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 . . .”
Sylvia did not hear the rest of the story. She had been sitting in the shadow of the porch, with her lips apart, listening, wondering, during this prelude. Ware’s references to the North woods had touched lightly some dim memory of her own; somewhere she had seen moon-flooded, snowy woodlands where silence lay upon the world as soft as moonlight itself. The picture drawn by the minister had been vivid enough; for a moment her own memory of a similar winter landscape seemed equally clear; but she realized with impatience that it faded quickly and became dim and illusory, like a scene in an ill-lighted steropticon. To-night she felt that a barrier lay between her and those years of her life that antedated her coming to her grandfather’s house by the college. It troubled her, as such mirages of memory trouble all of us; but Ware finished his story, and amid the laughter that followed Mrs. Martin rose.
“Late hours, Sylvia,” said Professor Kelton when they were alone. “It’s nearly eleven o’clock and time to turn in.”
WE LEARN MORE OF SYLVIA
Andrew Kelton put out his hand to say good-night a moment after Sylvia had vanished.
“Sit down, Andrew,” said Mrs. Owen. “It’s too early to go to bed. That draft’s not good for the back of your head. Sit over here.”
He had relaxed after the departure of the dinner guests and looked tired and discouraged. Mrs. Owen brought a bottle of whiskey and a pitcher of water and placed them near his elbow.