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Title:      Cross Creek (1942)
Author:     Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Cross Creek (1942)
Author:     Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings


Preface: Cross Creek

1. For this is an enchanted land

2. Taking up the slack

3. The magnolia tree

4. The pound party

5. The census

6. The evolution of comfort

7. Antses in Tim's breakfast

8. The Widow Slater

9. Catching one young

10. 'Geechee

11. A pig is paid for

12. My friend Moe

13. Residue

14. Toady-frogs, lizards, antses, and varmints

15. The ancient enmity

16. Black shadows

17. Our daily Bread

18. Spring at the Creek

19. Summer

20. Fall

21. Winter

22. Hyacinth drift

23. Who owns Cross Creek?


Cross Creek is a bend in a country road, by land, and the flowing
of Lochloosa Lake into Orange Lake, by water.  We are four miles
west of the small village of Island Grove, nine miles east of a
turpentine still, and on the other sides we do not count distance
at all, for the two lakes and the broad marshes create an infinite
space between us and the horizon.  We are five white families; "Old
Boss" Brice, the Glissons, the Mackays and the Bernie Basses; and
two colored families, Henry Woodward and the Mickenses.  People in
Island Grove consider us just a little biggety and more than a
little queer.  Black Kate and I between us once misplaced some
household object, quite unreasonably.

I said, "Kate, am I crazy, or are you?"

She gave me her quick sideways glance that was never entirely

"Likely all two of us.  Don't you reckon it take somebody a little
bit crazy to live out here at the Creek?"

At one time or another most of us at the Creek have been suspected
of a degree of madness.  Madness is only a variety of mental
nonconformity and we are all individualists here.  I am reminded of
Miss Malin and the Cardinal in the Gothic tale, "The Deluge at

"But are you not," said the Cardinal, "a little--"

"Mad?" asked the old lady.  "I thought that you were aware of that,
My Lord."

The Creek folk of color are less suspect than the rest of us.  Yet
there is something a little different about them from blacks who
live gregariously in Quarters, so that even if they did not live at
the Creek, they would stay, I think, somehow aloof from the layer-
cake life of the average Negro.  Tom Glisson and Old Boss and I
think anybody is crazy not to live here, but I know what Kate
meant.  We have chosen a deliberate isolation, and are enamored of
it, so that to the sociable we give the feeling that St. Simeon
Stylites on top of his desert pillar must have given the folk who
begged him to come down and live among them.  He liked the pillar
or he would not have been there.  Something about it suited his
nature.  And something about Cross Creek suits us--or something
about us makes us cling to it contentedly, lovingly and often in
exasperation, through the vicissitudes that have driven others

"I wouldn't live any place else," Tom said, "if I had gold buried
in Georgia.  I tell you, so much happens at Cross Creek."

There is of course an affinity between people and places.  "And God
called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of waters
called He Seas; and God saw that it was good."  This was before
man, and if there be such a thing as racial memory, the
consciousness of land and water must lie deeper in the core of us
than any knowledge of our fellow beings.  We were bred of earth
before we were born of our mothers.  Once born, we can live without
mother or father, or any other kin, or any friend, or any human
love.  We cannot live without the earth or apart from it, and
something is shrivelled in a man's heart when he turns away from it
and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.

And along with our deep knowledge of the earth is a preference of
each of us for certain different kinds of it, for the earth is
various as we are various.  One man longs for the mountains, and
does not even need to have been a child of the mountains to have
this longing; and another man yearns for the valleys or the plains.
A seaman I know said that he was making a great effort to assure
himself of going to Hell, for the Bible says that in Heaven "there
shall be no more sea," and Heaven for him is a place of great

We at the Creek need and have found only very simple things.  We
must need flowering and fruiting trees, for all of us have citrus
groves of one size or another.  We must need a certain blandness of
season, with a longer and more beneficent heat than many require,
for there is never too much sun for us, and through the long
summers we do not complain.  We need the song of birds, and there
is none finer than the red-bird.  We need the sound of rain coming
across the hamaca, and the sound of wind in trees--and there is no
more sensitive Aeolian harp than the palm.  The pine is good, for
the needles brushing one another have a great softness, and we have
the wind in the pines, too.

We need above all, I think, a certain remoteness from urban
confusion, and while this can be found in other places, Cross Creek
offers it with such beauty and grace that once entangled with it,
no other place seems possible to us, just as when truly in love
none other offers the comfort of the beloved.  We are not even
offended when others do not share our delight.  Tom Glisson and I
often laugh together at the people who consider the Creek dull, or,
in the precise sense, outlandish.

"There was a fellow woke me up," he said, "was lost.  I'd heard his
car go by and hit the Creek bridge like cattle stompeding.  I
wondered if ary one in that big of a hurry knowed where he was
going.  Directly he come back and stopped and I heard him holler
from the gate.  I pulled on my breeches and went out to him.  I
said, 'Reckon you're lost.'  'Lost ain't the word for it,' he said.
'Is this the end of the world?  Where in God's name am I?'  I said,
'Mister, you're at Cross Creek.'  'That don't tell me a thing,' he
said.  'I still ain't anywhere.'"

"People in town sometimes say to me when I start home at night," I
said, "'We hate to see you drive off alone to that awful place.'"

"Well," he said comfortably, "they just don't know the Creek."

We do.  We know one another.  Our knowledge is a strange kind,
totally without intimacy, for we go our separate ways and meet only
when new fences are strung, or some one's stock intrudes on
another, or when one of us is ill or in trouble, or when woods
fires come too close, or when a shooting occurs and we must agree
who is right and who must go to jail, or when the weather is so
preposterous, either as to heat or cold, or rain or drought, that
we seek out excuses to be together, to talk together about the
common menace.  We get into violent arguments and violent quarrels,
sometimes about stock, sometimes because we take sides with our
favorites when the dark Mickens family goes on the warpath.  The
village exaggerates our differences and claims that something in
the Creek water makes people quarrelsome.  Our amenities pass
unnoticed.  We do injustices among ourselves, and another of us,
not directly involved, usually manages to put in a judicious word
on the side of right.  The one who is wrong usually ends by
admitting it, and all is well again, and I have done my share of
the eating of humble pie.  And when the great enemies of Old
Starvation and Old Death come skulking down on us, we put up a
united front and fight them side by side, as we fight the woods
fires.  Each of us knows the foibles of the others and the strength
and the weaknesses, and who can be counted on for what.  Old Aunt
Martha Mickens, with her deceptive humility and her face like
poured chocolate, is perhaps the shuttle that has woven our
knowledge, carrying back and forth, with the apparent innocence of
a nest-building bird, the most revealing bits of gossip; the sort
of gossip that tells, not trivial facts, but human motives and the
secrets of human hearts.  Each of us pretends that she carries
these threads only about others and never about us, but we all know
better, and that none of us is spared.

A dozen other whites and a baker's dozen of other blacks have lived
at one time or another among us, or in the immediate vicinity of
the Creek, coming and going like the robins.  We are clannish and
do not feel the same about them as we feel about ourselves.  It was
believed in the beginning that I was one of these.  Surely the
Creek would drive me away.  When it was clear that a freezing of
the orange crop was as great a catastrophe to me as to the others,
surely I would not be here long.  It was when old Martha, who had
set up the Brices as Old Boss and Old Miss, referred to me one day
as Young Miss, that it was understood by all of us that I was here
to stay.

For myself, the Creek satisfies a thing that had gone hungry and
unfed since childhood days.  I am often lonely.  Who is not?  But I
should be lonelier in the heart of a city.  And as Tom says, "So
much happens here."  I walk at sunset, east along the road.  There
are no houses in that direction, except the abandoned one where the
wild plums grow, white with bloom in springtime.  I usually walk
halfway to the village and back again.  No one goes, like myself,
on foot, except Bernie Bass perhaps, striding firmly in rubber
boots with his wet sack of fish over his shoulder.  Sometimes black
Henry passes with a mule and wagon, taking a load of lighter'd home
to Old Boss; sometimes a neighbor's car, or the wagon that turns
off toward the turpentine woods to collect the resin, or the timber
truck coming out from the pine woods.  The white folks call "Hey!"
and children wave gustily and with pleasure.  A stranger driving by
usually slows down and asks whether I want a lift.  The Negroes
touch a finger to their ragged caps or pretend courteously not to
see me.  Evening after evening I walk as far as the magnolias near
Big Hammock, and home, and see no one.

Folk call the road lonely, because there is not human traffic and
human stirring.  Because I have walked it so many times and seen
such a tumult of life there, it seems to me one of the most
populous highways of my acquaintance.  I have walked it in ecstasy,
and in joy it is beloved.  Every pine tree, every gall-berry bush,
every passion vine, every joree rustling in the underbrush, is
vibrant.  I have walked it in trouble, and the wind in the trees
beside me is easing.  I have walked it in despair, and the red of
the sunset is my own blood dissolving into the night's darkness.
For all such things were on earth before us, and will survive after
us, and it is given to us to join ourselves with them and to be

1.  For this is an enchanted land

The road goes west out of the village, past open pine woods and
gallberry flats.  An eagle's nest is a ragged cluster of sticks in
a tall tree, and one of the eagles is usually black and silver
against the sky.  The other perches near the nest, hunched and
proud, like a griffon.  There is no magic here except the eagles.
Yet the four miles to the Creek are stirring, like the bleak,
portentous beginning of a good tale.  The road curves sharply, the
vegetation thickens, and around the bend masses into dense hammock.
The hammock breaks, is pushed back on either side of the road, and
set down in its brooding heart is the orange grove.  Any grove or
any wood is a fine thing to see.  But the magic here, strangely, is
not apparent from the road.  It is necessary to leave the
impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it
behind.  By this, an act of faith is committed, through which one
accepts blindly the communion cup of beauty.  One is now inside the
grove, out of one world and in the mysterious heart of another.
Enchantment lies in different things for each of us.  For me, it is
in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of
orange trees; to walk under the arched canopy of their jadelike
leaves; to see the long aisles of lichened trunks stretch ahead in
a geometric rhythm; to feel the mystery of a seclusion that yet has
shafts of light striking through it.  This is the essence of an
ancient and secret magic.  It goes back, perhaps, to the fairy
tales of childhood, to Hansel and Gretel, to Babes in the Wood, to
Alice in Wonderland, to all half-luminous places that pleased the
imagination as a child.  It may go back still farther, to racial
Druid memories, to an atavistic sense of safety and delight in an
open forest.  And after long years of spiritual homelessness, of
nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood again.  Here
is home.  An old thread, long tangled, comes straight again.

I think that the shabbiness of the Creek is a part of its endearing
quality.  I for one might admire, but never truly love, an affluent
perfection.  The Williamsburg restoration, for instance, is fine
and proud, but it is something only to be stared at.  Old
Williamsburg lived in a genteel poverty that was more elegant than
the new shining Governor's mansion, for its gentility came not from
superimposed wealth but from long years of gracious living.  The
restoration is a good thing, of course, and Time will make all come
right again.  The Creek shabbiness was never elegant and never will
be.  It is merely comfortable and weather-beaten, meeting Time
halfway.  I am sometimes tempted to put up a new fence across the
house yard.  I have always thought that a white picket fence must
be a great comfort to a householder.  I think of the pride I should
take in seeing white paint gleaming from around the bend in the
road.  Then Snow the grove man becomes quietly tired of waiting for
me to do something, and comes driving the farm truck into the yard
over the cattle-gap with a load of fresh fatwood pine posts from
the hammock.

He asks, "You aim just to use the old gate, don't you?"

I aim to use the old gate, and say so, and Snow goes ahead and
replaces the rotten and sagging posts with new ones.  He tightens
the fence wire, "Hog and cattle 4-inch mesh," and the effect is
trim and eminently suitable.  I tell myself that a white picket
fence would interfere with the feeling one has inside the house of
being a part of the grove; that a new fence would mean tearing out
the coral honeysuckle vines that cling passionately to the old
wire.  But the real objection is that an elegant fence would bring
to the Creek a wanton orderliness that is out of place.

When I came to the Creek, and knew the old grove and farmhouse at
once as home, there was some terror, such as one feels in the first
recognition of a human love, for the joining of person to place, as
of person to person, is a commitment to shared sorrow, even as to
shared joy.  The farmhouse was all dinginess.  It sat snugly then
as now under tall old orange trees, and had a simple grace of line,
low, rambling and one-storied.  But it was cracked and gray for
lack of paint, there was a tin roof that would have ruined a
mansion, and the porch was an excrescence, scarcely wide enough for
one to pass in front of the chairs.  The yard was bare sand spotted
with sandspurs, with three lean Duchess rosebushes left behind to
starve, like cats.  Inside the house, all the delight of the
Florida sunlight vanished.  The walls were painted a battleship
gray and the floors a muddy ochre.  The brick fireplaces were
walled over with tin and filled with a year's rubbish.  It was four
years before the gray of the last room was decently covered with
white, money for paint being scarce, and time so filled with other
work that an hour with the brush was a stolen pleasure.  And even
now, the house shining inside and out, roofed with good gray hand-
hewn cypress shingles, the long wide screened veranda an invitation
to step either inside or out, the yard in lush green grass, there
is still a look of weather-worn shabbiness.  It is a constant
reminder that wind and rain and harsh sun and the encroaching
jungle are ready at any moment to take over.  I suppose that a
millionaire, perhaps even just a New Englander, might stand off the
elements and maintain a trim tidiness--and a picket fence.  But the
rest of the Creek would not know what to make of it, and would be
made most unhappy.

The battle has not gone too well for all at the Creek.  One or two
have gone ahead, some hold precariously to the narrow ledge of
existence, and others have slipped back, and back, until each day's
subsistence has become a triumph.  Their houses reflect their
fortunes.  Mine lies the farthest east in the small settlement.  To
the west are my neighbors, my friends.  There have been enmities.
At the moment, we are living in unparalleled amiability, a state at
Cross Creek that, like a sinner's hope of Heaven, is never assured.
But it makes a good moment in which to speak of other people.

I live within screaming distance of Tom Glisson and Old Boss Brice.
This is literal.  No ordinary sound carries from one place to the
other.  We hear faintly the barking of one another's dogs.  We hear
the far crowing at dawn of one another's roosters.  Occasionally,
when the wind is right, I hear the Brice or Glisson cows lowing at
milking time, night or morning.  No voice carries, ever.  A
determined scream is audible.  This I proved, not in a time of
fear, but a time of fury.  I should be ashamed but am not.  Of folk
who would have been silent under the circumstances, there comes to
mind only St. Francis, and I believe that he might have cast
despairing eyes to Heaven.

I can bear much physical discomfort and a great deal of actual
pain, but now and then one achieves a combination of bodily
annoyances that makes Job's boils seem a luxury.  I shall be brief
and explicit.  I was entirely alone on the grove.  The summer was
one of the two unbearable ones, as to heat, that I have known in my
years here.  Summer is our unproductive period for vegetables.  I
had been some time without them, and was afflicted with an itching
rash that I recognized too late as nutritional.  The Widow Slater
and I had been repairing fences together, for I gave her pasture
for her milch cow in return for milking my own.  We had plowed
through long vines of poison ivy along the decrepit fence.  Her
long black flowing skirts had evidently protected her.  I had
worked stockingless and in brief voile.  The poison ivy had erupted
from hips to ankle, from fingertips to throat, overlaying the rash.

Soothing ointments and a prone position might have brought some
ease.  I was far from ointments and too busy to lie down.  My cow
broke loose from the pasture and came into the grove, tearing at
the low-hanging orange boughs.  I drove her out and penned her
properly, and returning to the house, found myself in the middle of
a patch of sandspurs waist-high.  These barbed instruments of
torture are all the proof one needs that there is a Devil as well
as a God.  I was enmeshed with sandspurs, they stuck to voile skirt
and to petticoat, creeping up underneath and getting a firm hold
with one or two barbs, leaving the others free to grate against my
skin.  On normal skin they are like arrows.  On a skin covered with
rash and poison ivy, they were shafts of fire.  I plucked at them
as I went and came to the house.  There the dogs were waiting for
me, shut on the back porch, since they had nothing but chaos to
contribute in the matter of penning a cow.

I did not think they had been there very long.  Even for puppies,
it did not seem too much to ask of them that they wait like
gentlemen for, say, half an hour.  There were four, all told.
There was my own puppy.  There were two of his litter mates that
the travelling owner had asked me to keep for him.  There was old
Sport, whose huntsman master, my friend Fred, had left with me
while he fished on the east coast.  I can only relate that time is
relative, and that what seemed like a short period to me, was
evidently a long, long time in the minds of three puppies.  Old
Sport had become excited at their incontinence and forgotten
himself, too.  The porch was a shambles.  Water for cleansing had
to be brought from the outside pump, a bucket at a time.  It took
twenty buckets, as I remember, and dusk was on me when I finished.

I went then, the porch well cleaned, wet and glistening in the
fading light, to water my garden.  There were a few carrots that I
hoped to bring through the heat, a few zinnias, half a dozen
desperate collard plants, poor things but mine own.  I pulled away
sandspurs abstractedly as I carried out the watering pot.  The
mosquitoes descended on me.  One would think that exposed neck,
arms and face would suffice the hungriest of insects.  But a
mosquito is Freudian, taking delight only in the hidden places.
They wavered with their indecisive flight up under my skirts and
stabbed me in the poison ivy, in the nutritional rash, around the
sandspurs, and settled with hums of joy in all unoccupied small
spaces.  It was too much.  I set down the watering pot, and with no
thought of help for my distress, for I was past helping, let out
shriek after shriek of sheer indulgent frustration.  As I say, St.
Francis might have blessed the puppies and old Sport and the
mosquitoes, with a kind word thrown in for the sandspurs, but I am
not of the stuff of saints.  I screamed.  The screaming satisfied
me.  I finished the watering, went into the house, fed the dogs,
made myself a supper, and went to the veranda to meditate.  As I
sat, exhausted but content, two figures strolled cautiously up the
road and paused in front of my gate.  It was Tom Glisson and Old

Old Boss called, "Everything all right?"

"Why, yes," I said.  "Yes, indeed."

Tom said, "Seemed to us like we heard somebody call for help.  We
just wondered, was everything all right."

I hesitated.  After all, there was nothing to be done, and at the
moment, it seemed, all was too embarrassing to be told.

