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The Fountain

Turning to the right, we passed through a little nook of verdure, leaving the sand behind us. "This," said John, "is a hamak; and if I have a pet grievance, it is the general use of the word hummock' in its place. Hummock' is an arctic word, meaning to pile up ice; but hamak' is pure Carib or Appalachian, and signifies a resting or abiding place, a small Indian farm. There is another kind of soil in Florida which has the singular name of sobbed land.' This has a rocky substratum, impervious to water, four feet below the surface, which holds the rain-falls as though it—"

"Devoured its own tears," suggested Eugenio. "But where are your flowers, good people? Is not this the land of flowers?"

"No," said John; "that is another mistake. The Spaniards happened to land here during the Easter season, which they call Pascua Florida, the flowery Passover, on account of the palms with which their churches are decorated at that time; and so they named the country from the festival, and not from the flowers at all. There is not one word said about flowers in all their voluminous old records—"

"Don't be statistical, I beg," interrupted Eugenio. "And are there no flowers, then?"

"Oh yes," answered Sara, "little wee blossoms in delicate colors starring over the ground, besides violets and gold-cups; these are the yeomanry. The Cherokee roses, the yellow jasmine, and the Spanish-bayonets, with their sceptres of white blossoms, are the nobility."

Presently we came out upon the barren, with its single feathery trees, its broad sky-sweep, its clear-water ponds, an endless stretch of desert which was yet no desert, but green and fair. The saw-palmetto grew in patches, and rustled its stiff leaves as we passed.

"I can't think of any thing but Spanish ladies looking out between the sticks of their fans," remarked Eugenio.

"That's just like it," said Iris, and plucking one of the fan-shaped leaves, she gave the idea a lovely coquettish reality. The Captain murmured something (he had a way of murmuring). What it was we could not hear, but then Iris heard, and blushed very prettily. Mokes took the " other young lady," the sliced one, and walked on loftily. She went. The truth is, they generally go with three millions.

"There is something about the barrens that always gives me the feeling of being far away," said Sara.

"The old attraction," replied Eugenio. " Over the hills and far away' is the dream of all imaginative souls. Do you remember?"

"'Afar in the desert I love to ride,
With the silent Bush-boy alone by my side?'"
 
"'There is a happy land,
Far, far away,'"

I sang.

Lou-ee-zy And Low-ee-zy

"Yes, that is it," said John, "and even our old friend 'Swannee Ribber' owes his dominion to the fact that he is far, far away." A little trail turned off to a low cabin on the bank of a brook; we saw some flowers, and wandered that way for a moment. It was the lonely little home of a freedman, and two children stood in the doorway staring at us with solemn eyes. We bestowed some pennies, which produced a bob of a courtesy; then some jokes, which brought out the ivories.

"What are your names, children l" I asked.

"They's jes Lou-ee-zy and Low-ii-zy," replied a voice from within-doors. "They's twins, and I's took car' ob dem allays."

It was a crippled old auntie who spoke. She told us her story, with long digressions about "ole massa" and "ole miss."

"After all, I suspect you were more comfortable in the old times, auntie," I said.

"What's dat to do wid de acquilisition ob freedom?" replied the old woman, proudly. "De great ting is dis yer: Lou-ee-zy is free, and Low-ii-zy is free! Bot' ob dem! Bot' oh dem, ladies!"

"I have never been able to make them confess that they were more comfortable in the old days, no matter how poor and desolate they may be," I said.

"The divine spark in every breast," replied Eugenio. "But where is the spring, Hoffman? I like your barren; it smacks of the outlaw and bold buccaneer, after the trim wheat fields of the North, and there is a grand sweep of sky overhead. Nevertheless, I own to being thirsty."

"It is not ordinary thirst," replied John; "it is the old yearning which Ponce de Leon always felt when he had come as far as this."

"He came this way, then, did he?"

"Invariably."

"If I had been here at the time I should have said, Ponce' (of course we should have been intimate enough to call each other by our first names)—' Ponce, my good friend, have your spring a little nearer while you are magically about it!" And taking off his straw hat the poet wiped his white forehead, and looked at us with a quizzical ex- pression in his brilliant eyes.

"It is warm," confessed Aunt Diana, who, weary and worried, was toiling along almost in silence. Mokes was nearly out of sight with the "other young lady;" Iris and the Captain were absorbed in that murmured conversation so hopeless to outsiders; and Spartan matron though she was, she had not the courage to climb around after the Professor in cloth boots that drew like a magnet the vicious cacti of the thicket. Miss Sharp had leather boots, and climbed valiantly.

At last we came to the place, and filed in through a broken-down fence. We found a deserted house, an overgrown field, a gully, a pool, and au old curb of coquina surrounding the magic spring.

"I wonder if any one was ever massacred here?" observed Sara, looking around.

"The Fountain of Youth," declaimed John, ladling out the water. " Who will drink? Centuries ago the Indians of Cuba came to these shores to seek the waters of immortality, and as they never returned, they are supposed to be still here somewhere enjoying a continued cherubic existence. Father Martyn himself affirms in his letter to the Pope that there is a spring here the water thereof being drunk straightway maketh the old young again. Ladies and gentlemen, the original and only Ponce de Leon Spring! Who will drink?"

We all drank; and then there was a great silence.

"Well," said the poet, deliberately, looking around from his seat on the curb, "take it altogether, that shanty, those bushes, the pig-sty, the hopeless sandy field, the oozing pool, and this horrible tepid water, drawn from, to say the least; a dubious source—a very dubious source—it is, all in all, about the ugliest place I ever saw!"

There was a general shout.

"We have suspected it in our hearts all winter," said the " other young lady;" " but not one of us dared put the thought into words, as it was our only walk."


 
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