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Maria Sanchez Creek

Then we all began to eat oranges, and make dripping spectacles of ourselves generally. I defy any one to be graceful, or even dainty, with an orange; it is a great, rich, generous, pulpy fruit, and you have got to eat it in a great, rich, generous, pulpy way. How we did enjoy those oranges under the glossy green and fragrant blossoms of the trees themselves! We gave it up then and there, and said openly that no bought Northern oranges could compare with them.

"I don't feel politically so much disturbed now about the cost of that sea-wall,"said Sara, "if it keeps this orange grove from washing away. It is doing a sweet and noble duty in life, and herein is cause sufficient for its stony existence."

We strolled back to the town by another way, and crossed again the Maria Sanchez Creek.

"Observe how she meanders down the marsh, this fairy streamlet,"I said, taking up a position on the stone culvert. "Observe how green are her rushes, how playful her little minnows, how martial her fiddler-crabs! 0 lost Maria! come back and tell your story. Were you sadly drowned in these overwhelming waves, or were you the first explorer of these marshes, pushing onward in your canoe with your eyes fixed on futurity?"

Nobody knew; so we went home. But in the evening John produced the following, which he said had been preserved in the archives of the town for centuries. "I have made a free translation, as you will see,"he said; "but the original is in pure Castilian."

"THE LEGEND OF MARIA SANCHEZ CREEK.
"Maria Sanchez
Her dug-out launches,
And down the stream to catch some crabs she takes her way,
A Spanish maiden,
With crabs well laden;
When evening falls she lifts her trawls to cross the bay.
"Grim terror blanches
Maria Sanchez,
Who, not to put too fine a point, is rather brown;
A norther coming,
Already humming,
Doth bear away that Spanish mai—den far from town.
"Maria Sanchez,
Caught in the branches
That sweetly droop across a creek far down the coast,
That calm spectator,
The alligator,
Doth spy, then wait to call his mate, who rules the roast.
"She comes and craunches
Maria Sanchez,
While boat and crabs the gentle husband meekly chews.
How could they eat her,
That senorita,
Whose story still doth make quite ill the Spanish Muse?"

We heaped praises upon John's pure Castilian ode—all save the Professor, who undertook to criticise a little. "I have made something of a study of poetry,"he began, "and I have noticed that much depends upon the selection of choice terms. For instance, in the first verse you make use of the local word dug-out.' Now in my craft' or canoe' would be better. You begin, if I remember correctly, in this way:

"'Maria Sanchez
Launches her dug-out—'"

"Oh no, Professor,"said Sara; "this is it:

"`Maria Sanchez
Her dug-out launches."

"The same idea, I opine, Miss St. John,"said the Professor, loftily.

"But the rhymes, Sir?"

The Professor had not noticed the rhymes; poetry should be above rhymes altogether, in his opinion.

The pleasant days passed, we sailed up and down the Matanzas, walked on the seawall, and sat in the little overhanging balcony, which, like all others in St. Augustine, was hung up on the side of the house like a cupboard without any support from below. Letters from home meanwhile brought tidings of snow and ice and storm, disasters by land and by sea. A lady friend, a new arrival, had visited the Ancient City forty years before, in the days of the ancien regime. "It is much changed,"she said. "These modern houses springing up every where have altered the whole aspect of the town. I am glad I came back while there is still something left of the old time. Another five years and the last old wall will be torn down for a horrible paling fence. Forty years ago the town was largely Spanish or Moorish in its architecture. The houses were all built of coquina, with a blank wall toward the north, galleries running around a court -yard behind, where were flowers, vines, and a central fountain. The halls, with their stone arches, opened out into this greenery without doors of any kind, tropical fashion. Those were the proud days of St. Augustine; the old families reigned with undisputed sway; the slaves were well treated, hospitality was boundless, and the intermixture of Spanish and Italian blood showed itself in the dark eyes that glanced over the balconies as the stranger passed below. It has all vanished now. The war effaced the last fading hue of the traditional grandeur, and broke down the barriers between the haughty little city and the outside world. The old houses have been modernized, and many of them have given place to new and, to my ideas, thoroughly commonplace dwellings. There is one left, however, the very mansion where I was so charmingly entertained forty years ago; its open arches remain just as they were, and the old wall still surrounds the garden. Up stairs is the large parlor where we had our gay little parties, with wines, and those delicious curled-up cakes, all stamped with figures, thin as a wafer, crisp and brittle, which seemed: to be peculiar to St. Augustine."

"Did you know there was a native artist here?"said John, calling up one morning as he sat on the balcony, Sara and myself endeavoring to write duty letters.

"Painter or sculptor V"I inquired, pen in hand, pausing over an elaborate description of a sunset with which I was favoring a soul- to -soul correspondent. "Let me see: standing on the glacis with the look-out tower outlined against—"

"Sculptor,"answered John. "His studio is on Charlotte Street not far from here. Let us walk down and see him."

"Look-out tower outlined against the golden after-glow. Is it worth going to see?"

"Indeed it is. There is a fine design—a lion carved in stone, and also a full-length figure of Henry Clay walking in the gardens of Ashland; and what is more, these statues are on top of the house outlined against—"

"The golden after-glow,"I suggested.

"Certainly,"said John. "And inside you will find rare antique vases, Egyptian crocodiles, Grecian caskets, and other remarkable works, all executed in stone."

"I have long craved an alligator, but could not undertake the cigar-box discipline,"I answered, rising. "A crocodile carved in stone will be just the thing. Come, Sara."


 
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