"I was singing," I said.  "Perhaps you heard me--singing."

"Oh," they said, and turned and walked home again.

So I say that I live within screaming distance of my nearest

Old Boss' grove joins up with mine.  We share an east-west fence
line and a double row of spite trees.  The spite is none of our
doing, but an inheritance from earlier owners of the adjoining
groves.  There was a day, before the Big Freeze of '94-5, when
oranges were truly golden apples, bringing, in their rareness,
incredible sums.  Suitable orange land was considered worth its
weight in gold.  So the two unfriendly neighbors planted their
orange trees, each as close to the joint fence as possible, to get
all the good of the priceless soil.  The result is that two lines
of scrawny trees send out their roots futilely in search of
sufficient nourishment.  Among large trees, there are few of whom
two can live as cheaply as one.

Old Boss wandered down to Florida from Georgia as a boy, nearly
sixty years ago.  He came down to die, he told me once, and wanted
to die in the tropical sunshine.  He is still a frail little man,
but I think he drew sustenance from the sun and earth and the
fruiting trees around him.  He clerked in a country store in the
village and became the owner.  He yearned always for the Creek, he
said.  At last he took over the neglected grove on an unpaid
mortgage and moved out.  It means to him precisely what it means to
me, and we sometimes sit together on his back porch and just look
about us and say nothing.  We seldom meet, but when we see each
other down the road, we wave, and I know that the same warm feeling
comes over the old man that comes to me.  He has been father,
arbiter, disciplinarian to all the Negroes who have ever lived or
worked here.  I challenged his authority on one occasion, but that
is another story.  His house is a rococco two-story affair, tall
and gangling like an antique spinster.  There is bamboo in the
sandy yard, and hibiscus and allamanda, and a pittosporum that is
so old it is not a shrub, but a great tree, covered in spring with
minute flowers of a strange exotic scent.  The house is on the
opposite side of the road from mine, just out of sight.

Tom Glisson lives on the same side of the road as I do, and
opposite Old Boss.  Tom has prospered.  He and his wife are Georgia
folk, too, and as hard workers as I have ever known.  I am not at
all sure that Tom can read or write, but he talks well, with a
flair for the picturesque and the dramatic.  He was put to the plow
when he was so small he could scarcely reach the plow handles, he
told me.  He was given no education.

"I made up my mind," he said, "my young uns would get a better
chance than their daddy."

It has been good to see the three children grow tall and bright and
handsome.  The oldest boy even had a year at the University.  The
youngest, "J. T.," was a tragic little cripple when I first knew
him.  I would see him hobbling down the road on his crooked legs,
with the luminous expression on his face that seems peculiar to
those we call the "afflicted."  Tom and his wife were not of the
breed to accept an evil that could be changed, and they worked day
and night to save money to send the boy away for braces and
treatments.  Now he too is tall and strong, and I saw him ride by
yesterday on his own dwarf-mule, talking to himself and lifting his
hand to an invisible audience.  He was, I knew, the Lone Ranger or
perhaps Buck Rogers, but he took time out courteously from his
duties to call "Hey!" to me, then returned to his important and
secret activities.

The Glisson house is small and brown, well kept, and the yard has
been slowly given shrubs and even a bit of grass.  Tom raises hogs
and some cattle, has built up a little grove, and he and his wife
do anything profitable they can turn their hands to.  They have
fought ill health as well as poverty, and it is sometimes hard to
feel sympathy for what seem offhand less fortunate people, knowing
what can be done with courage and hard work and thrift.  Tom and I
began with a strange mistrust of each other, and had some harsh
encounters.  I was in the wrong, and that is a story, too, and now
I know him for a friend and would turn to him in any trouble.

There are no further houses until you take the sharp curve in the
road that sweeps down to the Creek itself.  There is a patch of
thick hammock, an open field, and then, on the right, old Joe's
abandoned house.  Old Joe Mackay is the last of a good farming
family.  The Mackay acres were well-tilled and profitable some
fifty years ago.  There has been no regular cultivation for years,
though now and then lately some farmer from the village rents the
largest cleared field to raise some special crop.  Old Joe lived
alone in the old Mackay house.  He is ageless in appearance, small
and stooped and wiry, with his thin face ruddy from being on Orange
Lake in every sort of weather.  He runs a catfish line for a
living.  The house is as silver gray as the speckled perch he
sometimes catches.  It is a tall box of a house and even in its
desertion maintains a look of sturdy livability.  It was a good
house in its day.  Something about it is beautiful, its color most
of all, and tall palms bend over it, and there are live oaks and
holly and a few orange trees around it, and the hammock is a soft
curtain beyond it.  It was because he had a house that he was able
to get a wife.  His good friend Tom Morrison found a very pretty
widow.  He married the pretty widow to Old Joe, and Tom and Old Joe
and the widow and the widow's children lived happily in the house.

Tom said, "Somebody has to look out for Old Joe."

I suppose the roof leaked, as old roofs do.  The cockroaches may
have become too abundant in the walls and floors.  At any rate, the
contented family left the house a few years ago and moved a hundred
yards closer to the Creek, into the abandoned church on the same
side of the road.  They put up partitions to make rooms, moved the
old pews out into the yard and swept out the hymnbooks.  The church
has made a fine home.  It sits under a magnificent live oak and is
cozy in winter and cool in summer.

The old Mackay house was turned over for a time to Aunt Martha
Mickens and her husband, Old Will.  It was agreed that Martha and
Will, progenitors of all the colored help that had ever been at the
Creek, should be brought back home again.  Old Joe's wife found
Martha good company when she was alone.  There was trouble, and
Martha and Will were obliged to leave, and that again is a story.
The old Mackay house is now tenantless.  But it is still
hospitable, and when some family in the environs finds itself
temporarily roofless, it moves in for a time, and then moves on
again.  The house has sheltered a slow stream of deserted husbands
and wives with large numbers of children, homeless for the moment.

At an angle from the bend in the road is a deep sand road that
leads through hammock, and past the north edge of Old Boss' grove,
to another house.  The house is not the same one that was there
when I first came to the Creek.  It seems as though one house, one
family, is all the dusky break in the forest will tolerate.  The
house I used to know belonged to Old Boss and was inhabited by the
Widow Slater and her brood.  The Slater house lived from rain to
rain and the Slaters from hand to mouth.  The Widow moved back to
Carolina with her "chappies," leaving Snow behind, and in time he
became my grove-man and co-worrier over the hazardous fortunes of
my grove.  The Slater house, stricken of the moral support of human
occupancy, fell promptly to the ground.  Now there is another small
house up the deep hammock road.  The Bernie Basses live there.

This makes up the white population of the Creek.  Across the lovely
Creek itself, over the narrow bridge, are scattered in a migratory
flux two or three other families.  We do not say of them that they
live "at" the Creek but that they live "beyond" it.  Mr. Martin is
a newcomer.  He has prospered and I presume he is here to stay.  It
looked at one time as though the Creek area were too small to hold
both me and Mr. Martin.  If Mr. Martin had put me under the jail,
as he threatened, or sent me to eternity by way of gunshot, as he
wanted, I should have made an effort to take his big burly body
along to either place with me.  We have become good friends.  I was
never angry with Mr. Martin.  He was only angry with me.

Past Mr. Martin's place have been Mr. Swilley and George Fairbanks
and the Townsends and Mr. Marsh Turner.  Mr. Swilley has gone of
late to a widow and Mr. Marsh Turner has gone to Hell.  I know he
is in Hell by his own choice.  And even if the Angel Gabriel
forgave his sins, as his friends did, and called him to Heaven,
that peaceful and virtuous stamping ground would above all be Hell
to Marsh.  George Fairbanks drifts from cabin to cabin and the
Townsends drift from one new baby to another.  They have a young
un, as we say, every time the woods burn, and each one is welcome
and a fresh surprise.

The colored population of the Creek has the solid base of the
Mickens family, against which other transient Negroes surge and
retreat.  When old Martha Mickens shall march at last through the
walls of Jericho, shouting her Primitive Baptist hymns, a dark rock
at the core of the Creek life will have been shattered to bits.
She is nurse to any of us, black or white, who fall ill.  She is
midwife and layer out of the dead.  She is the only one who gives
advice to all of us impartially.  She is a dusky Fate, spinning
away at the threads of our Creek existence.

2.  Taking up the slack

It is always bewildering to change one's complete way of life.  I
was fitted by temperament and by inheritance for farm and country
living, yet to take it up after some thirty years of urban life was
not too easy.  I had known my maternal grandfather's Michigan farm,
but there I was both guest and child, and the only duties were to
gather the eggs from the sweet-smelling hayloft.  I had known my
father's Maryland farm, but that farm was his love, his escape from
Washington governmental routine, and we lived there only in the too
few summers.  I had no duties there at all.  There was only
delight; the flowering locust grove; the gentle cows in pasture;
Rock Creek, which ran, ten miles away from its Washington park, at
the foot of the hill of the locusts, where my brother and I learned
to swim and to fish for tiny and almost untakable fishes; long
walks with my father through the woods where he hoped some day to
build a home; jaunts with him behind Old Dan in the carriage, to
the county seat of Rockville, or to buy mules at Frederick.  These
things got in the blood but were no preparation for running a farm
oneself.  When I bought the Florida orange grove with my
inheritance that represented my share of the Maryland farm, my
father's sister Madeline wrote me in lament.

"You have in you," she said, "that fatal drop of Pearce blood,
clamoring for change and adventure, and above all, for a farm.  I
never knew a Pearce who didn't secretly long for a farm.  Mother
had one, Uncle Pierman was ruined by one, there was your father's
tragic experience.  I had one, once--"

I see no reason for denying so fundamental an urge, ruin or no.  It
is more important to live the life one wishes to live, and to go
down with it if necessary, quite contentedly, than to live more
profitably but less happily.  Yet to achieve content under
sometimes adverse circumstances, requires first an adjustment
within oneself, and this I had already made, and after that, a
recognition that one is not unique in being obliged to toil and
struggle and suffer.  This is the simplest of all facts and the
most difficult for the individual ego to accept.  As I look back on
those first difficult times at the Creek, when it seemed as though
the actual labor was more than I could bear, and the making of a
living on the grove impossible, it was old black Martha who drew
aside a curtain and led me in to the company of all those who had
loved the Creek and been tormented by it.

Martha welcomed me with old-fashioned formality.  She came walking
toward me in the grove one bright sunny December day.  I turned to
watch her magnificent carriage.  It was erect, with a long free
graceful stride.  It was impossible to tell her age.  She walked
like a very young woman and walks so to this day.  She is getting
on to seventy, yet glimpsing her down the road she might be a girl.
She was dressed neatly in calico, with a handkerchief bound around
her head, bandana fashion.  She was a rich smooth brown.  She came
directly to me and inclined her head.

She said, "I come to pay my respecks.  I be's Martha.  Martha

I said, "How do you do, Martha."

She said, "I wants to welcome you.  Me and my man, Old Will, was
the first hands on this place.  Time the grove was planted, me and
Will worked here.  It's home to me."

"Where do you live now?"

"T' other side o' the Creek.  We too old now to do steady work, but
I just wants to tell you, any time you gets in a tight, us is here
to do what we can."

"How long has it been since you worked here on the grove?"

"Sugar," she said, "I got no way o' tellin' the years.  The years
comes and the years goes.  It's been a long time."

"Was it the Herberts you worked for?"

"Yessum.  They was mighty fine folks.  They's been fine folks here
since and they's been trash.  But Sugar, the grove ain't trash, and
the Creek be's trashified here and there, but it's the Creek right
on.  I purely loves the Creek."

I said, "I love it, too."

"Does you?  Then you'll make out.  I reckon you know, you got to be
satisfied with a place to make out.  And is you satisfied, then it
don't make too much difference does you make out or no."

We laughed together.

She said, "Heap o' folks has lived here.  Ain't nobody has lived
here since the Herberts but had to scratch and scramble.  The ones
loved it, stayed 'til death or sich takened 'em away.  The ones
ain't loved it, has moved on like the wind moves."

I said, "The grove hasn't always made a living, then."

"Tends on what you calls a livin'.  To get yo' grease an' grits in
the place you enjoys gettin' 'em, ain't that makin' a livin'?"


"Then lemme tell you.  Ain't nobody never gone cold-out hongry
here.  I'se seed the grove freeze to the ground.  I'se seed it
swivvel in a long drought.  But Sugar, they was grove here before
my folks crossed the big water.  They was wild grove here as long
back as tongue can tell.  Durin' the war for freedom the white
ladies used to drive out here in wagons and pick the wild oranges
to squeeze out the juice and send it to the sojers.  And they'll be
grove here right on, after you and me is forgotten.  They'll be
good land to plow, and mast in the woods for hogs, and ain't no
need to go hongry.  All the folks here ahead o' you has fit cold
and wind and dry weather, but ain't nary one of 'em has goed

Hunger at the moment was not immediate, but when it menaced later,
I remembered the things the old black woman said, and I was
comforted, sensing that one had only to hold tight to the earth
itself and its abundance.  And if others could fight adversity, so
might I.

"I won't keep you," she said.  "I jes' wanted to tell you I was

She bobbed her head and went away.

She lived at the time four miles away, across the Creek, in an old
gray house immaculately kept, with oleanders and dogwood in the
clean bare yard.  She had always "porch plants" about, grown from
slips, of geranium and aspidistra; fuchsia, "the Georgia flower,"
sansivaria and elephant-ear and impatient Sultana, all blooming
lushly in containers of old tin.  She walked the four miles back
and forth to help in the bean field or the cucumber patch, to nurse
the sick, to wash and clean for Old Boss or the Mackays or, as time
went on, for me.

About her, the nucleus, were her sons and daughters and their wives
and husbands, who worked transiently for the rest of us.  The best
of her daughters, to my personal knowledge, is Estelle.  There is a
very elegant daughter who works for a wealthy family outside of
Baltimore, and of her I know nothing, except that she sends her
mother good clothes not too much worn.  Estelle and her husband Sam
worked many years for Old Boss.  They lived at the edge of the road
and were patient and faithful, except that Sam had an unwonted
impudence "under the influence."  A son-in-law of Old Boss was
somehow unable to deal with Sam, and in a huff he took Estelle and
moved off to Hawthorn.  Estelle is gentle and soft-spoken like her

For a long time I knew of Zamilla only that she was "the one what
got shot."  I pictured a leaf-brown hussy subject to brawling,
whose wild life finally caught up with her.  I was never more
mistaken.  When Sam and Estelle cleared out in righteous
indignation, Old Boss notified Martha that it was up to her to
replace her delinquent offspring.  Henry and Sissie appeared on the
scene and took over the small cabin.  Sissie, too, was gentle,
bearing Henry's abuse when he was drunk and, absurdly, jealous.
One day I discovered that Sissie was the wounded Zamilla, shot
innocently in a jook from which she was trying to extricate her
husband.  The shot was probably intended for Henry, and much as I
like him, sober, I know of no darky who more deserves shooting when

Adrenna is a daughter whose life became so involved with mine that
I have wondered where one ended and the other began.  She was a
lean angular creature whom at first I took to be a girl, but found
to be of my own age.  She was shingle-butted, but what there was of
butt stuck out sharply.  She was a femme fatale, and I have never
been able to identify any possible appeal she might have for the
colored men, unless it be that little square boxlike rear.  She was
careless in her dress and cleanliness, to Martha's distress, and
mine, and usually wore her hair in Topsy pigtails that stuck out
around her face like a halo.  She could seduce any man she wanted,
for the moment, but she could not hold them, or, if they were
faithful, she grew tired of them.  She did my work for several
years and there was true love and exasperation between us.  Our
involvement came through her attempts to capture a husband.  The
husband must serve a dual purpose.  He must provide her with
whatever she wanted of a husband, and me with a good grove and yard
man.  Adrenna and I fell constantly between the upper and the
nether millstone.

"Little Will" Mickens, her brother, is my grove man at this
instant, and while all seems well, I can guarantee nothing by the
time this chronicle goes to press.  Other sons and daughters of
Martha are scattered here and there through the state.

"I was a fast-breedin' woman," Martha says with dignity and without
apology.  Such things are elemental, a matter of fact.  "I got
sympathy for a woman is a fast-breeder."

When any of the daughters working at the Creek are ill or absent or
brought to child-bed, or the sons or husbands are drunk and cannot
do their work, Martha takes their places.  Last winter a freeze
menaced and Little Will was taken suddenly drunk.  Martha came
without notice to gather Spanish moss to cover the flower plants in
my garden.  I drove in from town and found her bending over the

"I always likes to take up the slack," she said.

There have been occasions when her slack-taking has been so zealous
as better to have gone untaken.  I left the Creek for a vacation at
a beach cottage seventy miles away.  Adrenna left behind by
accident six napkins that I had picked up at the dime store for
twenty cents.  The morning after our arrival at the cottage, my
farm truck clattered up to the door.  Little Will presented me
breathlessly with a neatly wrapped package.

"Mama sont me to carry you these.  She say she jes' know you wanted
'em.  She say, tell you you don't never need worry when Adrenna
forget things.  She see you gets 'em."

The parcel contained the twenty cents' worth of napkins.  The round
trip for the truck stood me several dollars.  Will had left the
grove fertilizing in the very middle, while the extra hands must
sit idle, waiting for the return of the truck to move the
fertilizer.  I accepted the napkins and sent him on his way.  Two
hours later he returned on foot.  The truck had broken a spring on
a rough back road.  I was editing a story to meet a magazine
deadline and was obliged to drop my work, arrange for a new spring
and a repairman from the nearest city.  The job cost fifteen
dollars, the details filled my day, and it was night before Little
Will reached the grove again.  I take a rueful satisfaction in
using the flimsy napkins, saying to friends, "Please be careful.
These napkins are worth about six dollars apiece."  My only
dividend on the investment is their puzzled expression at my bad
taste and the obvious worthlessness of the napkins.  I take no more
chances on Martha's slack-taking.  Whenever I leave the Creek for
the beach, I say, "If we leave anything behind, do not send the
truck with it."  I have probably deprived her of many triumphs in
despatching a pound of butter or a magazine by farm express.

