The Gentleman from Indiana (Chapter 1, page 1 of 7)


 
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Chapter 1

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.

 
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