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The Ancient City in Two Parts - Part II.

The Old House Balcony
"The tide comes in; the birds fly low,
As if to catch our speech:
Ah, Destiny! why must we ever go
Away from the Florida Beach?"

AUNT DIANA declared that I must go with her back to the hotel, and I in my turn declared that if I went Sara must accompany me; so it ended in our taking the key of the house from the sleepy Sabre-boy and all three going back together through the moon-lighted street across the plaza to the hotel. Although it was approaching midnight, the Ancient City had yet no thought of sleep. Its idle inhabitants believed in taking the best of life, and so on moonlight nights they roamed about, two and two, or leaned over their balconies chatting with friends across the way in an easy-going, irregular fashion, which would have distracted an orthodox New England village, where the lights are out at ten o'clock, or they know the reason why. When near the hotel we saw John Hoffman coming from the Basin.

"We had better tell him,"I suggested.

"Oh no,"said Aunt Di, holding me back.

"But we must have somebody with us if we are going any farther to-night, aunt, and he is the best person.—Mr. Hoffman, did you enjoy the sail?"

"I did not go,"answered John, looking somewhat surprised to see us confronting him at that hour, like the three witches of Macbeth. Aunt Di was disheveled, and so was I, while Sara's golden hair was tumbling about her shoulders under the hat she had hastily tied on.

"Have you been out all the evening?"asked Aunt Di, suspiciously.

"I went to my room an hour ago, but the night was so beautiful I slipped down the back stairs, so as to not disturb the household, and came out again to walk on the sea-wall."

"Sara did hear him go up to his room: she knows his step, then,"I thought. But I could not stop to ponder over this discovery. "Mr. Hoffman,"I said, "you find us in some perplexity. Miss Carew is out loitering somewhere in the moonlight, and, like the heedless child she is, has forgotten the hour. We are looking for her, but have no idea where she has gone."

"Probably the demi-lune,"suggested John. Then, catching the ominous expression of Aunt Diana's face, he added, "They have all gone out to the Rose Garden by moonlight, I think."

"All?"

"Miss Sharp and the Professor."

ALL THREE OF US. "Miss Sharp and the Professor?"

JOHN. (carelessly). "The Captain too, of course."

ALL THREE OF "The Captain too, of course!"

JOHN. "Suppose we stroll out that way and join them?"

MYSELF. "The very thing—it is such a lovely evening!"Then to Aunt Di, under my breath, "You see, it is only one of Iris's wild escapades, aunt; we must make light of it as a child's freak. We had better stroll out that way, and all walk back together, as though it was a matter of course."

AUNT DL "Miss Sharp and the Professor!"

SARA. "What a madcap freak!"

AUNT DI. "Not at all, not at all, Miss St. John. I am at a loss to know what you mean by madcap. My niece is simply taking a moonlight walk in company with her governess and Professor Macquoid, one of the most distinguished scientific men in the country, as I presume you are aware."

Brave Aunt Di! The first stupor over, how she rallied like a Trojan to the fight!

We went out narrow little Charlotte Street—the business avenue of the town.

"A few years ago there was not a sign in St. Augustine,"said John. "People kept a few things for sale in a room on the ground-floor of their dwellings, and you must find them out as best you could. They seemed to consider it a favor that they allowed you to come in and buy. They tolerated you, nothing more."

"It is beyond any thing, their ideas of business,"said Aunt Diana. "The other day we went into one of the shops to look at some palmetto hats. The mistress sat in a rocking-chair slowly fanning herself. We wish to look at some hats,' I said. There they are,' she replied, pointing toward the table. She did not rise, but con-tinned rocking and fanning with an air that said, Yes, I sell hats, but under protest, mind you.' After an unaided search I found a hat which might have suited me with a slight alteration—five minutes' work, perhaps. I mentioned what changes I desired, but the mistress interrupted me with, We never alter trimmings.' But this will not take five minutes,' I began; 'just take your scissors and—"Oh, I never do •the work myself,' replied Majestic, breaking in again with a languid smile; `and really I do not know of any one who could do it at present. Now you Northern ladies are different, I suppose.' I should think we were,' I said, laying down the hat and walking out of the little six-by-nine parlor."

"I wonder if the people still cherish any dislike against the Northerners?"I said, when Aunt Di had finished her story with a general complaint against the manners ofher own sex when they undertake to keep shop, North or South.

"Some of the Minorcans do, I think,"said John; "and many of the people regret the incursion of rich winter residents, who buy' up the land for their grand mansions, raise the prices of every thing, and eventually will crowd all the poorer houses beyond the gates. But there are very few of the old leading families left here now. The ancien regime has passed away, the new order of things is distasteful to them, and they have gone, never to return."


 
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