We call Martha "old-timey."  That means specifically that to our
white faces she presents a low-voiced deference, to our backs an
acute criticism, and to the colored world a tongue before which it
bows as before a flail.  She has an inviolable sense of proportion.
It comes of the gift, and I think it is a gift, that many of her
alleged superiors do not possess, of seeing people as they are.
Wealth does not impress her, on the rare occasions when she
encounters it.  "Fame" is a word without meaning.  Those few of the
worldly great who have paused briefly at the Creek have passed
before her silent appraisal as they must pass that of St. Peter.
On the other hand, the poorest tramp receives a kind word from her
if she senses in him that integrity that even the most unfortunate
often possess.  I fed one such one day, for at the Creek the hungry
have a great claim on us.  The ragged creature blessed me as he
went away with his full stomach and small gifts.

"It will all come back to you," he said, "many times over."

It was of course the ancient response of the mendicant, through
whom the charitable curry favor in the sight of the gods, but the
man had something more.

Martha said, "That ain't no beggar.  That's a person."

She has her own standards of payment for services rendered.  She
accepts nothing from those too poor to pay.  When I came to my own
lean period, and found that I could not carry all the manual labor
alone, she washed and cleaned for me, at the current rate of ten
cents an hour.  She would not cheapen herself by loitering over her
work, to draw a higher pay, and was always finished in a few hours.
I paid her the small sums with guilt and necessity.  She accepted
with infinite politeness.  Now, when accident has raised my
fortunes, I pay her generously for the smallest labors, and she
accepts the over-pay with equal understanding.  Who knows better
than she that one pays as one can, and that the Lord giveth and the
Lord taketh away?  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

None of her get is of the same stuff as her own.  If she were white
I should call her a natural aristocrat, and I see no reason to
withhold the adjective because of color or race.  She is
illiterate, she can tell a judicious lie when necessary, she does
not know sterling silver from aluminum, and scours old English
Sheffield along with the cooking pots and pans.  But she is well-
bred.  Breeding is after all a matter of manner, of social
adjustment, of exquisite courtesy.  Perhaps she is descended from
old African kings and queens.  At any rate, the hallmark is on her.

Old Will, her husband, some ten years older than she, is almost of
her breed.  He has the arrogance of the elite but not the
graciousness.  Many of the quarrels at the Creek have been of his
instigating.  Perhaps he too came of a regal line but a more
belligerent one.  He looks for all the world like Uncle Tom, with
grizzled hair and whiskers, and walks with a cane.  The cane is a
badge of his independence, indicating that he is frail and cannot
or will not stoop to labor.  But he was a hard worker in his day
and made money on cotton and at share-cropping of all sorts.  When
I am his age, if I have no other subsistence, I think that I too
shall walk with a cane and accept a livelihood as my right, after
years of toiling.

Martha is a Primitive, or foot-washing, Baptist, militant and
certain of her doctrines.  She does not go often to church only
because there is none nearby of her denomination.  There was a
Primitive Baptist church across the Creek when I first came, but
the leader absconded with the hard-saved church funds, and his
house, which was also the meeting-house, was quite properly struck
by lightning and burned to the ground by the wrath of the Lord.
Martha is an inexhaustible fount of old spirituals.  When we get
hungry for song, she gathers several of her family together, lines
them up in a row and "leads off."  Her voice is high and reedlike
and utterly true.  The other voices weave in and out of her melody,
sometimes only humming, for some of the songs are so rare and old
that only she is familiar with the words.  Her favorite, and mine,
is "Come, Mary, toll the bell."  For this, she throws back her
kerchiefed head, closes her eyes, pats her foot and accompanies
herself with an intricate syncopation of hand clapping.  Rhythm-
minded friends attempt to follow her timing, charmed by its
perfection, and can never duplicate the fine shading of beats.  Her
son-in-law Henry is her favorite to sing with her, for he too knows
many of the old songs, and has a rich sweet bass that ripples like
velvet under the silver of her voice.  Unfortunately Henry is often
in disfavor and we must sing without him.  It is of no use ever for
me to ask him to sing "St. Louis Blues" or "Coon-shine Baby."

"Mama don't let me sing them low-down songs where she can hear it,"
he says.

I wonder often what she thinks of the mysterious business that is
my writing.  Once in the midst of creative difficulties, I said
facetiously, "Martha, I'm in trouble.  I'll do the washing if
you'll write this chapter for me."

"Sugar," she said gravely, "God knows I'd do it if I could."

I recall the time I rang late for my breakfast coffee.  It seemed
necessary to apologize for the hour, for at the Creek one is not
quite decent who is not up with the red-birds.

I said, "I'm sorry to be so late.  I worked very late last night at
my writing."

She said compassionately, "Oh Sugar, I knows you're tired in the

There is indeed much writing that sounds as though the only
possible fatigue to the author were manual, but working as I do
with great mental anguish, I could hope that a trace of cerebration
might register, even for Martha.  Pride pricked me, I think, or the
need of self-justification that Martha is likely to impose on one,
and that day I showed her my published books.  She recognized my
picture on a jacket and turned the unintelligible pages with a
cautious black finger.  She put her hands on her hips and threw
back her head.

"Sugar," she said, "they ain't nobody at Cross Creek can do that."

3.  The magnolia tree

I do not know the irreducible minimum of happiness for any other
spirit than my own.  It is impossible to be certain even of mine.
Yet I believe that I know my tangible desideratum.  It is a tree-
top against a patch of sky.  If I should lie crippled or long ill,
or should have the quite conceivable misfortune to be clapped in
jail, I could survive, I think, given this one token of the
physical world.  I know that I lived on one such in my first days
at the Creek.

The tree was a magnolia, taller than the tallest orange trees
around it.  There is no such thing in the world as an ugly tree,
but the magnolia grandiflora has a unique perfection.  No matter
how crowded it may be, no matter how thickly holly and live oak and
sweet gum may grow up around it, it develops with complete
symmetry, so that one wonders whether character in all things,
human as well as vegetable, may not be implicit.  Neither is its
development ruthless, achieved at the expense of its neighbors, for
it is one of the few trees that may be allowed to stand in an
orange grove, seeming to steal nothing from the expensively
nourished citrus.  The young of the tree is courteous, waiting for
the parent to be done with life before presuming to take it over.
There are never seedling magnolias under or near an old magnolia.
When the tree at last dies, the young glossy sprouts appear from
nowhere, exulting in the sun and air for which they may have waited
a long hundred years.

The tree is beautiful the year around.  It need not wait for a
brief burst of blooming to justify itself, like the wild plum and
the hawthorn.  It is handsomer than most dressed only in its broad
leaves, shining like dark polished jade, so that when I am
desperate for decoration, I break a few sprays for the house and
find them an ornament of which a Japanese artist would approve.
The tree sheds some of its leaves just before it blooms, as though
it shook off old garments to be cleansed and ready for the new.
There is a dry pattering to earth of the hard leaves and for a
brief time the tree is parched and drawn, the rosy-lichened trunk
gray and anxious.  Then pale green spires cover the boughs,
unfolding into freshly lacquered leaves, and at their tips the
blooms appear.  When, in late April or early May, the pale buds
unfold into great white waxy blossoms, sometimes eight or ten
inches across, and the perfume is a delirious thing on the spring
air, I would not trade one tree for a conservatory filled with
orchids.  The blooms, for all their size and thickness, are as
delicate as orchids in that they reject the touch of human hands.
They must be cut or broken carefully and placed in a jar of water
without brushing the edges, or the creamy petals will turn in an
hour to brown velvet.  Properly handled, they open in the house as
on the tree, the cupped buds bursting open suddenly, the fullblown
flowers shedding the red-tipped stamens in a shower, so that in a
quiet room you hear them sifting onto the table top.  The red seed
cones are as fine as candles.  They mature slowly from the top of
the tree down, as a Christmas tree is lighted.

Because I miss the flowers when the blooming season is over, I
begged my artist friend Robert to paint a spray on my old Tole
tray.  He rebelled, being a true artist who is annoyed by owners'
specifications, and wanted to do a stylized landscape on the tray.
I sulked and grumbled, and as sulky as I, at last he began the
magnolias.  He put on a few white daubs and growled some more and
let the months pass.  Then the magnolia season came around, and he
had a jug of the blooms in his studio, and my battle was won.  The
magnolias were irresistible.  Now I have them, imperishable at
least for my lifetime, with the inexplicable added loveliness that
true art gives to reality.  Unfortunately, the tray is now too fine
a work of art to put back on its low table, where the convivial and
the careless will set down their damp silver julep cups.  I have
the alternatives of taking it to bed with me, or hanging it
inappropriately on the farmhouse wall, or following my guests about
like a secret service agent, ready to snatch up the dripping
symbols of my hospitality from off the white breasts of the

The tree that nourished me in a lean time is still here and will be
as long as I can protect it from everything short of lightning.  It
is not conspicuous when walking through the grove.  It comes into
its own from the west kitchen window beside the sink.  The high
window frames it, so that its dark glossy top is singled out for
the attention of one standing there, washing dishes, preparing
vegetables, rolling pie crust on the table under the window,
putting a cake together.  The sun sets behind it and is tangled in
the branches.  In the days when the life and the work at the Creek
were new, and the three brothers, for whom the pattern proved
within a year to be not the right one, seemed three bottomless
capacities for food, and there was no domestic help, the hours by
the west window were endless, and the magnolia never failed of its
beauty and its comfort.  One wanted to cut it down, believing that
it sapped the nourishment of the orange trees around it, but
another laughed and upheld me, and it was left to raise its leaves,
its blossoms, its red cones, to the changing sky.  Now oranges
scarcely pay for their care and their picking and shipping, and we
know that magnolias, like palm trees, are good things in a grove,
breeding and harboring many friendly parasites, and I have been
alone a long time, and the magnolia tree is still here.

The matter of adjustment to physical environment is as fascinating
as the adjustment of man to man, and as many-sided.  The place that
is right for one is wrong for another, and I think that much human
unhappiness comes from ignoring the primordial relation of man to
his background.  Certainly the creatures are sensitive to this, and
while some seem contented almost anywhere as long as food is
provided, and perhaps a mate, others cannot accept the change of
scene or the cage.  Monkeys, I think, do not mind the zoo, but the
eagle hunched on his public perch, the panther behind his bars,
break the heart with their desperation.  My own two animals who
came to the Creek with me from urban life reacted as opposites.
They were a Scottish terrier, a shy fellow, and a young tiger cat,
both city-bred and reared.  Both knew town apartment life, the
sound of city traffic and the small bed at night behind safe walls.
Both had been happy in that life.

Dinghy the Scotty hated the Florida backwoods from the first
sandspur under his tail.  He hated the sun, he hated the people,
black and white, he hated the roominess of the farm-house and the
long quiet of the nights.  From the beginning, he sat on his fat
Scotch behind and glowered.  Perhaps he sensed that his breed and
pedigree were not here properly appreciated.  Florida is a country
of the work-dog, even where that dog is a pointer or setter and so
something, always, of a pet.  We live a leisurely life, but while
our dogs lie, as we, in the sun, they are also expected to serve
us, as the Negro serves.  Dinghy was not approved.  He was not even
understood.  There were those who did not believe he was a dog.
The iceman professed to be in deadly fear of him.  I took Dinghy in
the car with me to Hawthorn for groceries, and the clerk came to
put the packages in the car.  He retreated, shrieking, "There's a
varmint in that car!"  I am certain that if Dinghy did not know
what was meant by a varmint, he knew that humans were not impressed
by him.  He was accustomed to slavish overtures, the proffered
tidbit and the friendly touch.  He retired into his mental
Highlands and stayed there.

Jib, his tabby companion, was of different stuff.  He too had lived
the languid life of a city pet, in the house most of the time, fed
on ground beef and liver from the butcher, his only excitement an
occasional excursion into the back yard after some intrepid city
mouse.  I was so busy when I took up life at the Creek that Jib was
left to shift for himself.  He had his warm milk fresh from old
Laura, night and morning, but that was all.  And where Dinghy
turned into a hopeless introvert, Jib thrived.

The jungle that was a terror to the dog was to him enchanting.  All
the generations of urban life were dissolved in a moment, and he
prowled the marsh and hammock as though he had known them always.
He returned home with shining eyes, bearing some trophy unutterably
strange, a lizard or small snake.  We use the expression here,
"poor as a lizard-eating cat," and I think Jib learned they were
not the healthiest of foods, for as the years passed I would see
him lying in the shade, watching a lizard with no attempt to catch
it.  He must once have been bitten by a snake, for he disappeared
for two days, and came in with his head swollen to twice its size,
and very wobbly on his legs.  He refused food for two days more and
then was himself again, but with a holy fear of anything resembling
the serpent.  I have seen him jump three feet in the air, like a
released spring, at the sudden sight of a curving stick or a ribbon
on the floor.

He seemed to sense the unhappiness of Dinghy and made a great
effort to teach the Scotty the new delights he had discovered.  He
brought his lizards to the melancholy Scot and was puzzled by his
disgust.  He spent hours trying to teach Dinghy to catch a mouse.
He would cripple it, cat-fashion, and release it under the dog's
nose.  Dinghy would move a few morose inches away.  Jib would pick
up the mouse and push it under Dinghy's belly with one paw, then
sit back and wait hopefully for the mouse to slip away and Dinghy
to pounce, as any rational animal would do.  The mouse would begin
its escape and Dinghy would look the other way.  At last, with
evident lack of relish, Jib would kill and eat his mouse.

Dinghy was returned to the city, lived happily in a bed-indoor
apartment filled with the commotion of newspaper people, and
fathered many broods of equally haughty and urban Scottish
terriers.  I am sure that if he had stayed in Florida he would have
sired no progeny, out of sheer boredom.  Old Jib has lived to be a
veritable Egyptian mummy of a cat, lean and dessicated, with an eye
cocked to watch the birds and the chameleons he has not disturbed
for many years.  Life will be for him always a lively matter, even
when it is reduced to mere speculation.  I drove over the cattle-
gap into the grove late one night recently, and my lights shone two
bright pairs of eyes, one on either side of the driveway.  Old Jib
was curled comfortably there, watching with friendly interest an
opossum who had come by on his night's business.

There was more of Jib's response to the jungle than of Dinghy's in
my own feeling about it.  It will always seem strange to me, and
though I live to be as thin and dried as he, I shall go into its
shadows with a faster heart-beat, as Jib must have gone.  Even with
my first fear, long since vanished, there was more of excitement,
and this is a thing I should not choose to have leave me about
anything glamorous and lovely.  I was most stirred, I think, by
knowing that this was Indian and Spanish country, and that
Vitachuco, chief of the Ocali Indians, was embroiled with the
Spaniards somewhere north of the present Ocala--and it may have
been here.  The word "hammock" comes from the Spanish "hamaca,"
meaning "a highly arable type of soil."  I wanted to name my book
"Golden Apples," "Hamaca," and to indicate the triumphs and defeats
that different kinds of men have encountered in this hammock
country, but it was believed that the name would be so strange no
one would buy the book.

I like to think of the Spaniards blazing their trails through the
Florida hammocks.  The hammocks were the same then as now, and will
be the same forever if men can be induced to leave them alone.
Hammock soil is dark and rich, made up of centuries of accumulation
of humus from the droppings of leaves.  The hammock is marked by
its type of trees, and these are the live oak, the palm, the sweet
gum, the holly, the ironwood and the hickory and magnolia.  We have
high hammock and low hammock, and oak hammock and palm hammock, and
there is likely to be a body of water nearby.  The piney woods and
the flat-woods are more open and therefore perhaps more hospitable,
in spite of their poorer soil and dryness, but the hamaca shares
with marsh and swamp the great mystery of Florida.

When I had caught the swing of the work so that there was now and
then a breathing spell, I moved beyond the orbit of the magnolia
tree seen from the kitchen window, and began to learn the hammock
and lake edge that with the grove made up my seventy-two acres.  I
have since bought forty acres from the Widow Lowry, worthless marsh
and low hammock that adjoin my east grove, from that peculiar
instinct, relic no doubt of pioneer farming ancestors, that makes a
landowner want to "round out his block."  The grove itself seems
safe and open, no matter how high the tea-weed grows, and the red-
top.  There are times when the evening sun infiltrates so eerily
the dense summer cover crop under the orange trees that the green
growth seems, not vegetation, but sea, emerald green, with the
light seeming to come from high distant earthly places down through
the luminous waters.  Yet the effect is open.

The old sixteen-acre field is open, too.  It is reached through Old
Boss' grove, and I remember the sense of discovery when I went
through the sagging gate back of his house and came out into the
old clearing.  It is a fine sweep of field, level for ten acres,
dropping to the east to a line of hickories, and to the north
melting into a dense six acres of virgin hammock.  In the heart of
the clearing is a gigantic live oak, with crepe myrtle bushes
nearby, and an old well, and though there is not a trace left of
any house, one knows this was a home-site, and that children swung
from the low-spreading limbs of the oak tree.  The field has lost
its fertility, and I have struggled with successive optimistic
plantings of beans and squash and cucumbers and even, hopeful folly
on that neglected soil, young orange trees.  But the field is
through with the bother of cultivation and will have none of it,
and everything withers on its arid and cynical and weary breast.
It nourishes only a thick cluster of persimmon trees and wild
grapevines, and a spindling grapefruit tree at the edge of the
hammock, and a great sweet seedling orange tree among the
hickories.  The squirrels and raccoons and birds and foxes make a
good living there, where a human fails.

The east grove, across the road from the farmhouse, is bounded on
the east and south by hammock.  This lies around it in a protective
crescent.  Entering here is a trek into the wilderness.  Boots and
breeches are required, for the way goes through saw palmettos and
is part of the trail where, Tom Morrison says, the snakes cross.
Twice each year the moccasins and rattlers move, he says, taking
the same path, and back and forth between the east and west groves
is a known crossing.  It must be so, for I see more snakes on the
road there than in any other place I frequent.  Once through the
dense palmettos the hammock opens out, so that where the old Lowry
fence runs the woods make a clear park.  There are tall long-leaf
pines among the palms and live oaks, so that the earth has a clean
carpet of pine needles and brittle oak leaves, and one walks
silently over it.  The bluejays nest there, and the hush is broken
only by their cries, harsh above the soft slurring of the wind in
the tree-tops.  I began my hunting there, practicing with a .410 on
the gray squirrels that whisked up and down the tree trunks.  There
was great sport at first in all the hunting.  Then it came to
sicken me, and now I go to the pines as a guest and not an invader.
The squirrels strip half a dozen pecan trees of their crop each
fall, but there are a dozen trees more, and when a gray streak of
fur flashes by my window of an autumn morning on its way to the
rich nuts, I say to it, "Come in and welcome.  There is enough for
us all."

