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Sabre & Crane

The Sabre-Boy at the St. Augustine boarding house.

Arrived at the hotel, Aunt Diana began inspecting rooms. Sara wished to go to one of the boarding-houses, and John Hoffman, who met us on the piazza, proposed his. " I have staid there several times," he said. " The Sabre-boy waits on the table, and a wild crane lives in the back-yard."

"The crane, by all means," said Sara, gathering together her possessions. I pre-ferred to be with Sara ; so the three of us left the hotel for Hospital Street, passing on our way Artillery Lane, both names belonging to the British occupancy of the venerable little city.

"This is the Plaza," said John, as we crossed the little square ; "the monument was erected in 1812, in honor of the adoption of a Spanish constitution. The Spanish constitution, as might have been expected, died young; but St. Augustine, unwilling to lose its only ornament for any such small matter as a revolution away over in Spain, compromised by taking out the inscribed tablets and keeping the monument. They have since been restored as curiosities. Castelar ought to come over and see them."

The house on Hospital Street was a large white mansion, built of coquina, with a peaked roof and overhanging balcony. We knocked, and a tall colored youth opened the door.

"The Sabre," said John, gravely introducing him.

"Why Sabre?" I said, as we waited for our hostess in the pleasant parlor, adorned with gray moss and tufted grasses; "to what language does the word belong?"

"Child language," replied John. "There was a little girl here last year, who, out of the inscrutable mysteries of a child's mind, evolved the fancy for calling him the Sabre-boy.' Why, nobody knew. His real name is Willfrid, but gradually we all fell into the child's fancy, until every body called him the Sabre-boy, and he himself gravely accepted the title."

A tap at the window startled us. "The crane," said John, throwing open the blind. "He too has come to have a look at you."

An immense gray bird, standing nearly five feet high on his stilt-like legs, peered solemnly at us for some moments, and then stalked away with what seemed very like a sniff of disdain.

"He does not like our looks," said Sara.

"He takes his time ; not for him any of the light friendships of an hour," replied John. "Cranie is a bird of unlimited aspirations, and both literary and aesthetic tastes ; he has been discovered turning over with his bill the leaves of Tennyson's poems left lying on the window-sill ; he invariably plucks the finest roses in the garden ; and he has been seen walking on the sea-wall alone in the moonlight, meditating, no doubt, on the vanities of mankind, with whom he is compelled reluctantly to associate."

"Do you hear the sound of the breakers, Martha ?" said Sara, waking me up in the middle of the night. We had the balconied room up stairs, and the sound of the distant surf came in through the open window in the intense stillness of the night. "It makes me feel young again," murmured my companion ; but I fell asleep and heard no more.

Before breakfast, which is always late in Florida, John Hoffman took us to see a wonderful rose-tree.

"You must have sprays of bloom by the side of your coffee-cups," he said, "and then you will realize that you are really away down upon the Swannee Ribber.'"

"Do you mean to tell me that the Suwannee is in ambush somewhere about here?" began Sara, in her lead-pencil voice. She always declared that her voice took a scratching tone when she asked a manuscript question.

St. George Street

"Not directly here, seeing that it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, but it is in Florida, and therefore will do for melodious comparisons. You will hear that song often enough, Miss St. John ; it is the invariable resource of all the Northern sailing parties on the inlet by moonlight. What the Suwannee means by keeping itself hidden away over in the western part of the State I can not imagine. I am sure we Northerners for years have mentioned that I dar's whar our hearts am turning ebber,' in every key known to music."

"The tune has a sweet melody of its own," I said. "Nilsson herself sang it as an encore last winter."


A Tour

Treasury Street

We walked out St. George Street, the principal avenue of the Ancient City, with the proud width of fifteen feet; other streets turning off to the right and the left were not more than ten and twelve feet wide. The old Spaniards built their coquina houses close together, directly upon the narrow streets, so that from their overhanging balconies on opposite sides they could shake hands with each other if so disposed. I do not think they were so disposed; probably they were more disposed to stab each other, if all accounts are true ; but the balconies were near enough for either purpose. They had gardens, too, those old Dons, gardens full of fig, orange, guava, and pomegranate trees, adorned with fountains and flowers ; but the garden was behind the house, and any portion of it on the street was jealously guarded by a stone wall almost as high as the house. These walls remain even now the most marked feature of the St. Augustine streets.

"What singular ideas !" I said. "One would suppose that broad shaded streets and houses set far back among trees would be the natural resource of this tropical climate."

"On the contrary, Miss Martha, the Spaniards thought that their narrow walled-in streets would act like .so many flues to suck in every current of air, while their overhanging balconies would cast a more reliable shade than any tree."

"There is something in that," said Sara. " What a beautiful garden !"

"Yes; that is the most picturesque garden in St. Augustine, in my opinion," said John. "Notice those two trees ; they are date-palms. Later in the spring the star-jasmine covers the back of the house with such a profusion of flowers that it becomes necessary to close the windows to keep out the overpowering sweetness. That little street at the corner is Treasury Street, and part of the walls and arches of this house belonged to the old Spanish Treasury Buildings."

A few blocks beyond, and the houses grew smaller ; little streets with odd names branched off—St. Hypolita, Cuna, Spanish, and Tolomato—all closely built up, and inhabited by a dark-eyed, olive-skinned people, who regarded us with calm superiority as we passed.

"All this quarter is Minorca Town," said John, " and these people are the descendants of the colonists brought from the Greek islands, from Corsica, and Minorca, in 1767, by a speculative Englishman, Dr. Turnbull. Originally there were fourteen hundred of them, and Turnbull settled them on a tract of land sixty miles south of here, near Mosquito Inlet, where, bound by indentures, they remained nine years cultivating indigo and sugar, and then rising against the tyranny of their governor, they mutinied and came here in a body. Land was assigned to them, and they built up all this north quarter, where their descendants now live, as you see, in tranquil content, with no more idea of work, as a Northerner understands the word, than so many oysters in their own bay."

"The Greek islands, did you say?" asked Sara. " Is it possible that I see before me any of the relatives of Sappho, she of the Isles of Greece—the Isles of Greece?"

"Maybe," said John. "You will see some dark almond-shaped eyes, now and then a classical nose, often a mass of Oriental black hair ; but unfortunately, so far, I have never seen the attractions united in the same person. Sometimes, however, on Sunday afternoons, you will meet young girls walking together on the Shell Road, with roses in their glossy hair, and as their dark eyes meet yours, you are reminded of Italy."


 
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