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The Island

Africa

So the days passed. Iris strolled about the town with Mokes, talked on the piazza with Hoffman, and wore his roses in her hair (Hoffman was always seen with a fresh rose every morning); she even listened occasionally to extracts from the Great Work. But the sea-wall by moonlight was reserved for Antinous. Thus we dallied with the pleasant weather until Aunt Diana, like a Spartan matron, roused herself to action. "This will never do," she said; "this very afternoon we will all go over to the island and see the tombs."

Aunt Di's temper had been sorely tried. Going out with Mokes the preceding evening to find Iris, who was ostensibly " strolling up and down the wall" in the moonlight with the Captain, she had found no trace of her niece from one end of the wall to the other—from the glacis of San Marco to the flag-staff at the Barracks. Heroically swallowing her wrath, she had returned to the hotel a perfect coruscation of stories, bon-mots, and compliments, to cover the delinquency of her niece, and amuse the deserted Mokes; and, to tell the truth, Mokes seemed very well amused. He was not au ardent lover.

"Where do you suppose they are?" I said, sotto voce, to John Hoffman.

" The demi-lune!" he answered.

A sail-boat took us first down to Fish Island, which is really a part of Anastasia, separated from it only by a small creek. The inlet, which is named Matanzas River south of the harbor, and the North River above it, was dotted with porpoises heaving up their unwieldy bulk; the shores were bristling with oysters; armies of fiddler-crabs darted to and fro on the sands; heavy old pelicans, sickle-bill curlews, ospreys, herons, and even bald-headed eagles flew around and about us. We ran clown before the wind within sight of the mysterious old fortification that guards the Matanzas channel—mysterious from the total absence of any data as to its origin. "Three hundred and fifty Huguenots met their death downthere," said John Hoffman; " massacred under the personal supervision of Menendez himself. Their bones lie beneath this water, or under the shifting sands of the beach, but the river perpetuates the deed in its name, Matanzas, or slaughter."

Horse Railroad, St. Augustine

"Is there any place about here where there were no massacres?" asked Sara. " Wherever I go, they arise from the past and glare at me. Between Spanish, Huguenot, and Indian slaughter, I am becoming quite gory."

The Professor, who was holding on his tall hat with much difficulty in the fresh breeze, here wished to know generally if we had read the remarkable narrative of Cabeca de Vaca, the true discoverer of the Mississippi, who landed in Florida in 1527.

"Alas! the G. W. again," murmured Sara in my ear. Miss Sharp, however, wanted " so much to hear about it" that the Professor began. But the hat kept interfering. Once Mokes rescued it, once John Hoffman, and the renowned De Vaca suffered in consequence. The governess wore a white scarf around her neck, one of those voluminous things called "clouds" She took it off, and leaned forward with a smile. " Perhaps if you were to tie this over your hat," she said, sweetly offering it.

But the Professor was glad to get it, and saw no occasion for sweetness at all. He wanted to go on with De Vaca; and so, setting the hat firmly on the back of his head, he threw the scarf over the top, and tied the long ends firmly under his chin. The effect was striking, especially in profile, and we were glad when the lauding at Fish Island gave us an opportunity to let out our laughter over hastily improvised and idiotic jokes, while, all unconscious, the Professor went on behind us, and carried De Vaca into the thirteenth chapter.

The island began with a morass, and the boatmen went back for planks.

"'Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds,'" said Iris, balancing herself on an oyster shell, Mokes by her side (the Captain was absent—trust Aunt Diana for that!). "Those verses always haunt one so, don't they?" Mokes, as usual in the rear, mentally speaking, wanted to know "what verses?"

"Moore's Dismal Swamp, of course. Sometimes I find myself saying it over fifty times a day:

'They have made her a grave too cold and damp
For a soul so warm and true;
She has gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp,
Where all night long, by a fire-fly lamp,
She paddles her white canoe.'

Be sure and pronounce swamp' to rhyme exactly with damp' and lamp," continued Iris; "the effect is more tragic."

"Certainly," said Mokes, " far more."

Passing the morass on planks, we walked clown a path bordered with Spanish-bayonets, crossed the creek on a small boat lying there, and entered the enchanted domain. It seemed to be a large plantation run to waste; symmetrical fields surrounded by high hedges of the sour orange, loaded with its fruit; old furrows still visible in the never - freezing ground; every where traces of careful labor and cultivation, which had made the sandy island blossom as the rose. In the centre of a broad lawn were the ruins of a mansion, the white chimney alone standing, like a monument to the past. Beyond, a path led down to a circle of trees with even, dense foliage; there, in the centre, shut out from the glare of the sunshine, alone in the greenery, stood a solitary tomb, massive and dark, without date or inscription save what the little fingers of the lichen had written. We stood around in silence, and presently another pleasure party came down the path and joined us—gay young girls with sprays of orange blossoms in their hats, young men carrying trailing wreaths of the yellow jasmine. Together we filled the green tree circle; and one of the strangers, a fair young girl, moved by a sudden impulse, stepped forward and laid a spray of jasmine on the lonely tomb.

"'Et in Arcadia ego,'" said John, who stood behind me. "Do you remember that picture of the gay flower-decked Arcadians coming through a forest with song and laughter, and finding there a solitary tomb with that inscription? This is Arcadia, and we too have found the tomb."

Strolling on down the island, we came to a long arched walk of orange-trees trained into a continuous arbor.

"What a lovely wild old place!" said Iris. "What is its history? Does any body know'"

"It has not been occupied for nearly a century, I am told," said Aunt Diana.

"Who would have expected traces of such careful cultivation down on this remote island?" I said, as a new vista of symmetrical fields opened out on one side.

"There you make the common mistake of all Northerners, Miss Martha," said John Hoffman. " Because the country is desolate and thinly settled, you suppose it to be also wild and new, like the Western States and Territories. You forget how long this far peninsula has been known to the white man. These shores were settled more than century before Plymouth or Jamestown, and you can scarcely go out in any direction around St. Augustine without coming upon old groves of orange and fig trees, a ruined stone wall, or fallen chimney. Poor Florida! she is full of deserted plantations."

"But does any one know the story of the place repeated Iris, who preferred any diversion to Mokes's solo.

"Why insist upon digging it up?" said Sara. "Let it rest in the purple haze of the past. The place has not been occupied for a hundred years. We see this beautiful orange walk; yonder is a solitary tomb. Can we not fill out these shadowy borders without the aid of prosaic detail?"

The Professor, who had been digging up vicious-looking roots, now joined us. "When I was here some years ago," he began, in his loud, distinct tones, "I made a point of investigating—"

"Let us make a point of leaving," murmured Sara, taking me off down the walk. John Hoffman followed, so did Iris, and consequently Mokes, likewise Aunt Di. Miss Sharp longed to stay, but did not quite dare; so she compromised by walking on, as far as her feet were concerned, all the rest of her, however, looking back with rapt attention. " Yes? How interesting! Pray go on."

The Professor went on; we heard his voice in the rear. "It was called El Verjel (the garden), and its orange grove was the glory of St. Augustine—"

"Hurry!" whispered Sara, "or we shall hear the whole."

Tomb on Fish Island

 
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