Down through the west grove, which is the house grove, is the
hammock on the shore of Orange Lake that has been from the
beginning a true retreat.  I went to it often in the early days but
have not gone much since life itself has had more to offer.  This
has been not for disloyalty or for any treachery, but because at
all times we turn to what we need only when we need it.  It is a
matter of indifference to the lake-shore hammock whether I come or
go, and so I went to it in my need, as I have gone along the road
that nourished me.

To reach it, I might go by one of two ways: through the grove,
dipping at the end to a patch of seedling pecan trees and a great
bush of trifoliata, the ground thick with blue spiderwort and wild
mustard; a ragged fence is here, marking off what had been a garden
in a dry time, but now, with the lake high, is damp muck grown
rankly in coffee-weed and brambles.  I might go persistently
through the coffee-weed and the tearing briers and cross another
ragged fence, and come out on a cattle trail along the lake edge
that crossed into the hammock.  Or I might reach it by going to the
south pasture and cutting straight through the hammock edge.  The
border is an almost impenetrable tangle of blackberry bushes and
bamboo vines.  But by crouching low, a way may be found under the
overhanging thicket, and it is found that this too is a cattle
trail, and a low narrow way leads through perpetual shadow to the
open hammock.

I do not understand how any one can live without some small place
of enchantment to turn to.  In the lakeside hammock there is a
constant stirring in the tree-tops, as though on the stillest days
the breathing of the earth is yet audible.  The Spanish moss sways
a little always.  The heavy forest thins into occasional great
trees, live oaks and palms and pines.  In spring, the yellow
jessamine is heavy on the air, in summer the red trumpet vine
shouts from the gray trunks, and in autumn and winter the holly
berries are small bright lamps in the half-light.  The squirrels
are unafraid, and here I saw my first fox-squirrel, a huge fellow
made of black shining plush.  Here a skunk prowled close to me,
digging industrious small holes for grubs.  I sat as still as a
stump, and if he saw me, as I suspect, he was a gentleman and went
on steadily with his business, then loped away with a graceful
rocking motion.  A covey of quail passed me often, so that I came
to know their trail into the blackberry thicket where they gathered
in a circle for the night, making small soft cries.  It is
impossible to be among the woods animals on their own ground
without a feeling of expanding one's own world, as when any foreign
country is visited.

To the west, the hammock becomes damp, the trees stand more
sparsely.  Beyond is a long stretch of marsh where the cattle feed
lazily, belly-deep in water hyacinths and lily pads, then the wide
lake itself.  There is a clamor of water birds, long-legged herons
and cranes, visiting sea-gulls from the coasts, wild ducks, coots,
the shrill scream of fish-hawks, with now and then a bald-headed
eagle loitering in the sky, ready to swirl down and take the fish-
hawk's catch from him in midair.  Across the lake, visible the four
miles only on a clear day, is the tower of the old Samson manse,
decaying in the middle of the still prosperous orange grove.  From
the tower itself, decrepit and dangerous, is a sight of a tropical
world of dreams, made up of glossy trees and shining water and palm
islands.  When I am an old woman, so that too much queerness will
seem a natural thing, I mean to build a tower like it on my own
side of the lake, and I shall sit there on angry days and growl
down at any one who disturbs me.

I dig leaf mould from this hammock to enrich my roses and camellias
and gardenias.  When I went with my basket one morning a breath of
movement, an unwonted pattern of color, caught my eye under a
tangle of wild grapevines.  A wild sow lay nested at the base of a
great magnolia.  At a little distance, piled one on the other, lay
her litter, clean and fresh as the sunshine, the birth-damp still
upon them.  Sow and litter were exhausted with the business of
birthing.  The one lay breathing profoundly, absorbed in the
immensity of rest.  The others lay like a mass of puppies, the
lowest-layered tugging himself free to climb again on top of the
pile and warm his tender belly.  The mass shifted.  The most
adventuresome, a pied morsel of pig with a white band like a belt
around his middle, wobbled over to the sow's side.  He gave a
delighted whimper and the whole litter ambled over to discover the
miracle of the hairy breasts.

The jungle hammock breathed.  Life went through the moss-hung
forest, the swamp, the cypresses, through the wild sow and her
young, through me, in its continuous chain.  We were all one with
the silent pulsing.  This was the thing that was important, the
cycle of life, with birth and death merging one into the other in
an imperceptible twilight and an insubstantial dawn.  The universe
breathed, and the world inside it breathed the same breath.  This
was the cosmic life, with suns and moons to make it lovely.  It was
important only to keep close enough to the pulse to feel its
rhythm, to be comforted by its steadiness, to know that Life is
vital, and one's own minute living a torn fragment of the larger

4.  The pound party

We pay no attention to a newcomer at the Creek.  There is no more
formal getting-acquainted than among the rabbits in the woods and
the birds in the trees.  When any one has been here long enough,
sooner or later his path crosses that of the other inhabitants and
friendship or enmity or mere tolerance sets in.  I was never
welcomed to the Creek except by Martha, or my presence acknowledged.
If I stayed, that was my own business, so long as I minded it.  If
I did not stay, no one would be surprised and there was no point
in making overtures to me.  But how was I to have known this and
that the Townsends' invitation to a pound party was not a social
gesture?  I took it at face value.

I knew vaguely that a family lived half a mile away as tenants in
Cow Hammock.  A lean brown-eyed man who looked like John the
Baptist often walked down the sand road in front of my house,
scuffling up the dust with long bare feet.  A pretty woman with a
baby in her arms sometimes walked with him, or followed him an hour
later, or sometimes appeared mysteriously with him only on his way
back, as though she had gone off to the Creek in the night and he
had come after her by daylight.  Actually, I found, they fished
both from Cow Hammock Landing and from Cross Creek, and one or the
other might take the rowboat back and forth.  Apparently countless
children loitered along the road, like beads set far apart in a
string, sometimes in little knots, sometimes singly.  They
resembled neither St. John nor the woman, but among themselves were
as alike as peas in a pod and precisely the color of that vegetable
when a little wilted.  I began speaking to the children and they
answered, not the conventional "Hey!", but "How-do," politely.
Apparently none of them went to school, although I believe it was
that winter that the school bus began collecting children from the
Creek.  Once a wagon went by, lurching in the ruts, filled to
overflowing with these passers-by, integrated at last into one
family.  They were the Townsends, and a community to themselves,
aloof by choice.  There were enough of them to need no other
contacts.  One day two of the small girls appeared at my back door.

The oldest said rapidly, before she should forget the memorized
words, "I'm Ella May, and Mama says we're having a pound party
tomorrow evening and she'd be proud did you come."

It came to me that this was the first neighborly gesture I had
encountered at the Creek.  I was touched.

I said, "I'd be glad to.  But what is a pound party?"

"Everybody brings a pound of something.  Sugar, or butter, or
candy, or a cake.  A cake's fine.  Such as that."

The evening of the party was clear as glass and I walked the half-
mile to Cow Hammock.  Remembering the swarm of little Townsends,
and adding a houseful of guests in my mind's eye, I had doubled my
largest cake recipe and baked it in a roasting pan.  I thought I
must be early, for there was no one in the shabby house but the
Townsends.  The children were watching and at sight of me scattered

I heard a sibilant, "Here she comes."

The suspicion had not yet touched me not only that they knew I
should be the sole arrival, but that the party had been built
around the probability of my innocent acceptance.  The Townsends
were in their Sunday best, fresh-scrubbed and uncomfortable.  The
girls were starched, the boys in stiff clean blue overalls and
shirts.  I was given a seat on a bench along a wall.  Behind me a
ragged screen over the open window let in a steady stream of
mosquitoes, attracted by the oil lamp on the table.  Ella May was
assigned with a newspaper to sit beside me and fan my legs to keep
them from biting me.  When Ella May lagged, Beatrice took up the
paper.  Their work was enthusiastic but inadequate to the ingenuity
of mosquitoes.  I slapped furtively.  My cake had the place of
honor on the bare deal table in the center of the room.  A Townsend
layer cake dripping sticky icing was pushed modestly to one side.
The rest of the refreshments provided by the hostess consisted of a
bucket of water, a ten-cent jar of peanut butter and a nickel box
of soda crackers.

She said easily, "We'll wait a while to eat, just in case."

I made conversation as best I could.  We talked of the heavy crop
of blackberries, of the Hamon sow that could not be kept up, no
matter how one tried, of the summer rains and of the fishing.  Mr.
Townsend spoke up brightly when we reached the fishing.  Fishing
was not only the family livelihood but its delight.  The Townsends
would have sat all day with poles if they had been millionaires.

"I'll bring you a mess of bream one day," he said.

The talk ebbed.  The mosquitoes buzzed and the Townsends slapped
automatically.  The lamp flickered in a gust of wind.

Mrs. Townsend said, "Be nice, did you blow some, Floyd."

Mr. Townsend echoed, "Blow some, Floyd."

Floyd, the oldest, long, thin and pale, brought out a mouth organ
from his pocket and drew up a straight wooden chair.  He began to
pat his foot before he started his tune.  Into the patting came
suddenly the whine of the mouth organ.  The tune, formless,
unrecognizable, was mournful.  One sad phrase repeated itself over
and over.  Other Townsends took up the patting and the rickety
floor shook to the thumping.  Floyd stopped abruptly.

Mrs. Townsend said to the air, "Be nice, did Preston dance."

Preston was five, the youngest weaned Townsend.  The older children
seized him and dragged him from the doorway.  He hung his head but
made no resistance.  They seemed to prop him up, then retreated and
left him standing alone.  Floyd took up his tune.  Preston stood
staring vacantly.  The tune and the party seemed no concern of his.
As though one note had set off a mechanical spring, he began to
shuffle his feet.  His body was still.  His arms jerked a little,
like a broken jack-in-the-box.  His feet shuffled back and forth
without rhythm.  He might have been trying to keep his footing on a
slippery treadmill.  This was the dance.  I expected him to stop in
a moment but he kept it up.  The tune, the dance, were endless.

Mrs. Townsend said complacently, "Preston holds out good, don't

The compliment seemed a signal, for he stopped as suddenly as he
had begun.

Mrs. Townsend said, "We just as good to eat."

She passed the crackers in one hand and the tiny jar of peanut
butter, with a spoon in it, in the other.  Eyes followed her
hungrily.  I refused, to the relief of the eyes.  I had a dipper of
water and as small a piece of cake as I dared take and yet be
courteous.  The two cakes disappeared as though a thunder-shower
had melted them.  The party was obviously over.  Mrs. Townsend
accompanied me outside the house and to the head of the path.  She
looked up into a cloudless and star-lit sky.

"I reckon the threat of bad weather kept the others away," she said

I inquired about pound parties at the Creek, and my gullibility was
verified.  Yet the occasion had been truly a party, and the
Townsends had done their best to make it festive.  I decided that I
should go any time I was invited, and should see to it that a
larger jar of peanut butter was provided.  After the party, the
Townsend children and I were great friends.  Ella May and Beatrice
came almost every day to visit me.  Dorsey and Floyd and Glenwood
came to do odd chores.  They were thin, grave boys and very
capable.  They moved slowly, like old men, and had the look of age
that hunger puts on children.  The boys were the right size to
climb into the pecan trees and shake down and gather the nuts.  The
crop was heavy that year, and the filled sacks and baskets amounted
to many hundred pounds.

The boys were asked, "What would you do if you had a dollar for
every one of those pecans?"

There was silence while the thought of wealth was contemplated.

Dorsey said slowly, "First off, I'd get me a whole plug of Brown
Mule tobaccy, all for myself."

Floyd said, "I'd have all I want of rich folks' rations--light
bread and jelly."

The questioner went on, "What, no cornbread?"

Glenwood said quickly, "Oh yes.  We know you got to have cornbread
to grow on."

One week in the next spring the whole family left off its fishing
and picked, without enthusiasm, the heavy crop of beans.  Their pay
on Saturday totalled thirty-six dollars.  I thought happily how far
this would go.  I pictured the big sack of groceries that night,
with money laid by for future needs, seed and fertilizer perhaps
for a garden of their own.  On Monday morning Floyd came to the

"Could you let us have two dollars," he asked, "to get us some

Their money had surely been stolen from them, or the heavy hand of
poor folks' luck had made them lose it in some fashion.

"But what happened to the thirty-six dollars you had on Saturday?"

Floyd's pale face was bright with pleasure.

"We bought us an ottymobile," he said.

They were somehow a challenge.  I have never known a more exquisite
courtesy than the whole family possessed.  There were good blood
and breeding back of them.  I have known no one with more gracious
manners.  The children were intelligent.  Their finances were a
problem beyond me and would evidently have to take care of
themselves, but it seemed to me that the children's futures held
something better than a precarious living fishing on Orange Lake.
The two great needs, where I could give tangible help, were their
health and their education.

Their green color came from a lifetime of hookworm.  I persuaded
the mother and father to let the children be treated.  The
tetrachlorethylene capsules were dispensed free by the state.  I
obtained capsules and instructions, and set off for the Townsend
house one Saturday night.  One by one I handed out the preliminary
doses of Epsom salts.  I gave orders about no further food.  On
Sunday morning I trudged back again and saw the capsules safely
down the Townsends.  I departed with the sense of smugness common
to all meddlers, leaving word that in ten days we would repeat the
treatment.  When the ten days were up, the mother refused point
blank to let the children be treated again.

"It made them sick," she said.

"Of course it made them sick.  They were eaten up with hookworm."

She shook her head.

"'Twouldn't be safe to give that medicine to them again," she said
firmly.  "It must of been stale.  You can't trust nothin' is free."

I was beaten there, and passed on slyly to the matter of education.
Once safely in school, I was sure the visiting county nurse would
have a chance for a fresh battle against the hookworms.  I would
give clothes, I said, to all the children who would go to school.
St. John and his wife consulted and it was agreed that Dorsey and
Glenwood, Ella May and Beatrice, might condescend to be clothed and
to allow the school bus from the village to stop for them.

I am no seamstress, the holding of a threaded needle in my hand
producing an acute stomach ache.  But a long line of Methodist
preachers behind me has left the evil thought in the blood of my
brain that the more difficult a job, the more certainly one must
apply oneself to its mastering.  I bought yards of good gingham and
sat hour after hour, developing stomach ulcers, I was certain, at
the sewing machine.  The girls came for fittings and had light
bread and jelly as reward.  I turned out creditable dresses, nicely
trimmed, and went at the job of underwear.  I cut down my own two
woolen coats for Ella May and Beatrice.  I bought shirts and pants
for the boys.  I took my bundles with a missionary's pride to the
Townsends and modest pleasure was shown in my products.  I arranged
for the school bus to stop at the entrance to Cow Hammock.  I went
home and took a large dose of bicarbonate of soda.

The next morning one of the smaller children brought me a dress
length of very good silk.

"Mama says will you please make a dress for her."

I took the material to the Townsend house, puzzled, unwilling as
yet to be outraged.  Mama was on the lake, fishing.  I was shown
some of Mama's other garments.  Mama was a much better seamstress
than I--But if the Lord sends forth a strangely agreeable slave to
the sewing machine, surely it is pleasanter and more profitable to
spend one's time on the lovely lake, dangling a bamboo pole for
bream.  I left the material and word that my offer to sew for the
Townsends applied only to those in need of education, not to those
who had advanced in philosophy far beyond me.

The children went to school just long enough to make ownership of
the clothes indisputable.  Then they were all home again, playing
in the sandy yard, or as a special treat, taken along on the
fishing parties.

"They didn't like school," St. John informed me gently.

It would be satisfying, if sad, to tell of their tragic maturities.
I can only report that they have grown up as healthy as any one
else, and within the limits of their congenital leisureliness, are
living as active and prosperous lives as their neighbors.  I am
sometimes haunted by the feeling that it is I who could have
learned of the Townsends.

5.  The census

For learning a new territory and people as quickly as possible, I
recommend taking the census on horseback.  In 1930 my friend Zelma
from the village was commissioned to take the census in the back-
country sections of Alachua County.  Zelma is an ageless spinster
resembling an angry and efficient canary.  She manages her orange
grove and as much of the village and county as needs management or
will submit to it.  I cannot decide whether she should have been a
man or a mother.  She combines the more violent characteristics of
both and those who ask for or accept her manifold ministrations
think nothing of being cursed loudly at the very instant of being
tenderly fed, clothed, nursed or guided through their troubles.
She was the logical census taker for our district.  She knew all
the inhabitants, black and white, and every road and trail leading
to their houses.  None of the places could be reached by a main
road, and travelling by automobile would leave most of the noses
uncounted.  She borrowed two horses from the manager of the Maxcey
packing house, and on a bright fall morning we set out together.

I had not ridden since childhood.  Even then, my mounts had been
the weary work horses on the Maryland farm, and my brother and I
had been able to ride safely, without saddles, on their broad
backs.  I was uneasy at first on my lively mare.  Then the beauty
of the country took me over, and I was aware only that this high
vantage point was perfection for the traveller in strange places.
Zelma planned a wide circle for the first day.  We set out to the
northwest and came to the hammock lands across the Creek that
bordered Orange Lake.  The population was sparse.  I could not
understand how folk could settle in the bare piney-woods, when here
were uninhabited hammock acres, rich of soil, magnificent of
vegetation.  But the work of clearing hammock is heavy, and land
easily cleared and already open is tempting to migrants who are
often not aware of the differences in fertility.  The sun streamed
through the interstices and glinted on the shining magnolia leaves
and sparkleberry bushes.  Red-birds darted down the narrow trail
before us and among the palms twined with trumpet vines, the
blossoms the same bright orange-red color as the birds.  Coveys of
quail whirred away from us.

"It's a ---- blessing for us not many Yankees have seen country
like this, or they'd move in on us worse than Sherman," Zelma said,
and reined in her horse to dismount in front of the first cabin.

