looking up from the fields apathetically as the Limited flies by. Widely separated from each other are small frame railway stations—sometimes with no other building in sight, which indicates that somewhere behind the adjacent woods a few shanties and thin cottages are grouped about a couple of brick stores.

On the station platforms there are always two or three wooden packing-boxes, apparently marked for travel, but they are sacred from disturbance and remain on the platform forever; possibly the right train never comes along. They serve to enthrone a few station loafers, who look out from under their hat-brims at the faces in the car-windows with the languid scorn a permanent fixture always has for a transient, and the pity an American feels for a fellow-being who does not live in his town. Now and then the train passes a town built scatteringly about a court-house, with a mill or two humming near the tracks. This is a county-seat, and the inhabitants and the local papers refer to it confidently as “our city.” The heart of the flat lands is a central area called Carlow County, and the county-seat of Carlow is a town unhappily named in honor of its first settler, William Platt, who christened it with his blood. Natives of this place have sometimes remarked, easily, that their city had a population of from five to six thousand souls. It is easy to forgive them for such statements; civic pride is a virtue.

The social and business energy of Plattville concentrates on the Square. Here, in summer-time, the gentlemen are wont to lounge from store to store in their shirt sleeves; and here stood the old, red-brick court-house, loosely fenced in a shady grove of maple and elm—“slipp’ry ellum”—called the “Court-House Yard.” When the sun grew too hot for the dry-goods box whittlers in front of the stores around the Square and the occupants of the chairs in front of the Palace Hotel on the corner, they would go across and drape themselves over the court-house fence, under the trees, and leisurely carve there initials on the top board. The farmers hitched their teams to the fence, for there were usually loafers energetic enough to shout “Whoa!” if the flies worried the horses beyond patience. In the yard, amongst the weeds and tall, unkept grass, chickens foraged all day long; the fence was so low that the most matronly hen flew over with propriety; and there were gaps that accommodated the passage of itinerant pigs. Most of the latter, however, preferred the cool wallows of the less important street corners. Here and there a big dog lay asleep in the middle of the road, knowing well that the easy-going Samaritan, in his case, would pass by on the other side.

Only one street attained to the dignity of a name—Main Street, which formed the north side of the Square. In Carlow County, descriptive location is usually accomplished by designating the adjacent, as, “Up at Bardlocks’,” “Down by Schofields’,” “Right where Hibbards live,” “Acrost from Sol. Tibbs’s,” or, “Other side of Jones’s field.” In winter, Main Street was a series of frozen gorges land hummocks; in fall and spring, a river of mud; in summer, a continuing dust heap; it was the best street in Plattville.

The people lived happily; and, while the world whirled on outside, they were content with their own. It would have moved their surprise as much as their indignation to hear themselves spoken of as a “secluded community”; for they sat up all night to hear the vote of New York, every campaign. Once when the President visited Rouen, seventy miles away, there were only few bankrupts (and not a baby amongst them) left in the deserted homes of Carlow County. Everybody had adventures; almost everybody saw the great man; and everybody was glad to get back home again. It was the longest journey some of them ever set upon, and these, elated as they were over their travels, determined to think twice ere they went that far from home another time.

On Saturdays, the farmers enlivened the commercial atmosphere of Plattville; and Miss Tibbs, the postmaster’s sister and clerk, used to make a point of walking up and down Main Street as often as possible, to get a thrill in the realization of some poetical expressions that haunted her pleasingly; phrases she had employed frequently in her poems for the “Carlow County Herald.” When thirty or forty country people were scattered along the sidewalks in front of the stores on Main Street, she would walk at nicely calculated angles to the different groups so as to leave as few gaps as possible between the figures, making them appear as near a solid phalanx as she could. Then she would murmur to herself, with the accent of soulful revel, “The thronged city streets,” and, “Within the thronged city,” or, “Where the thronging crowds were swarming and the great cathedral rose.” Although she had never been beyond Carlow and the bordering counties in her life, all her poems were of city streets and bustling multitudes. She was one of those who had been unable to join the excursion to Rouen when the President was there; but she had listened avidly to her friends’ descriptions of the crowds. Before that time her muse had been sylvan, speaking of “Flow’rs of May,” and hinting at thoughts that overcame her when she roved the woodlands thro’; but now the inspiration was become decidedly municipal and urban, evidently reluctant to depart beyond the retail portions of a metropolis. Her verses beginning, “O, my native city, bride of Hibbard’s winding stream,”—Hibbard’s Creek runs west of Plattville, except in time of drought—“When thy myriad lights are shining, and thy faces, like a dream, Go flitting down thy sidewalks when their daily toil is done,” were pronounced, at the time of their publication, the best poem that had ever appeared in the “Herald.”

This unlucky newspaper was a thorn in the side of every patriot of Carlow County. It was a poor paper; everybody knew it was a poor paper; it was so poor that everybody admitted it was a poor paper—worse, the neighboring county of Amo possessed a better paper, the “Amo Gazette.” The “Carlow County Herald” was so everlastingly bad that Plattville people bent their heads bitterly and admitted even to citizens of Amo that the “Gazette” was the better paper. The “Herald” was a weekly, issued on Saturday; sometimes it hung fire over Sunday and appeared Monday evening. In their pride, the Carlow people supported the “Herald” loyally and long; but finally subscriptions began to fall off and the “Gazette” gained them. It came to pass that the “Herald” missed fire altogether for several weeks; then it came out feebly, two small advertisements occupying the whole of the fourth page. It was breathing its last. The editor was a clay-colored gentleman with a goatee, whose one surreptitious eye betokened both indolence of disposition and a certain furtive shrewdness. He collected all the outstanding subscriptions he could, on the morning of the issue just mentioned, and, thoughtfully neglecting several items on the other side of the ledger, departed from Plattville forever.

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