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Uncle Jack's Cabin

"Iris,"I said, the next morning, "come here and give an account of yourself. What do you mean, you gypsy, by such performances as that of last night?"

"I only meant a moonlight walk, Cousin Martha. I knew I never could persuade Aunt Di, so I took Miss Sharp."

"I am surprised that she consented."

"At first she did refuse; but when I told her that the Professor was going, she said that under those circumstances, as we might expect much valuable information on the way, she would give her consent."

"And the Professor?"

"Oh, I asked him, of course; he is the most good-natured old gentleman in the world; I can always make him do any thing I please. But poor Miss Sharp—how Aunt Di has been talking to her this morning! How you, at your age,' was part of it."

A week later we were taken to see the old Buckingham Smith place, now the property of a Northern gentleman, who has built a modern winter residence on the site of the old house.

"This is her creek, Aunt Di,"I said, as the avenue leading to the house crossed a small muddy ditch.

"Whose, Niece Martha?"

"Maria Sanchez, of course. Don't you remember the mysterious watery heroine who navigated these marshes several centuries ago? She perfectly haunts me! Talk about Huguenots arising and glaring at you, Sara; they are nothing to this Maria. The question is, Who was she?"

"I know,"answered Iris. "She is my old friend of the Dismal Swamp. 'They made her a grave too cold and damp,' you know, and she refused to stay in it. Her fire-fly lamp I soon shall see, her paddle I soon shall hear—'"

"Well, if you do, let me know,"I said. "She must be a very muddy sort of a ghost; there isn't more than a spoonful of water in her creek as far down as I can see."

"But no doubt it was a deep tide-water stream in its day, Miss Martha," said John Hoffman; "deep enough for either romance or drowning."

Beyond the house opened out the long orange-tree aisles—beautiful walks arched in glossy green foliage—half a mile of dense leafy shade.

Uncle Jack

"This is the sour orange,"said our guide, "a tree extensively cultivated in the old clays for its hardy growth and pleasant shade. It is supposed to be an exotic run wild, for the orange is not indigenous here. When Florida was ceded to England in exchange for Cuba, most of the Spanish residents left, and their gardens were then found well stocked with oranges and lemons, figs, guavas, and pomegranates."

"Poor Florida! nobody wanted her,"said John. "The English only kept her twenty years, and then bartered her away again to Spain for the Bahamas, and in 1819 Spain was glad to sell her to the United States. The latter government, too, may have had its own thoughts as to the value of the purchase, which, although cheap at five mill- ions in the first place, soon demanded nineteen more millions for its own little quarrel with that ancient people, the Seminoles."

"Headed, do not forget to mention, by Osceola,"added Sara.

"Beautiful fruit, at least in appearance,"I said, picking up one of the large oranges that lay by the hundreds on the ground. "Are they of no use?"

"The juice is occasionally sold in small quantities,"replied our guide. "At one time it commanded a price of a dollar per gallon, and was used in place of vinegar in the British navy. It makes a delicious acid drink when fresh—better than lemonade."We lingered in the beautiful orange aisles, and heard the story of the old place: how it had descended from father to son, and finally, upon the death of the owner who was childless, it came into the possession of a nephew. But among other papers was found one containing the owner's purpose to bequeath his property to the poor colored people of St. Augustine. This will, if it could so be called, without witnesses, and in other ways informal, was of no value in the eyes of the law. The owner had died suddenly away from home, and there was no testimony to prove that the paper expressed even a cherished intention. Nevertheless, the heir at law, with rare disinterestedness, carried out the vague wish; the place was sold, and all the proceeds invested for the benefit of the colored people, the charity taking the form of a Home for their aged and infirm, which is supported by the income from this money, the building itself having been generously given for the purpose by another prominent citizen of St. Augustine.

"You must see old Uncle Jack,"concluded the speaker. "Before the war his master sent him several times to Boston with large sums of money, and intrusted him with important business, which he never failed to execute properly. By the terms of the will he has a certain portion of the land for his lifetime. That is his old cabin. Let us go over there."

Close down under the walls of the grand new mansion stood a low cabin, shaded by the long drooping leaves of the banana; hens and chickens walked in and out the open door, and most of the household furniture seemed to be outside, in the comfortable Southern fashion. Uncle Jack came to meet us—a venerable old man, with white hair, whose years counted nearly a full century.

"The present owner of the place has ordered a new house built for Jack, a picturesque porter's lodge, near the entrance,"said our guide, "but I doubt whether the old man will be as comfortable there as in this old cabin where he has lived so long. The negroes, especially the old people, have the strongest dislike to any elevation like a door-step or a piazza; they like to be right on the ground; they like to cook when they are hungry, and sleep when they are tired, and enjoy their pipes in peace. Rules kill them, and they can not change: we must leave them alone, and educate the younger generation."

Returning down the arched walks, we crossed over into a modern sweet-orange grove, the most beautiful in St. Augustine or its vicinity. Some of the trees were loaded with blossoms, some studded with the full closed buds which we of the North are accustomed to associate with the satin of bridal robes, some had still their golden fruit, and others had all three at once, after the perplexing fashion of the tropics.

"There are about eight hundred trees here,"said our guide, "and some of them yield annually five thousand oranges each. There is a story extant, one of the legends of St. Augustine, that formerly orange-trees covered the Plaza, and that one of them yielded annually twelve thousand oranges."

"What an appalling mass of sweetness!"said Sara. "I am glad that tree died; it was too good to live, like the phenomenal children of Sunday-school literature."

"In the old Spanish days,"said John, "this neighborhood was one vast orange grove; ships loaded with the fruit sailed out of the harbor, and the grandees of Spain preferred the St. Augustine orange to any other. In Spain the trees live to a great age; some of them are said to be six hundred years old, having been planted by the Moors, but here an unexpected frost has several times destroyed all the groves, so that the crop is by no means a sure one."

"So the frost does come here,"I said. "We have seen nothing of it; the thermometer has ranged from sixty-eight to seventy-eight ever since we arrived."

"They had snow in New York last week,"said Aunt Di.

"It has melted, I think,"said John. "At least I saw this item last evening in a New York paper: If the red sleigher thinks that he sleighs to-day, he is mistaken!'"

"Shades of Emerson and Brahma, defend us!" said Sara.

Uncle Jack's Cabin

 
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