We finished the scanty counting along Orange Lake and cut west
toward the River Styx.  The name chilled me.  My mare was
obstreperous, and as we moved into a wet narrow road, I thought
that all that was needed to make her bolt under me was the sight of
a moccasin.  As though I had conjured him up, he was there.  We
were approaching a wooden foot-bridge and the mare, who had balked
at all previous bridges, was taking this one of her own accord.
The snake lay on a mound of earth to the right of the bridge.  He
was solidly coiled, an ancestral cottonmouth, taking up as much
space as a dishpan.  His triangular and venomous head rested flatly
on the outer edge of his coils.  The mare failed to see him because
he lay so still.  She was intent on her footing, on the welcome
sight of the road ahead.  Her careful, dainty hooves passed three
inches from the dark sleek head.  I loosened my feet from the
stirrups, ready to jump free.  The patriarch eyed me and did not
stir.  I decided that such a live-and-let-live philosophy was
admirable, and I touched one finger to my hat, saluting a

We entered the River Styx gently.  Surely, death itself must come
as quietly.  The open fields, bright in the reality of sunlight,
gave way easily to pine lands.  The pines grew thicker, the sweet
scent of their needles rising.  The sunlight was spotty, the
shadows of the tall trees wider.  Here and there a live oak told of
changing soil.  Then, imperceptibly, we were in deep hammock.
Coolness came in on us.  The leaves of magnolia and bay trees shut
out the sun, as all dark everlasting foliage must shut it out from
the silent places of the dead.  The hammock merged into cypress
swamp.  A trumpet vine dropped flamboyant flowers from a lone palm.
The blossoms seemed gaudy and funereal.  There were no birds
singing from the cypresses.  No squirrels swung in and out of the
sepulchral arches of the trees.  Out of the dimly defined road a
great white bird rose, flapping noiseless wings.  It was huge, snow-
white as an angel of death, with a wide black mourning band around
the edge of the wings.  I became aware that the soft dampness of
the road had turned into a soft rippling.  The whole floor of the
forest was carpeted with amber-colored water, alive, moving with a
slow, insidious current.  We had entered the River Styx.

Some English youth, fresh from his Oxford Greek and Latin, some
unhappy, outlawed scapegrace, must have named this silent stream.
Long ago, before the Big Freeze, Florida was a tropic land of
exile.  Numbers of younger sons or ne'er-do-wells were sent here
from England, subsidized to stay away.  Some were given funds with
which to establish orange groves, funds they often squandered.  One
of these, morose, ironic, must have come on this unknown, unsailed
waterway.  Bitter, perhaps, certainly homesick, he was struck by
the deathly peace and the dark beauty; stirred by the pale water
hyacinths, diaphanous and unearthly; and it was truly to him the
River of Death, over which, once traversed, there is no crossing
back again.  Because this country had become as dear as life to me,
the river held for me no horror.  I wondered if the greater Styx
might not be as darkly beautiful.  The leaf-brown overflow of water
deepened to the horses' knees.  The white ibis flapped away slowly
and came to rest high in a cypress.  Then we were on the rickety
bridge over the main body of the stream, and on the other side, and
counting children again.

I thought, "It is not given to many to cross the Styx and live to
tell it."

We circled back from Orange Lake and across Lochloosa Prairie.  We
use the word "prairie" in a special sense.  We have no open plains,
but around most of the larger lakes are wet flat areas thick with
water grasses, and these we call our prairies.  They are more
nearly marshes, yet we save the word "marsh" for the deep mucky
edges of lake and river, dense with coontail and lily pads, and for
the true salt marshes of the tidal rivers.  We found no living soul
across this tract.  There were trails used by half-wild gaunt
cattle and dim, deep-rutted roads travelled only by the lurching
turpentine wagons that came with mule and Negro driver to scrape
resin from the clay cups on the tapped turpentine trees.

We came out at last on a turpentine still and here the population
was black and dense.  So many little pickaninnies ran away from the
cabins as the strange horses approached, that it was a long job
gathering them all in to be counted, and their fancy names and
vaguely estimated ages written down on the papers.  Zelma knew all
the older Negroes and many of the younger ones.  She joked with
some and sympathized with others, recommended cures for this and
that, and promised to send medicine to one, quilt scraps to
another, and a pound of little conch pea seed to yet another.  She
chided one lean brown girl for her immense brood, fathers unknown.

"I know it's too many, Miss Zelma," the girl agreed.  "I sho' got
to git me a remedy."

By the time we had finished the Quarters, dusk was falling.  Zelma
knew a short cut back to the Creek.  It took us by Burnt Island,
and she told me fabulous tales of it in the growing darkness.
There was believed to be the grandfather of all rattlesnakes living
there.  Only glimpses had been had of him, but several reported to
have seen his shed skin, and all agreed that it was nine feet long.
The "shed" stretches, and the snake could reasonably and
conceivably have been seven feet in length.  There were wild boars
on Burnt Island, savage, long-tusked and dangerous.  The place was
also a hideout for criminals who preferred the great rattler and
the wild boars to the arm of the law.  I was not happy when Zelma
announced profanely that high water had covered the old road she
meant to take, and we were lost.

Darkness and our own uncertainty and the long hours away from the
stable made the horses restless.  My mare shied at every stick and
reared when a hoot owl cried over our heads from a pine tree.  Then
the full moon rose blessedly and roads and woods and prairie and
water were again as plain as by day.  We skirted ponds and
continued in a general west by south direction.  We came out on the
Creek road, but three miles away from the Creek.  We had been in
the saddle from seven in the morning until eleven at night.  I
ached through the night and in the morning was obliged to move with
some caution.  Yet my own country had been revealed to me and a
twinge of pain was a small price to pay.

The second day we made a wider circle.  We found a cabin here and a
shack there, where even Zelma did not know folk were living, silent
people who gave their statistics reluctantly.  We rode down a piney-
woods road in the late morning and as the trees broke at the edge
of a clearing, we heard a piano.  It was a good piano, not quite in
tune, and it was being played with the touch of an artist.  I
thought my senses were playing tricks on me.  Surely I heard only
the wind in the pines.

Zelma said, "I forgot that woman was buried back here."

The woman left the piano and came to the door.  She was in
immaculate rags and she had once been lovely.  The house was gaping
with holes and was stripped bare of all but the most fundamental
pieces of furniture.  Several thin clean children came to stare at
us.  The woman was starved for talk with her own kind, and long
after the family had been itemized, detained us.  Zelma told me her
story as we rode away.  She had come some twenty years before on a
tourist's visit to Florida, a young and beautiful girl of high
breeding.  Taking in a local square dance as a spectator she had
met a young Cracker and fallen absurdly in love with him, for the
mating instinct knows no classes.  She had married him, and her
outraged and prosperous family had left her to her own devices.
Her piano was the only salvage from her early life.  There are
hundreds of handsome and sturdy backwoodsmen who would make good
husbands even for such a girl, if her tastes in living were simple.
She had chosen a hopeless and worthless fellow who sat idly in the
sun as her life fell to pieces about her.  The children held her to
him.  There was something more, too; a pride that would not admit
defeat.  I came to know her well, and I have never known a woman to
make a gayer thing of life with only empty hands to work with.  The
family was half-starved most of the time.  Yet she made a game of
hunger, and a meal of fish and cornpone was a festival.  I went
once to visit with her, when the girls were grown, and found them
all strange specters with their faces smeared with something wet
and brown.

The woman said, "We have no place to go and no way of going.  So we
think up our own ways of having fun.  We're at the beauty parlor
today.  We read about beauty masks, so we made a trip to the edge
of the lake and dug mud to make our packs."

Martha has served her without pay when her children were born.

She said to me, "She shames most women, don't she?  I does all I
can for her, 'cause me and the Lord is all she's got to look out
for her, and the Lord ain't exactly put Hisself out."

Martha fixed lunch for Zelma and me that day.  We reached her house
in the afternoon and were famished.  She made us biscuits and fried
white bacon, and served her best preserves.  She had baked sweet
potatoes still hot in the wood range and when we left she gave us a
paper sack of them to carry with us.  Our next stop was at a small
Negro cabin and we were thirsty from the salty bacon.  Zelma asked
for water and a small black boy handed us up cool well water in
clean gourds.  When he reached up to me, he spilled the cold water
on my mare's flank and she bolted like a rabbit.  The woods were
full of gopher holes and I dared not try to rein her in too
sharply, for fear she should stumble.  I gave her her head and we
tore away madly, and as we went, I scattered hot baked sweet
potatoes all over the piney-woods.  The mare and I were both
trembling when she came to a voluntary stop.  I was proud of myself
for having stayed on, but all I had from Zelma was her special
brand of profanity for having lost the sweet potatoes.

I was sorry when the census was over and done with.  The region
around me was plainly mapped now in my mind, I knew every one,
black and white, and could never again be a stranger.  We allowed
ourselves to be interrupted for one day toward the end.  The day
was mild and cloudy.  Our friend Fred rounded up Zelma and me to go
fishing with him.  The bream were on the bed and the weather was
exactly right.  We protested that we should be finishing the

"Now you just as good to come on fishing with me," Fred said.
"You'd ought to know, nobody ain't going to give you their census
on a good fishing day like this."

6.  The evolution of comfort

When I first came to the Creek, I had for facilities one water
faucet in the kitchen, a tin shower adjoining the Kohler shed and
an outhouse.  For the water faucet in the kitchen I was always
grateful, for water pumps at the Creek are all placed in relation
to the well and with little or no concern with distance from the
house.  When Martha lived in the Mackay house she had even no well,
but must carry water from the Creek itself.  My outside shower was
acceptable enough in summer, though it meant going damply over the
sand to the house afterward.  In cold weather--and you may believe
the Chamber of Commerce that we have none, or you may believe me
that on occasion bird-baths have been frozen solid--in cold weather
the outside shower was a fit device for masochistic monks.  The icy
spray that attacked the shoulders like splinters of fine glass was
in the nature of a cross.  I shall not forget the early Christmas
afternoon, with six men gathered for dinner, the turkey savory in
the oven, the pies cooling, the vegetables ready, the necessity if
not the desire for the bath borne in on me, and the temperature at
thirty-eight and dropping.  I emerged shivering and snarled at the
indifferent heavens, "The first time I get my hands on cash money,
so help me, I shall have a bathroom."

Because of the cold shower, open at the front to a wandering world,
an unfriendly shower, I took to watching for rain like a tree-toad.
For when the soft sluiceways of the skies opened and the lichened
shingle roof shed the waters in a surge down the northwest
sheltered corner of the house, I could strip and accept the
benediction.  When the day was hot the rain was cool.  When the day
was cool the rain was many degrees warmer, and as bland as perfumed
bath powder.  The water faucet and the shower, then, could be
endured.  It seemed to me that I had done nothing in all my life to
deserve the outhouse.

It had been years since I had come any closer to one than James
Whitcomb Riley's verses on the subject.  But I could look back on
them almost with nostalgia, for those I had known had a certain
coziness and a definite privacy.  One of my fondest recollections
is of an outhouse in Virginia.  It stood under a locust, at the top
of a little rise of ground.  The terrain before one sloped down
past a corner of the flower-bed, bright with balsam and phlox, to a
valley where a cornfield was bordered by a line of willows.  The
blue hills of Virginia lifted in the distance.  Three walls of the
outhouse were gay with travel posters from Switzerland, the Rhine
and Brittany.  It was pleasant to follow pensively the depicted
trails, highways and views.  On the fourth wall hung a sonnet in
French, a charming and vulgar and beautifully composed bit of
comment on the circumstances in which the reader found himself at
the moment.  All was conducive to a sense of well-being.

The outhouse on Grandfather's farm was papered with perfectly
beautiful colored pictures of reigning queens.  Alexandra was
magnificent.  Wilhelmina was demure and very pretty in pale pink
with a pearl and diamond crown.  I cannot look today at the news
pictures of the stout housewife in tweeds on a bicycle and believe
that it is the same woman.  The queen of Norway I recall as rather
austere, the queen of Italy as blackly horselike.  But all were
queens, in full color, in dcollet and jewelled diadems.  The
building had a door with crescent windows and it stood discreetly
behind a hickory tree and was reached by a high trim boardwalk
bordered with marigolds.

The outhouse that I inherited at the Creek had no boardwalk, it had
no queens, no marigolds, it had, amazingly, no door.  It stood on a
direct line with the dining room windows.  One fortunate diner
might sit with his back to it.  The others could not lift their
eyes from their plates without meeting the wooden stare of the
unhappy and misplaced edifice.  They were fortunate if they did not
meet as well the eye of a belated occupant, assuring himself
stonily that he could not be seen.  For there was indeed a wire
screen, and this screen had been, or so the instigator fatuously
pretended, modernized with camouflage.  Streaks of gray paint
zigzagged across the screening.  The effect was to make of a human
being seated behind it a monster.  The monster had gray bolts of
lightning for arms and moss-gray tree-trunks for legs.  Possibly
the head of a human tall enough might have lifted to meet and be
shielded by another streak of gray paint, or one short enough might
have been veiled entirely, but I never peeked in fascination at any
occupant of the infernal box whose face did not gaze recognizably
out in a silent and steely torment.

The camouflage, cruelly, worked perfectly when approached from the
path.  The result was that it was impossible to tell, until too
late, whether a living thing was trapped behind it.  It seemed for
a time that Uncle Fred had solved this problem.  Two days after his
arrival on a visit he asked in a low, strained voice, "Do you have
an old piece of bright flannel I could cut up?"  His manner
prohibited questioning.  I had been here too short a time to have
acquired scraps of cloth, but I brought out a ragged quilt, flaming
red in color.  His face brightened.  He went solemnly away and a
little later a two-foot-square red flag stood in the middle of the
path just outside the outhouse.  The technique was obvious and
simple.  When one went in, one placed the flag in the path.  When
one came out, one put the flag back inside the outhouse.  One went
in and put the flag in the path.  One returned to the house,
forgetting to put the flag back again.  The flag stood like a red
light against traffic, for hours and hours and hours.

These were only the day hazards.  Only a pillar of fire by night
would have seemed sufficient comfort and guidance, and this was
never provided except by the dubious assistance of lightning.
There were provided instead, none the less appalling because
harmless, spiders, lizards, toads and thin squeaking noises made by
bats.  Over all the dark hours hung the fear of snakes.  I had
arrived in Florida with the usual ignorant terror.  If time proved
that the sight of a snake was a rarity, there was no help then for
the conviction that the next footstep would fall on a coiled
rattler.  An imaginary snake is so much more fearful than a real
one, that I should rather handle a rattlesnake, as I have done
since, than dream of one.  I dreaded the sunset, thinking of the
dark box of the outhouse.  And once there, even on the blessed
nights of moonlight, the small ominous thuds against floor and wall
that by day were the attractive little green tree-toads, by night
were the advance of nameless reptiles.  I would not yield to the
temptation of installing in the house the old-fashioned
"conveniences," for that was an admission of defeat.  I would stick
it out and the first cash money should go into a bathroom.

The first cash money from the first orange crop, a good one,
disappeared into mortgage and note payments, fertilizer and a Ford,
for the seven-passenger Cadillac, a shabby behemoth from more
affluent northern days, had literally torn its heavy heart out on
the deep sand road to the Creek, and was sold for sixty dollars to
a Negro undertaker.  He must have towed it with the hearse, for it
was past repairing.  There was a year of low citrus prices and a
year of freeze.  Then my first Florida story, Jacob's Ladder,
brought in the fantastic sum of seven hundred dollars.

The instant that I saw this wealth begin to dissolve as usual, I
worked rapidly.  I would not do anything so reckless as ordering a
complete new bathroom outfit, but would shop around and pick up
something second-hand.  The boom was over, and in abandoned houses
in unsold "scrub divisions" bathroom fittings were gathering rust
and discoloration.  Inquiry aroused fresh boom hope in various
owners of the unwanted houses and a toilet without a seat
immediately became worth its weight in gold.

My good friend carpenter Moe was at work on the building of the
bathroom.  The farmhouse had been built casually in three separate
eras, and while the gap between the front and the back was now
filled in with a porch, there was nothing but space between the
main part of the house and the two large bedrooms with fireplaces
that made up a wing.  One stepped into the air from what, we
decided, was not a French door but an Irish door.  That vacuum was
providential for a bathroom.  It would link the two bedrooms to the
house as cozily as though an architect had planned it; a careless
architect, perhaps, for a difference in floor levels meant a step
down from the first bedroom that has proved no friend to the aged,
the absent-minded and the inebriated.  Moe was pounding away while
I lamented that I should have to go to Sears Roebuck after all.  He
laid down his hammer and sat back on his heels.

"Why, I know a feller's got a bathroom outfit," he said.  "Hain't
never been used.  Brand new, and he's got no more use fer it than a
dog.  Feller right over in Citra.  You come by for me this evenin'
and we'll go make you a trade.  Now I'm plumb proud I remembered
that feller's new bathroom outfit, jest settin' there."

Moe and I drove to Citra that night.  I had the fortunate feeling
that time has taught me to mistrust more than nightmares and bad
omens.  We stopped at a shabby house on a side street and the owner
of the bathroom set, presumably so irrelevant to his life, came to
the door.

"I told this lady you had a bathroom set you got no use for," Moe
said.  "Don't say I ain't a friend to you.  She'll take it off your
hands and pay cash money for it if the price is right."

A small gloomy man scowled at me and did not answer.

Moe persisted, "Ain't you got a set the Baptist preacher give you
afore he died?"

"Tain't a set.  It's just the toilet.  It's mine, all right, but I
ain't exactly got it."

"Ain't it handy, where you can git it?"

The little man came to angry life.

He shouted, "It's in the smokehouse to the Baptist parsonage and
I'll git it when I'm o' mind to!  They don't want I should take it
but they can't stop me.  I've had nothin' but meanness from the
Baptists all my life and I'll go off with that toilet when I'm

Moe said with deliberate aggravation, "Mebbe you cain't prove it's

"I got no call to prove it.  Everybody knows how it come to be
mine.  The Baptists was too mean to put in runnin' water for
Preacher Wilson, so he give the toilet to me."

"Well, you got no more runnin' water than the Baptists.  You want
to sell it?"

The legatee pondered in the dusk.

