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Arcadians

A Deserted Plantation

We hastened out into the sunny meadows, catching "killed by lightning"" 1790" " he sent his oranges to 'London;" then the voice died away in the distance. John Hoffman kept with us, and we wandered on, looking off over the Matanzas, sweeping on to the south, clotted with sails, and the black dug-outs of the Minorcan fishermen anchored along shore. The tide was out, and the' coast-line bare and desolate.

"Nothing that H. H. ever wrote excels her ' When the tide comes in," I said. " Do you remember it ?

When the tide goes out,
The shore looks dark and sad with doubt'

and that final question,

Ah, darling, shall we ever learn
Love's tidal hours and clays?'"

"You believe, then, that love has its high and low tides?" said John, lighting a fresh cigar.

"Low tide," said Sara, half to herself" low tide always." She was looking at the bare shore with a sadness that had real roots down somewhere.

"Very low, I suppose," commented John; "every thing is always very high or very low with you ladies. You are like the man who had a steamer to sell. But is it a low-pressure engine ?' asked a purchaser. c Oh yes, very low,' replied the owner, earnestly."

Sara flushed, and turned away.

" Do you do it on purpose, I wonder?" I thought, with some indignation, as I glanced at John's imperturbable face. I was very tender always with Sara's sudden little sadnesses. I think there is no one who comprehends a girl passing through the shadow-laud of doubt and vague questioning that lies beyond youth so well as the old maid who has made the journey herself, and knows of a surety that there is sunshine be-yond. Obeying a sudden impulse, I asked the question aloud. Sara was in front of us, out of hearing.

"Do I do what on purpose, Miss Martha ? Tell anecdotes?"

"You know what I mean very well, Mr. Hoffman. Her sadness was real for the moment; why wound her?"

"Wound her! Is a woman wounded by a trifling joke?"

"But her nature is peculiarly sensitive."

"You mistake her, I think, Miss Martha. Sara St. John is coated over with pride like an armor; she is invulnerable."

I could not quite deny this, so I veered a little. "She is so lonely, Mr. Hoffman!" I said, coming round on another tack.

"Because she so chooses."

"It may not be 'choose.' Mr. Hoffman, why should you not try to" Here I looked up and caught the satirical smile on my companion's face, and, vexed with myself, I stopped abruptly.

"You are a good friend, Miss Martha." "She has need of friends, poor girl!"

"Why poor?"

" In the first place she is poor, literally." "Poverty is comparative. Who so poor as Mokes with his millions?"

"Then she is poor in the loss of her youth; she is no longer young, like Iris."

"'Oh, saw ye not fair Iris going down into the west'a minute ago," said John, glancing after a vanishing blue ribbon. A suspicion, and not for the first time either, crossed my mind. " So it is little Iris, after all," I thought. "Oh, man, man, how can you be so foolish!" Then aloud, " I must go forward and join the others," I said, with a tinge of annoyance I could not conceal. John looked at me a moment, and then strode forward. I watched him; he j oined Sara. I followed slowly. "There is a second tomb farther down the island," he was saying as I came up; "it is even more venerable than the first; a square in-closure of coquina, out of which grows an ancient cedar-tree which was probably planted, amere slip, after the grave was closed. Will you walk that way with me, Miss St. John?" And with bared head he stood waiting for her answer.

"Thank you," said Sara, " I do not care to walk farther."

He bowed and left her.

Orange Walk

Half an hour later, as Sara and I were strolling near the far point of the island, we caught through the trees a glimpse of Iris seated in the low, crooked bough of a live-oak, and at her feet John Hoffman, reclining on the white tufted moss that covered the ground. " Absurd!" I said, angrily.

"Why absurd? Is she not good and fair I To me there is something very bewitching about Iris Carew. She is the most graceful little creature; look at her attitude now, swinging in that bough! and when she walks there is a willowy suppleness about her that makes the rest of us look like grenadiers. Then what arch dark eyes she has, what a lovely brunette skin, the real brune! Pretty, graceful little Iris, she is always picturesque, whatever she does."

" But she is a child, Sara, while he"

"Is John Hoffman," replied Sara, with a little curl of her lip. "Come, Martha, I want to show you some Arcadians."

"Arcadians?"

"Yes. Not the people who found the tomb in the forest, but some real practical Arcadians, who enjoy life as Nature intended."

" Who knows what she intended I I am sure I don't," I said, crossly.

Near the ruins of the mansion we found the Arcadians, a young man with his wife and child, living in a small out-building which might have been a cow-house. It was not more than ten feet square, the roof had fallen in, and was replaced by a rude thatch of palmetto leaves; there was no window of any kind, no floor save the sand, and for a door only an old coverlet hung up and tied back like a curtain. Within we could see a low settle-bed with some ragged coverings, a stool, powder, shot, and fishing tackle hung up on one side, and an old calico dress on the other; without was a table under a tree, a cupboard hung on the outside of the house, containing a few dishes, and the ashes of the family fire near at hand. Two thin dogs and a forlorn calf (oh, the cadaverous cattle of Florida!) completed the stock of this model farm.

"They eat and cook out-of-doors all the year round, I suppose. What a home! Did any one ever see such poverty," I said, "and such indolence I They do not even take the trouble to make a door."

"What do they want of a door ? There is nothing to keep out but Nature. And as for poverty, they seem happy enough," replied Sara.


 
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