"No," he said.  "No, I don't.  I tell you--I thought a heap o'
Preacher Wilson.  He give me that toilet--and it's all I got to
remember him by."

Moe comforted me on the way home.

"Like as not it's a no-account thing," he said.

The toilet had to be ordered new after all, but passing over the
catalogue lure of a green-pedestalled monument for washing one's
hands and face, and a Venetian-style recessed tub--for in spite of
the literary windfall, oranges were bringing twenty-five cents a
box--I found a second-hand lavatory and a very good tub with
crooked legs.  The formal opening of the bathroom was a gala social
event, with a tray of glasses across the lavatory, ice and soda in
the bathtub, and a bouquet of roses with Uncle Fred's card in a
prominent and appropriate position.

The royalties from my first book, South Moon Under, went mostly for
old debts, but the second, Golden Apples, brought temporary
prosperity again and I decided that nothing is more tangible for
one's money than plumbing.  New friends had found their way to the
Creek and were old friends now, and when there was a week-end
houseful, a second bathroom seemed the most hospitable gesture
possible.  I contracted again for Moe to add one beside my own
bedroom.  The oldest four of his boys were big enough by this time
to give a hand with the carpentering and the small new room was
filled with male Sykeses when we reached the point of measuring for
the height of the shower.  Moe was a realist.

"Git in the tub," he ordered me.  "Stand up straight.  We'll git
this right the sure way."

I stepped in the tub and stood up straight.

"Now whereabouts you want this here stream o' water to hit you?
'Bout there?"

Four pairs of bright Sykes eyes helped us gauge the proper play of
water on the bathing form, and I have never felt so undressed in my
life.  But the Sykeses rejoiced with me in the completed bathroom,
and although the linoleum buckled for nearly a year, we all felt
that we had achieved unparalleled elegance.  If I give an
impression of nouveau riche when I inform guests pointedly, "The
OTHER bathroom is beyond my room," I am not bragging, but only
grateful.  I go happily from one bathroom to the other, and when a
flying squirrel thumps on the roof at night, the sound is pleasing,
for I am safe inside, and I remember the old Scotch prayer:

     "From ghillies and ghosties,
     And long-legged beasties,
     And all things that go boomp in the night,
     Good Lord, deliver us."

7.  Antses in Tim's breakfast

I have used a factual background for most of my tales, and of
actual people a blend of the true and the imagined.  I myself
cannot quite tell where the one ends and the other begins.  But I
do remember first a place and then a woman, that stabbed me to the
core, so that I shall never get over the wound of them.

The place was near the village on the Creek road, and I thought
when I saw it that it was a place where children had been playing.
A space under a great spreading live oak had been lived in.  The
sand was trodden smooth and there were a decrepit iron stove and a
clothes line, on which a bit of tattered cloth still hung.  There
were boxes and a rough table, as though little girls had been
playing house.  Only opened tin cans and a rusty pot, I think, made
me inquire about it, for children were not likely to carry a game
so far.  I was told that a man and woman, very young, had lived
there for a part of one summer, coming from none knew where, and
going away again with sacks over their shoulders when the autumn
frosts came in.

What manner of man and women could this be, making a home under an
oak tree like some pair of woods animals?  Were they savage
outlaws?  People who might more profitably be in jail?  I had no
way of knowing.  The Florida back country was new and beautiful but
of the people I knew nothing.  The wild home at the edge of the
woods haunted me.  I made pictures to myself of the man and woman,
very young, who had come and gone.  Somehow I knew that they would
be not fierce, but gentle.  I took up my own life at the Creek.

The answer to my wonderings was on my own grove and for a long time
I did not know that it was there.  A tenant house stood a few
hundred yards from my farmhouse.  It was placed beautifully under a
vast magnolia tree and was all gray age and leaning walls.  It was
a tall two stories and had perhaps been the original home on the
grove.  It was windowless and seemed on the point of collapsing
within itself.  The occupants were Tim and his wife and their baby.
I saw only Tim, red-haired and on the defensive and uninterested in
his work.  His job with the previous owner of the grove had been
his first of the kind, he said.  His weekly wage was low but I did
not question it.  He had come with the place.  His passion was for
trapping and the hides of raccoons and skunks and opossums and an
occasional otter or wild-cat hung drying on the walls of his house.
He trapped along the lake edge back of the grove, and I would see
him coming in of an early morning with a dead creature or two in
his hands.  The well at the barn, in front of the tenant house, was
sulphurous and fit only for the stock, and Tim came to my pump by
my back door for water for his family uses.  I saw his wife only
from a distance and made no inquiries about her.

Callousness, I think, is often ignorance, rather than cruelty, and
it was so in my brief relation with Tim and his wife.  My excuse is
that at the time I myself had so much hard physical work to do and
was so confused with the new way of living that I did not
understand that life might be much more difficult for others.  The
woman came striding to my back door one day.  She had her baby
slung over one hip, like a bundle.  She walked with the tread of an
Indian, graceful and direct.  She was lean and small.  As she came
close I saw that she had tawny skin and soft honey-colored hair,
drawn back smoothly over her ears and knotted at her neck.  She
held a card in her hand and she thrust it at me.

"Please to read hit," she said.

I took the card, addressed to Tim, and turned it over.  It was only
an advertisement from a wholesale fur house, quoting current prices
on such pelts as Tim trapped for.  I must have seemed very stupid
to her, for I did not know what she wanted.  At last I understood
that she could not read, that the card had come in the morning's
rural mail while Tim was at work at the far side of the grove.
Mail, all reading matter, was cryptic and important and it was
necessary to know whether she should call Tim from his work because
of the card.  I read it aloud and she listened gravely.  She took
it from me and turned to walk away.

"I thank you," she said.

Her voice was like the note of a thrush, very soft and sweet.

I called after her, seeing her suddenly as a woman, "Tell me, how
are you getting on?"

She looked at me with direct gray eyes.

"Nothin' extry.  They ain't no screens to the house and the
skeeters like to eat us alive.  And I cain't keep the antses outen
Tim's breakfast."

Her statement was almost unintelligible.  I myself was troubled by
the mosquitoes, for they came up through holes in the kitchen floor
and had my legs swollen to twice their size.  But my bedrooms were
tight and comfortable, and when sleep is possible, one can stand
much in the daytime.  I had actually not noticed that the tenant
house was wide open to the intrusion not only of insects, but of
wind and weather.  The matter of ants in the breakfast was beyond
me.  It was only as I came to know the backwoods cooking customs
that I knew that enough food was cooked once or at the most twice a
day, to last for the three meals.  The people were up long before
daylight and the remnants of the previous evening's biscuits and
greens and fat bacon were set aside for the early breakfast, eaten
by lamplight.  Where a house was rotting to the ground, ants and
roaches inhabited the very wood of floors and walls and swarmed
over the family's edibles.  The situation of Tim's wife puzzled but
still did not concern me.  I did not yet understand that in this
way of life one is obliged to share, back and forth, and that as
long as I had money for screens and a new floor, I was morally
obligated to put out a portion of it to give some comfort to those
who worked for me.  I took others' discomfort for granted and the
only palliation of my social sin is that I took my own so, too.

I made another profound mistake in my short time with these two.
I asked Tim one day if his wife would do my washing for me.  He
looked at me, and looked away angrily and spat.

"A white woman don't ask another white woman to do her washin' for
her, nor to carry her slops," he said.  "'Course, in time o'
sickness or trouble or sich as that a woman does ary thing she can
for another and they's no talk o' pay."

There was a fierce pride here, then, and above all, services that
would be gladly given but could not be bought.  I began to
understand and then Tim announced that they were leaving.

I asked, "Are you going to another job?"

"No'm.  I ain't made for this kind o' work.  I don't do it to suit
and it don't suit me."

"Where will you go and what will you do?"

"Same as we done before.  I only takened this on account o' the
baby comin'.  A woman's got to have a roof over her then.  Us'll
git along better thouten no house, pertickler jest a piece of a
house like this un here.  In the woods, you kin make a smudge to
keep off the skeeters.  Us'll make out."

They moved on, the proud angry man and the small tawny lovely woman
and the baby.  But they put a mark on me.  The woman came to me in
my dreams and tormented me.  As I came to know her kind, in the
scrub, the hammock and the piney-woods, I knew that it was a woman
much like her who had made a home under the live oak.  The only way
I could shake free of her was to write of her, and she was Florry
in Jacob's Ladder.  She still clung to me and she was Allie in
Golden Apples.  Now I know that she will haunt me as long as I
live, and all the writing in the world will not put away the memory
of her face and the sound of her voice.

8.  The Widow Slater

The Widow Slater and I understood each other from the beginning.
She was a violent person and I was warned to beware of her
eccentric and unpredictable indignations.  I found that nothing
about her was unpredictable, for all her being was keyed to the one
idea, that whatever is, is good.  At the time when I was warned
against her, she had just made a local reputation by lifting a
shotgun in defiance against the starched white bosom of a county
nurse.  The occasion was simple and her violence was no
contradiction in her character.  The order had gone forth from
health authorities that all school children were to be inoculated
against smallpox or typhoid or something or other.  The Widow
Slater had refused to have done anything so unnatural and savoring
of witchcraft as injecting the blood of a horse in the veins of her

Her feeling was, simply, that God knows best.  What she meant by
"God" I do not know, and no two people mean the same thing in their
invocation of the mystic Word.  My own idea is that those of us who
are least positive are closest to the truth.  We know only that as
human beings we are very stupid and that somewhere beyond us are
forces unintelligibly wiser or cleverer or more fixed than we.  The
forces may concern themselves with us or they may not, but it seems
to me, and seemed to the Widow Slater, that people live or die,
thrive or pine, quite beyond human reason.  In the matter of the
inoculation and in several kindred matters I believe that the
belligerent mother was wrong.  I am only applauding her philosophy.

Her firm conviction that God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders
to perform, applied to the delights of life as well as to its
burdens and its sorrows.  In this, she differed from most
"professing" Christians, who see God in everything difficult and
unpleasant, but seldom in the natural joys.  I have never known a
person who had less over which to rejoice, who found more in daily
living to rejoice her.  She was herself almost constantly ill,
local doctors being certain that she had a tumor that required
removal.  This she rejected, saying, "I come into the world in one
piece and I aim to go out the same way.  I'll not have a part of me
buried here and the rest yon."  Yet for all the reverence for the
short, stout, untidy body which had been given her, she never
spared it.  People with a philosophy are usually inconsistent.

She had been a widow for some years and her family was large for
one of no means at all.  There was a daughter, distant in Alabama.
There was Snow, a grave, brown-eyed youth, sullen when I first knew
him under the family difficulties.  There was Henry, a cripple,
with the same indomitable spirit as his mother, who took a course
in watch repairing and set up in a hole in the wall in Gainesville
and became a personage.  There were Alvah and Little Irene.  And
there was the youngest, Rodney, whose club feet and twisted legs
and tortured back made Henry seem an athlete in comparison.
Somewhere in the family blood was a strain that should not,
eugenically, have been perpetuated.  Yet all of the Widow Slater's
brood, the "chappies" as she called them, Carolina fashion, had a
luminous quality that somehow set them beyond the well and fit and
made of them more desirable citizens and friends and neighbors than
many a well-cared-for aristocrat.

She was an artist in optimism.  Her rented house leaked so badly
that beds must be moved and all available pots and pans set under
the worst holes whenever the rain fell.

She only said, "You know there's plenty of places in the roof I
could get through, and a heap more Irene could," and chuckled at
her own description.

In her place I should either have kicked down the walls of the
house, or lain down and given up, putting the full responsibility
for my care on that Providence that she was so sure watched over
the sparrow's fall.

She asked me for work, in an early year at the Creek when I had
little to spend for help of any sort.  All I could offer was the
washing.  It was too heavy even for me, though I did it when
necessary, and I told her so and did not see how she might manage
it.  But she insisted and took the unreasonable labor as a favor.
She asked to do it of a Saturday morning, when Alvah and Little
Irene were home from school to help, and begged of me only that I
not hurry her at it.  The washing was a long and incredibly sloppy
procedure.  The Widow Slater dressed always in a Victorian white
shirtwaist and a long full-flowing black skirt.  She trailed her
long black skirts through the puddles of soapsuds splashed around
her and carried great dripping armfuls of half-wrung sheets to the
clothes line, and was concerned, not with the hardships, but with
the weather and the phlox.  The weather almost always suited her,
for if it was fine the clothes would dry well and if it rained,
why, nothing was better for bleaching them.  The phlox bothered her
for the reason that they grew wild in the yard around the wash-
bench and she was afraid of stepping on them.

"They look up at you with little faces," she said, "and it seems
treacherous to stomp them."

She reported happily one day that Snow was doing better at his

"Folkses has woke up a catfish market," she said.

The closest to complaint I ever heard her come was when she would
say, as though it were a great joke, "I feel as if I'd been drug
between two twisted Fridays."

She made high-spirited play even of our fence-repairing.  The
fences around Old Boss' orange grove and mine were old and rotten.
Her cow Betsy and my Laura, pastured jointly in my sixteen-acre
field, were wise in forbidden ways.  They went through the old
fence as if it were not there, until we learned to fool them.  We
did this by dragging boughs and brush to the weakest places and
propping them up with a plausible look of impenetrability.  We had
done this through a steaming hot summer afternoon, through the
poison ivy, until we had exhausted our supply of camouflage.  We
stood scratched and perspiring and very dubious.

"Well," she said, "I reckon it may look solid to a cow, but it's a
mighty hypocritical kind of a fence."

The word "hypocrite" may have been a favorite in the family.
Little Irene came out with it one day.  She brought us a katydid to
show, cupped carefully in her small grubby hands.

"I caught me a hypocrite," she said.

The widow chuckled.

"That's a jizzywitch, honey," she corrected her.

Irene stamped her bare foot.

"'Tis not.  It's a hypocrite.  I know, because all hypocrites is

The Widow Slater, as I look back on it, did much more for me than I
did for her.  She trudged from our joint pasture night and morning
with my bucket of milk.  She gave me settings of eggs.

"Now if your hen," she said, "proves up anyways false to you, I
have one setting I'll lend to you."

Most helpful of all, after we were well acquainted, she loaned me
Alvah afternoons after school to wash dishes.  Alvah saved part of
her small pay to buy me a Christmas present.  The present was a set
of glass wind chimes, and until the day when a strong wind blew
them to the floor in splinters, the high thin tinkling sounded to
me like the laughter of the child herself.  There was something fey
about most of the family.  Rodney, the cripple, foretold the
weather with a strange accuracy.  He had always some small pet, a
squirrel or chameleon or perhaps a chicken hurt and crippled like
himself.  I think that "Fodder-wing" in The Yearling must have been

The widow's confidence in me faltered only once.  Several eminently
respectable souls in the town of Ocala had offered me their
friendship, among them the venerable white-haired mayor.  It was
time to return their hospitality and I invited them for supper.  I
asked Alvah to come and help me with the serving.  She agreed with
enthusiasm.  The next day she did not meet my eyes.  She said in a
low voice that Mama would have to think about the question of her
helping with the party.  I assured her that the work would be light
and I would take her home myself.  The day of the supper the Widow
Slater came unhappily, twisting her apron.

"You been mighty good to Alvah," she faltered.  "I'm just obliged
to let you have her."  She laid a trembling hand on my arm.
"Alvah's young," she quavered, "and I look to you to protect her."

I did not know the decorous gathering well enough to tell them that
they came to Cross Creek as a menace to a young girl's virtue.

The widow and Alvah and Irene and I all wept when they moved away
to Carolina.  Some small stout cord bound us together.  Alvah came
back to visit Snow a year or so ago and came to see me.  She was a
tall shy young woman, and it was plain that, thanks no doubt to her
mother's standards, much firmer than our fence, her virtue was
still not only intact, but, I fear, inviolable.

I think that Snow, the widow's eldest, was her greatest concern.
She grieved over him when she left him behind at the Creek.  He had
already left her leaking roof to shift for himself.  She knew that
he was fishing for a living but could not find out how or where he
might be.  From Carolina, she could get no word from him in answer
to her letters, and wrote me, beseeching news.  I had none to give
her, but reported that I saw him pass now and again and he looked
well.  I could find out no more than she of his mode of life.  Her
occasional anxious letters kept the youth on my mind.  I knew that
at one time he had done satisfactory grove work for Old Boss and
when I became desperate for male help, I decided to run him down.
Tom Glisson told me where I should find him.

"I'm proud his Ma don't know how he's livin'," Tom said.  "If she
was here, she'd anyways keep him off the dirt."

I did not understand him until I drove down the dim hammock road to
the lake edge where Tom told me I should find him.  I could not
believe that I had come to the right place until a dog I knew for
Slater property came from the woods with wagging tail.  The camp
was a palmetto shack, no larger than six feet by eight.  The four
corners were sapling cypresses.  Palmetto fronds joined these to
make walls and were thatched overhead for a roof.  Cockroaches ran
among the fronds and darted inside the dark box of a home.  There
was a half-door, the lower half made from a crate and the upper of
burlap sacking.  I lifted the sacking and saw that he had built a
sapling bunk along one side.  The pallet on it was filled with
moss.  A ragged quilt was the only cover.  A small rusty stove
stood opposite the bunk, its pipe lifting crookedly and
precariously above the dry palmetto thatching.  I have seen only
one other human habitation more primitive and desolate than this.
A can of beans had made his last meal.  I was glad the widow,
grieving for his silent ways, could not see or know.

I left a note pinned on the sacking.  The next day he came to work,
his face pinched from privation, his overalls shabby.  He walked
the two miles back and forth each day, and while the wages I could
pay shamed me to offer, they were standard in the section.  His
lean grave young face filled out, and his loose-limbed frame, and
decent shirt and cap and breeches replaced the soiled raggedness.
He was a fine grove man and we began a relationship somehow beyond
that of employer and employee.  A bond was forged that will last as
long as either of us lives.  Yet he was plainly unhappy.  He was
close-mouthed, and while he expressed anxiety over the grove and my
own returns from it under his care, he did not discuss his own
difficulties.  At long last the truth came out.  He was one of
those who pined for his own piece of land, and he should never be
content until he tilled his own acres, had his own house, and a
wife to bring him the cheeriness the widow had brought to her
brood.  His wages only fed and clothed him.  He could not save for
his dream in a whole life's span.

When my own fortunes took a turn for the better, my first act was
to raise his pay.  As time went on, I raised it again, until he was
getting twice the rate of other grove workers.  This was low
enough, by decent standards, yet out of it he could save regularly.
We both admired the rich hammock land near his palmetto shack, and
one day he came to report that thirty-five acres of the best could
be bought for taxes.  I sent him to the tax sale and he came back
with the tax certificate to the land.

I said, "That land is for you, Snow," and wondered why I had not
had the intelligence earlier to go hungry, if necessary, to get it
for him.  He was one who needed only the slightest edge on life to
master it.

We planned his house together, poring, when his work was done, over
the mail order catalogue for doors and windows and roofing.  He
built the house himself in his off hours and on Sundays, and it is
a good house.  It has old orange trees around it, and a magnolia
tree by the gate, and the hammock soil around it as rich as any man
needs for making his living.  I hope that some day his mother will
come and see it.  She would say, "Of course he's gettin' along
good.  A person allus gets out of life what he's entitled to.  The
Lord sees to that."

One week-end Snow asked to borrow the grove truck.

"I got something I want to fetch from Gainesville," he said.

I said, "Of course.  And since you're going, you can bring out the
fertilizer I have on order there."

His expression was suddenly strange.

"Sure," he said.

On Monday morning he did not appear.  Martha came to the door.

"I got a message for you from Snow," she said.  "He couldn't carry
the fertilizer Saturday and he's gone to get it this mornin'.  He
said tell you he was goin' on his own time and payin' for the gas."

"But why couldn't he bring it Saturday?"

"Sugar," she said, "a man bringin' a bed and a bride just ain't got
the room nor the notion for a ton o' fertilizer."

9.  Catching one young

I bought Georgia of her father for five dollars.  The surest way to
keep a maid at the Creek, my new friends told me, was to take over
a very young Negro girl and train her in my ways.  She should be
preferably without home ties so that she should become attached to
me.  My friends traced a newly widowered father of a large family
that he was unable to feed as a unit.  He was happy to "give" me
Georgia, with no strings attached.  A five-dollar-bill sealed the
bargain.  Two months of life with her made me wonder why he had not
given her to the first passing gypsy caravan, or drowned her

It is possible that in catching one young, I had picked from too
early a litter.  No one knew her exact age, but it was somewhere
between ten and twelve.  At any rate, Georgia was unteachable.  I
could remember having polished silver, made beds, dried dishes and
dusted furniture on educational Saturday mornings at that age, so I
knew the thing was possible.  It was pure theory as far as Georgia
was concerned.  She was happy, in fact too happy for a brown child
whose lifelong lot it would presumably be to earn her bread by the
sweat of her brow.  Georgia never moved fast enough to sweat.  She
had a passion for butterflies and I could never understand how she
could put out her hand with enough speed to catch one.  I decided
that she just sat in the sun watching the butterflies, and sooner
or later by the law of averages one lit on her hand and her fingers
closed over it so slowly that it was not alarmed.  At the moments
when she caught the butterflies, the unwashed breakfast dishes were
usually sitting as inert as she.

Great effort, after a month, produced the impression on her that
not only were dishes meant to be filled with food and the food
eaten therefrom, but that after this pleasant process the dishes
must be cleansed and so made ready for the next serving.  The chain
of thought was difficult for her but at last I felt she understood.
Progress was being made in teaching her "my ways."  Guests came to
luncheon and we adjourned afterward to the fire in the living room.
I sat comfortably.  When the guests left three hours later I went
out to the kitchen.  The luncheon dishes still sat on the dining
table.  The kitchen was in the supreme disorder that I achieve when
I cook.  Georgia sat in the sun on the back steps, playing with a

"But you haven't touched the dishes," I said.

"You never told me," she answered.

As I remember, this ended all hope.  The ha'nts had something to do
with it.  It was peculiarly upsetting to be awakened in the night
by a figure in the doorway of my bedroom, saying, "The ha'nts has
done come."  When I insisted that there was no way for ghosts to
get in, she informed me, "They comes in thu the cracks."  This was
unanswerable and so was Georgia.  I made up my mind that I would
teach her something.  Her listless manner lent itself to the
lesson.  I taught her to announce a meal.  I taught her to go to
the veranda or the living room and say with her detached air, "Such
as it is, it's ready."

And then I gave her father five dollars to take her back again.

Two or three years ago Martha said, "We had somebody you know come
see us today.  Georgia.  She married and got three chillens.  She
said she used to work for you."

I could only say, "She said she used to do WHAT?"

Georgia should have taught me the futility of taking a child and
expecting results any sooner than seven or eight years.  The theory
came from the old plantation South, where already-trained and
mature servants carried on while the younger generation was
learning its trade.  But I tried again.  Finances had something to
do with it, for at the time I could not afford the wages of a grown
woman.  I made no down payment on Patsy, but agreed with her
grandmother, with whom she lived, to train her, clothe her, care
for her, and to pay two dollars a week--to the grandmother.
Patsy's mother was "off."  This had no connotation of mental
aberration.  It meant only that she had wandered off with her
latest lover and was not in direct communication with her family.

It was probably my fault that I never made much of a success with
Patsy.  The truth of it was, we had too good a time together.  She
was as charmed as I with the novelties of flora and fauna and we
learned together.  When I should have been teaching her to make
biscuits and scour skillets, we were wandering in the wildest part
of the hammock by the edge of the lake.  There we discovered
strange flowers and ferns, and a prize of a large planting of the
finest yams, left behind unharvested by the previous grove owner.
The yams were deep gold and of a size and sweetness and mellowness
I have never tasted since.  We found turtles laying, and dug their
eggs to boil and eat, and Patsy discovered a new world of foods.
She began to study everything with an eye to its edibility.  A red
bird sang from the pecan tree by the kitchen door.

"Is that ol' reddy-bird good to eat?" she asked me.

"I don't know.  But I shouldn't eat him anyway, because he sings so

She inquired if I meant to put a certain hen in the pot.

"Why, no.  That hen is a good layer.  I wouldn't want to eat her."

"Ha!" she said.  "If I was that ol' hen, I'd fix to go right on
layin'.  And if I was that ol' reddy-bird, I'd fix to go right on

Having Patsy was strangely like having a child of my own; a black
one, as though she were a changeling.  She must have felt the same
way.  We walked one day up Old Boss' path on an errand.  I was
ahead, walking with a hurried gait that I am told is very awkward.
My friend Dessie says of it that when I am in a hurry the head is
thrust forward, the upper body lying on the wind, reaching for a
speed that is quite beyond the legs and feet, carried hopelessly
behind.  The effect, she says, is that of a wild turkey hen making
a getaway.  Patsy was a yard or so behind me.

I heard her say, with a curious mixture of pride and affection,
"Step it off, Mama!  Step it off!"

I am never done with marvelling at the sensitivity to beauty of
presumably the dullest and most ignorant souls.  The black child
Patsy had this response.  We went together into the yard one night
when the only light was from the stars.  She stood motionless by
the Oneika mandarin tree.  She gave the little chuckle peculiar to
her when ideas raced in her small kinky head.

"You can't see the tangerines," she said, "in the dark.  But you
know they're there, and you think you see 'em.  And they look
purtier than in the daytime.  It's the same with the stars.  You
see 'em when the sky's plumb black, and that's when they shine the

The Negro imagination is dark and rich.  As they grow older, they
learn to save it for their own kind, to hide it from unfriendly
minds, perhaps, in an alien civilization.  But a Negro child will
some day make a sad and lovely study for a poet.  There was a small
grandson of old Martha who came now and then to visit.  He found a
rare snail in the orange grove and brought it to me to say, "I
fetched you this, Missy, for a play-pretty."  He brought me once,
too, a toad, cupped in careful black paws.

"Look at the little ol' hoppy-toad," he said.  "He's got big eyes
jus' like our baby."

I do not know whether Patsy would have stayed with me or not, if
she had been left to herself.  She was snatched away by her mother,
who appeared, fat and slovenly and predatory, to claim her.  My
friends had not foreseen the fact that once a girl was old enough
to be of real use, she had more value in a lazy home household than
any wages she might turn in.  Patsy went away, with a good
rudimentary knowledge of housekeeping and cooking, to a turpentine
camp where her mother lived with the latest paramour.  The Creek
always has few Negroes, and Patsy's cousin told me that Patsy, at
not quite twelve, was "courting."  She seemed to me no more
restless than any kitten, but it may be that she saw bright boys'
eyes in the darkness where there were none, and that like the
mandarin oranges and the stars, they were the more glamorous for
being invisible.

10.  'Geechee

The black girl came on foot the four miles from the village.  She
was barefooted.  She strode up the path to the back door, thick-
legged, her big toes splayed in the sand.  She stopped short and
glared at me, as though she meant to strike me.  She wore one
garment, too short for her erect height.  It was of muslin flour
sacking, so tattered that the full length of one sweating thigh
showed through its multiple rents.  She was the dusty black of
teakwood.  Two short tufts of hair were braided over her temples.
They were stiff, a trifle curved, like horns.

She said fiercely, "I hear tell you want a girl.  You take me."
She seemed impossible.  She looked capable of murder.  It would be
like having a black leopard loose in the house.

I said, "I wanted a young girl."

"I be's young."

"No.  One young enough to teach my ways."

"If I don't do to suit you, you can cut my throat."

It occurred to me that displeasure might work two ways.  It seemed
necessary to placate her rather than, simply, to reject her.

I said, "A girl your age wouldn't be satisfied four miles from

She stepped closer as in menace.

"Town ain't nothin' to me.  You don't know.  I don't do no
courtin'.  I don't want no man around me.  You jes' don't know."

I said helplessly, "I'm sure you wouldn't suit me."

"Time to say, time you've done tried me.  All you got to do is try

Futility possessed me.

I said, "I can't pay very high wages."

"Any wages is better than nothin'.  I got to get work.  I got a use
for my pay."

It was her eyes, I decided, that were frightening me.  One was
blind and white, fixing me with an opaque, unseeing purpose.  I
made a gesture of despair.

"Right now, this porch floor ain't scrubbed," she said.  "You got
to have things clean.  I be here soon in the mornin'.  I got to
fotch my things."

She turned on her bare heels to go.

I called after her, "But I don't know anything about you.  What's
your name?  Where do you come from?"

"Name be's Beatrice.  I be's 'Geechee.  Folks jes' calls me

She was gone, striding down the path toward some black and
Amazonian army that awaited her coming that the battle might begin.
I felt dazed and foolish, as though I had been hypnotized by a
grotesque idol.  She was the ugliest Negress I had ever seen.

The Ogeechee River is tidal and its salt tongue licks far into
Georgia.  The Negroes of the region, cotton niggers, sugar niggers,
rice or tobacco niggers, the sons and daughters of slaves, are of a
special African tribe and have kept their identity.  They are very
black; strong, with a long stride; their bodies straight as palm
trunks; violent, often, and as violently loyal.  Another black will
say, "He's 'Geechee.  I'se skeert of him," and a Georgia plantation
owner will say, "There's no better Negro in the world if you get a
good one."

'Geechee came the next day at daylight and had good strong coffee
and crisp small biscuits ready when I awakened.  Her "things" were
a comb, not the straightening comb of sophistication, but the
ordinary kind, toothless from struggles with her knotted wool--and
a bundle of letters.  That was literally all.  I had never seen
material possessions at a more irreducible minimum.  Even the
letters, I thought, were a fancy and could have been dispensed
with.  I did not know my 'Geechee.  She had nothing to wear but the
torn shift in which she had appeared, challenging me to accept her.
I dressed her.  She was bigger-boned than I, but leaner.  In my
clothes she looked like a battered black rag doll.  As the weeks
passed I bought her a cautious cheap uniform or two.  Even in their
white formality she seemed always about to burst into a belligerent
dance, tearing her garments from her, prancing naked in a savage
triumph.  The effect came from her lioness stride, from her unkempt
hair which shot in black electric spirals from her skull, and from
the white eye with its hypnotic probing.  She had been blind in it,
she said, since the big fight.

"I dis-remember did I get the lick before they put me in the
jailhouse or en-durin' the time they was puttin' me in the jail-

I could have beaten her raw those first months and it would not
have mattered.  She cleaned my house.  She began with the painted
wooden ceilings, the hand-hewn rafters where generations of dirt-
daubers had built their mud homes.  She continued down the painted
walls, where roaches had trailed and long-vanished children had
drawn pictures.  She included the furniture in her sweep, so that
polished mahogany emerged pale and unshining.  She washed rugs that
would go in the wash-pot.  Those that would not, she beat until
they hung limp and dustless over the clothesline.  She thrashed
mattresses in the sunlight.  Their tufting covered the yard like
full-blown thistles.  She ended with the floors.  She used six cans
of potash, and where there had been soot and grease and streaked
varnish and the ochre-colored paint dear to all the South, there
were now soft pine boards, luminous with age.  There was a hole in
the middle of the kitchen where she had followed a stain quite
through the flooring.

I shall never have a greater devotion than I had from this woman.
She was, as I had thought, not young.  Within a week, all fear of
her was gone and in its place came the warmth of being watched over
and served and cared for.  Then she began to drop unintelligible
hints.  There was something back of the service, something back of
the fierce woman.  I remembered my first sensing of a fixed

She said, "I'm doin' to suit you?" and I said, "Yes," and she said,
"You trust me, enty?" and I said, "Yes."

One day when she had been with me for some months, making life a
good smooth thing, she said, "I got a thing to tell you.  I got to
have help."

It seemed to me then that I had always known that we were building
up to this; that it was not she who was serving me, but I who was
destined to serve her.

I said, "What is it?"

She brought a mass of crumpled paper from her breast.

"These is from my man," she said.  "Read them."

"My sweet Beatrice," they read, "you got to get me out.  I can't
stand it.  You got to get me out."

One after another, they sang the same refrain.  They were written
from the state prison.

"You know people," she said.  "You can git him out.  I got to git
him out.  You can do it."

I felt like a pawn in the hands of dark forces.  Her man was named
Leroy.  He was serving a twenty-year sentence for manslaughter.

"He didn't do a thing," she said.  "This other nigger was layin'
for him.  He went at Leroy and he bopped him one and Leroy be's
strong and he made a pass at him and it done killed this nigger.
And you got to git him out."

The 'Geechee had become a part of me.  I had little of comfort and
that little stemmed from her.

I said, "I'll do what I can," and did not mean to.  I needed her
more than did Leroy.

I wrote a bland letter to the superintendent of the prison.  It was
answered as blandly, for I think he understood me.  Time passed.
Then one day I got the mail from the rural mail-box instead of
sending 'Geechee for it, and in the mail was a letter addressed to
her from a lawyer.  I questioned her.

She said, "You ain't done nothin' for Leroy, when you could.  A
lawyer that visits at the prison done tol' him he could git him out
for two hundred dollars.  I wrote him I'd git it, did he give me

No shyster lawyer could liberate a killer.  I could not endure to
have her slave and save and throw away her money on one such.  And
surely, if this fierce good woman believed in Leroy, he must be
entitled to consideration.  I felt an unreasonable trust in her
judgment and her loyalty.

I said, "Don't pay this lawyer another dollar.  I'll see what we
can do."

I drove to Raiford and interviewed the superintendent.  Leroy had
been a model prisoner.  The superintendent was an idealist.

"If you can give Leroy a job," he said, "I see no reason why he
shouldn't return to normal living.  Lack of work when a man first
gets out is the usual stumbling-block."

I had made good friends; a state senator, the president of a
university.  I asked them to wire the Pardon Board, asking for the
black man's parole to me.  I had a hearing at the state capitol and
Leroy was paroled in my care.  I drove back to the grove to gather
up 'Geechee to go to the prison to collect the man for whom she had
starved and toiled and gone ragged.

Leroy was not at the prison when we reached there.  He had headed
on his release, an hour before, not for the black woman who had
done so much for him, but direct to Jacksonville for a round of
carousing.  He showed up at the grove four days later.  He was a
slim, sullen, light-brown man with shifty eyes.  'Geechee walked on
air.  I would pay him, I told him, the customary rural wages, his
house and fuel free, and he might have the use of the farm truck
once or twice a week.  The grove work was not too hard and I would
show him all that must be done.  I had bought clothes for him, and
I gave them a real wedding, with good food afterward.

For a week he languished comfortably under his wife's care.  He
made no effort to learn the grove work but I did not hurry him.
Four years in jail would surely do something to a man's initiative.
He could not plunge at once into living.  There must be a period of
adjustment, as for one who long blind should come with new sight
into the sunlight.  I made my excuses for him and 'Geechee lost her
air of ecstasy.  She worked harder than ever, for now she had
Leroy's comfort to look after.  My own work was never slighted.

At the end of the second week he came to the back door for his
Saturday wages.  I hold no brief for southern wages, yet many
Negroes supported in a rudimentary comfort large families on
Leroy's pay, and must pay rent and buy fuel to boot, without the
extra wages that 'Geechee brought in.  Instead of standing at the
door to receive his money, the man pulled it open and brushed past
me and seated himself insolently on the bench.  He crossed his legs
and threw back his head, narrowing his eyes at me.  In a loud voice
he began to recite his grievances.  He could not live on his pay.
He wanted better clothes than those I had bought him.  Nobody could
be expected to live out here in the woods.  It was too far from
town.  A man had to have his own automobile.  He stopped shouting
and began to mutter.  There was more than a hint of threat in the
low growling voice.  I who had freed him was an object of hate.  My
friend Dessie was in the house.  She was so certain that the man
was about to spring at me that she slipped to her car for her

He said, "I jus' as soon be in jail as out here in the woods."

I saw 'Geechee slip into the kitchen with tears raining down her
black cheeks.  I was sick at heart.  I ordered him back to the
tenant house.  I locked my house, which stands for weeks in my
absence without even the latching of a screen, and drove to town to
put in a long distance call to the prison superintendent.  There
was a silence at the end of the wire.

At last, "The prison is crammed full.  We have absolutely no room
for him.  Send him away at once.  You are running a great personal
risk.  If he can keep out of serious trouble, we'll let him go his
way.  If he gets into trouble, he'll automatically be picked up
again."  He sighed.  "If I live long enough, I'll learn to
recognize the true criminal nature.  This man has it."

It was dusk when I reached the grove.  'Geechee, I knew, with her
fierce loyalty, would go with him.  I could not send her off in the
night.  I slept uneasily that night, my revolver under my pillow.
In the morning she brought my coffee.  Her face was drawn and

I said, "Leroy must leave as soon as you've had breakfast.  I know
you'll want to go with him.  I shall be very sorry to be without
you.  I've become attached to you, 'Geechee."

She said, "I ain't goin' with him.  I don't mind him doin' me
wrong.  He ain't never done anything but wrong to me.  But nobody
ain't never done for him what you done.  He ain't worth killin',
the way he talked to you.  I wanted to die, listenin' to him."

The world seemed suddenly a brighter place.  Then I knew that no
new treachery would alter her long loyalty to the man she had known
always was worthless.

I said, "It will be better for you to go with him.  Then if you
still prefer to be with me, you can come back.  I'll wait a week or
two to get another girl."

She said, "You cain't git along without me.  I'se seed.  You needs
me.  I'll go with him.  I'll make sure he goes off far enough.  I
be back Tuesday mornin' on the nine o'clock train."

Sunday and Monday were long.  I could not concentrate on my work.
I did the household chores absently.  I milked the cow and fed the
chickens.  The grove seemed very silent with no human being about,
no man to care for it, no kind black hands serving me in the house.
I was so sure that 'Geechee's loyalty to her man would not waver
that I very nearly did not go to the village on Tuesday.  I made an
excuse to myself to go to the village store at train time.  The
local puffed to a stop at the dingy station and 'Geechee was there.
We lonely humans need very little of devotion for contentment.  For
the moment, this black one-eyed savage woman was all I needed.  I
touched her calloused dark hand.

She said, "Us'll make out all right.  Us'll do better alone."

We drove home to the grove and Mandy the pointer dog leaped up to
lick her face in welcome.  She celebrated by putting on one of the
uniforms in which she was patently uncomfortable and set about
putting the house in proper order.  The day was fine and sunny, and
she drove the cow in at evening and we managed the milking
together.  After supper she went alone to the tenant house of which
she had hoped to make a home.  We got along very well on our own.
She was sad and quiet.  Leroy was living in Jacksonville with
another woman and quarrelling with all around him.  She had done
her best and now a thing was ended and a book was closed.  I urged
her to let me drop her off in Citra where the Negroes are gay and
light-hearted of a Saturday night.  I told her to invite them out
to her house.

"Surely you can get a new beau," I said.

She said gravely, "You'd ought to know, jus' anybody won't do."

She was as wild-looking as some fresh-caught African slave, but she
had given her big heart for life.

It made her happy for me to have parties.  She seemed to think that
I needed the gayety I urged on her.  When the house was full for a
buffet supper, she put on her best apron and tied a handkerchief
over her tufted head and dashed in and out among the guests, crying
the flavor of our foods.  When it was time to pass the dessert, she
raced through the house with a loaded tray, shouting at the top of
her voice, "Sherbet comin' up!  Sherbet comin' up!"  Her delight
was infectious, and friends complain mournfully, now she is gone,
that they never had better times at the Creek than when 'Geechee
rushed among them, pressing them to drink deep and eat hearty.
Once my friend Norton slipped away to my room to steal a nap and
'Geechee discovered him and routed him out.  He grumbled that he
was sleepy and the room was quiet and her mistress would not mind.

"I minds," she said severely.  "You git right out o' here."

She carried her protective instinct to embarrassing lengths.  One
Saturday night we had the house full after a football game.  Half a
dozen decided to spend the night.  In the morning there were not
enough eggs for making the unexpected breakfast and I sent her down
the road to Old Boss to see if he could spare a dozen.  She
reported on their conversation, proud of the way she had protected

"Well, 'Geechee," Old Boss said to her, "your Missus had quite a
party last night."

"I looked him right in the eye," she said, "and I says to him, 'No,
sir, that wasn't no party.  That was jus' a few of her kin-folks
dropped in to visit her, and she was so proud to see 'em.'"

My life was circumspect, but if I had lived in scarlet sin,
'Geechee would have covered my tracks.  A man came from the citrus
packing house on business.  I was ill in bed and she showed him in
to my bedroom without consulting me.  I was a trifle embarrassed
and when he came again the next day to report on the matter, I said
to her, "When I'm in bed and a man comes to see me, I'd a little
rather you stood near the doorway."

She showed him in and disappeared.  After he had gone and I
questioned her, I found that, loyal soul, all the while he was
there she had stood sentinel at the front door--watching the

It was after Leroy had gone that I began to realize the source of
her occasional high spirits.  There were times when she sang so
infectiously from the kitchen or over the washtubs that I would
stop my work and follow the old spiritual with her.  That anomaly,
"Prohibition," was still in force, and our liquor was good
moonshine from the Florida scrub.  We bought it almost openly,
bringing it home in five-gallon glass demijohns and siphoning it
off into charred oak kegs to ripen.  The local sheriff was in
cahoots with the moonshiners, arresting only those who did not pay
his weekly tribute.  A plutocrat was one who could buy 'shine
enough ahead of his needs to have always a fully mature supply on
hand.  The riff-raff drank from hand to mouth of improperly aged
liquor, and it was a mark of caste to serve one's "corn" not less
than six or eight months old.  I managed to put by two five-gallon
kegs, for it was enough for friends to drive twenty-five miles to
call on me, without offering them raw liquor.

When I breached the first keg, there were only three gallons in it.
I was appalled at the rate of evaporation and decided that the
modest original price did not prove out so cheaply after all.  When
I siphoned off the second keg, the contents were two gallons.  On
that day 'Geechee was unusually blithe.  An unhappy suspicion came
to me.  I questioned her.  One may usually spare one's breath in
questioning a Negro about a theft, especially that of liquor.  The
slave status has made the lie a social necessity.  'Geechee freely
admitted having helped herself.  She had not even bothered to use
the siphon.  She had simply heaved the keg up on her shoulder when
she wanted a drink and poured out a tumblerful.

"It's the onliest way I can make out," she said.  "It's the onliest
thing lifts my heart up, times I think I'm jus' obliged to die."

There could be no answer.  We compromised by my parcelling out as
much as I thought she needed, but it was never enough.  Her grief,
her burden, was too great.  She found her way, like water seeping
through a crack, to whatever stores I had locked or hidden.  Once
when I was away I left her a quart and locked a new keg in my own
bedroom cupboard, taking with me the key.  When I returned, the
lock was undisturbed and the keg was half empty.  She had taken the
door off the hinges, she told me.  Her despair was greater than I
knew.  I thought that we were getting on very well, when suddenly,
just before Christmas, she got hold of a gallon of her own, got
rousing drunk, and simply walked away.  I woke up to a strangely
silent house, with no good sounds from the kitchen of stove lids
thumping, no sweet smell of coffee, no murmur of 'Geechee's morning

A freeze came in the night before Christmas.  On Christmas morning
the pipes were frozen solid, there was no water for coffee, the
woodpile was depleted and I had to chop enough for a fire in the
living room.  I sat huddled over it, longing for the black girl's
feet shuffling toward me with comfort and help.  There came instead
a message from a passer-by that 'Geechee had told that she had not
quit me nor been fired.  She was only taking a vacation.  Time
proved what I suspected.  She had taken her savings and gone to
Jacksonville to make sure that Leroy was being properly cared for.

I waited a long time for her to come back to me.  The weeks passed
and there was no word.  I believe that she was too ashamed of
having abandoned me to return without word from me.  If I had
understood the Negro psychology as well then as now, I should have
gone after her.  Exasperated with too much cow and too little
firewood, I hired a Negro couple, Kate and Raymond.  We settled
down into a semblance of comfort, and while Kate was pretty and
flip and impudent, she was clever and willing, and Raymond's long
arms swinging the axe at the woodpile looked to me like the flutter
of angels' wings.  But life was not the same.  That small bright
flame of loving devotion was put out, and sitting in front of
Raymond's roaring log fires, I was still cold.  More than a year
went by.  It was a good year, with a new gay friend to initiate me
into duck-hunting.  The hunt on the lake was good, and coming home
at night, with supper of quail and red wine and biscuits, and good
talk by the fire.  But 'Geechee was gone.

In late spring I sailed comfortably from off an intractable horse
and broke my neck and fractured my skull.  I rode the horse back to
the stables and dismissed the incident.  No one has ever had an
easier experience with a serious accident.  I put in a week not too
badly, ending with paddling a boat all day while my friend cast for
bass.  Then the pain became a nightmare and I was a little out of
my mind.  My good Tampa doctor friend came with Dessie, his wife,
for the week end, and said, "You don't seem to know it, but you
have a broken neck."  X-rays confirmed his easy diagnosis.  There
were weeks nursed by them in Tampa and the doctor fitted me with a
steel brace that I thought gave me the noble look of Joan of Arc in
armor, chin lifted, listening to the Voices, but that seemed to
strike others dumb with horror.  I was ready to go home.  I could
drive a car, could go on with my work, but I could not bathe nor
dress myself nor adjust the brace.  Dessie had already given me too
generous a share of her time.  The doctor knew of a good practical
white nurse who would go home with me.  I did not want her.  I was
re-writing a book and I did not want to take time out from it to be
polite to her.  I wanted 'Geechee.

Dessie drove me to Hawthorn where 'Geechee's mother lived.  The
girl had been following the strawberry season as a picker.  We
followed two blind trails.  The third took us south to the
outskirts of Plant City.  We inquired at a Negro soft-drink stand.
She was not known by her name of Beatrice.  I described her big-
boned frame, her one blind white eye.  The Negro chuckled.

"You mean 'Geechee.  There's a gal us don't fool with.  An' you
won't find her around no soft-drink stand.  'Geechee got to have
somethin' stronger'n that."

He knew where she was living and we drove into the yard.  She came
out to the car.  At sight of me in my apparatus tears streamed down
her face.

"Oh, my white lamb," she cried out, "what they been doin' to you?"

She knew why we had come before we told her.  She gathered up her
pitiful belongings--she was sending her money to Leroy.  Dessie
drove us home to the Creek.  It was like being in the hands of a
black Florence Nightingale.  All of us, no matter how self-reliant,
long, I think, for tenderness.  Her big rough hands touched me as
gently as though I were made of glass, instead of being almost as
sturdy as she.  In the bath, she washed and dried me with a feather
touch.  She lingered over it, giving great attention at last to the
toes, and once she chuckled and whispered under her breath, "Such
little white footses--."  They were little and white only in
comparison with her own.

For two weeks she did not touch a drop of liquor.  Then the old
need came over her, and her breath reeked, and she wavered in
helping me from the tub.  Sometimes when I called she did not hear
me, and Kate came saucily to report that "'Geechee asleep--leas', I
reckon she's asleep," and laughed.  My heart ached.  One Sunday
morning two months after she had come, I awoke to pandemonium.
Stove lids were being dropped on the floor, or thrown there.
Dishes crashed.  I heard shrieks from the tenant house.  After a
long time, 'Geechee reeled into my room.

"Kate an' Raymond's fightin'," she announced.  "But don't you

She staggered out and the racket began again in the kitchen.

She came to my door and said, "The bacon done burnt itself up, but
don't you fret."

After half an hour she appeared to say, "Kate is chasin' Raymond
thu the grove with a butcher knife.  But you jes' lay still and
don't worry."

I did not see her again.  I lay helpless and hopeful, but there was
no further sound.  It was all hopeless.  My breaks were nearly
healed, and in her many delinquencies I had found that I could
adjust the brace myself.  I got myself dressed after a fashion and
went to the back door and called her.  There was no answer.  In
late afternoon she appeared, half sober.

She said, "I know I got to go.  I ain't no use to nobody.  It comes
over me and I can't help it.  No use foolin' with me, I won't never
be no different."

Kate and Raymond appeared sheepishly.

"It was me got 'em drunk," 'Geechee said.  "They didn't aim to do
it.  Kate an' Raymond's all right."

I paid her and told Raymond to drive her home in the truck to her

"I hate to part this way," I said.

"Me, too," and she was gone.

No maid of perfection--and now I have one--can fill the strange
emptiness she left in a remote corner of my heart.  I think of her
often, and I know she does of me, for she comes once a year to see
me.  I put my arms around her big bony shoulders and she pats my
back comfortingly.  She is always a little drunk.  She goes from
one job to another, losing it always for the same reason.  The last
time she came I was away.

Little Will reported, "The 'Geechee girl was here to see you.  She
sure was high.  She said she tried to go without drinkin', times,
but seemed like she'd lose her mind, didn't she have it.  She said
she knowed she'd still be here with you, could she change.  She
said tell you they ain't nothin' nobody can do about it."

11.  A pig is paid for

I suppose there is nowhere in the world a more elemental exchange
of goods than among ourselves at the Creek.  The exchange does not
even become barter and trade.  We merely return favors.  Old Boss
uses my truck to haul his vegetable crops to the station and I use
his mules for my occasional light plowing.  We have never sat down
to figure which has the higher rental value, for it does not
matter.  I have the only pecan trees at the Creek, so each fall two
or three families pick the crop for me, by their request, and take
for pay only enough pecans to last them through the winter.  They
refuse the actual cash value of the work.  As a matter of fact,
they could not have been hired.  One fisherman borrows a few
dollars of me in lean times, and I have a drawing account for fish,
never calculated exactly, but well tipped in my favor.  Another man
borrows between jobs and appears unsummoned when a freeze comes in
and I must fire my young orange grove.  Sometimes his two or three
nights of the cold and arduous work come to much more than he has
borrowed and he waves aside the proffered difference.

"You don't owe me a nickel," he says.

I contracted one debt, however, that involved me in so labyrinthine
a maze that I thought I should never find my way out of it.  It was
my punishment, I suppose, for shooting a pig of Mr. Martin's.  I
never planned to shoot the pig and I certainly didn't know it
belonged to Mr. Martin.  As a matter of fact, I didn't care.  It
could have belonged to the devil himself, and many a morning I was
sure of it.  I am a patient woman as far as other people's stock is
concerned.  I know stock.  If I were a pig, I should search out the
green pastures, as did the pigs of Mr. Martin.  If I knew where
skimmed milk lay white and frothy in open pans, I should push my
way under a stout barbed-wire fence and bury my snout in that milk.
But even if I were a pig, I can see no reason for rooting up fluffy-
ruffle petunias.

There were eight of the pigs.  The first thing I heard every
morning at daybreak was the whole outfit crashing under the fence
and rushing under the floor of my bedroom for a matutinal rubbing
of backs against the crosspiece.  The rubbing ended, and the
grunts, my room stopped shaking, and the commotion passed.  I
turned over for a nap.  While I was napping, the happy congregation
moved on to the trays of biddy-mash, the skimmed milk and the
fluffy-ruffle petunias.  Fluffy-ruffle petunias are delicate
plants.  The seed is as expensive as gold dust and as fine.  It
takes weeks to germinate.  The seedlings must be nursed by hand.
When transplanted, they are the prey of cutworms, of drought, of
the slightest adversity.  Once brought months later to maturity,
the huge multicolored blooms represent beauty flowered into life by
the most desperate of measures.  So while I could forgive the heavy
supplying to alien porkers of chicken feed and milk, I simply could
not forgive the fluffy-ruffle petunias.  The intruders dug up
altogether four consecutive plantings and on the third uprooting I
was a trifle demented.  I lay in watch.

I discovered that the litter had a leader.  He was as pretty a
young barrow as I have ever seen, Titian-haired and light of spirit
and rounded into delicious curves by his long diet of biddy-mash,
skimmed milk and petunias.  It was he who broke his way through and
under the fence, he who raced joyously under my bedroom to scratch,
he who galloped, butt wobbling, tail curling, to the trays of feed
and the petunia bed.  His brothers and sisters only followed where
he led.  Where they came from, where they went when the sun had
set, I did not know.  I knew only that the bright-red barrow was my
enemy.  One morning I sat on my veranda.  The litter was peaceful,
ready to lie quietly and decently in the shade.  But not the red-
bristled fiend.  He pranced to the front yard and gave himself with
abandon to my fourth planting of fluffy-ruffle petunias.  I arose
as one in a trance, picked up my gun, stepped to the petunia bed
and shot him dead where he fed.

Psychologists might say, trying me before a jury of my peers, that
murder lay ready in my heart.  The act was not premeditated, yet
the will to kill was waiting.  I know only that I pulled the
trigger with joy and looked down at my fallen foe with delight and
triumph.  There would be no more battening of outlaw stock on feed
and flowers.  I wondered to whom the pigs belonged.  They were none
of my immediate neighbors'.  I looked again at the red menace.  He
was appallingly fat and succulent.  I picked him up by his curly
tail, put him in my car and drove to Citra.  I arranged to have Mr.
Hogan dress him, and Ward the storekeeper to store him in his
refrigerator.  I sent a wire to my friend Norton in Ocala, "Bring
ten or twelve Saturday night for whole roast pig barbecue."

The roast pig was perfection.  The meat was as white as the skimmed
milk and the petunia roots on which it had been fattened.  After, I
read aloud Charles Lamb's essay on "Roast Pig."  It was a fine

On Sunday, neighbor Tom stopped by and said with a queer look in
his eyes, "You been having pig trouble?"

"Yes, but it's all over."

"Could be, it's just begun.  You know anything about the man named

"Never heard of him."

"Well, he's settled across the Creek.  Put out the word he's a man
won't be trifled with.  Has notches on his gun.  I just wondered."
He went away.

On Monday morning I heard knuckles pound on the steps at the side
porch.  A huge man stood there with his broad-brimmed Stetson hat
pushed back from his forehead.

"Mornin'.  My name's Martin."

"Good morning, Mr. Martin.  What can I do for you?"

He shifted his weight.

"Mis' Rawlings, do you remember hit rainin' last Monday?"

"Why, no, Mr. Martin, I don't."

"Well, hit rained.  Mis' Rawlings, do you remember loandin' your
truck to Dorsey Townsend last Monday?"

"Why, yes.  I don't remember that it was Monday, but he borrowed it
one day last week."

"Well, hit were Monday.  Mis' Rawlings"--he squinted casually at
the sky--"do you remember a gun shootin' last Monday?  A 12-gauge,
maybe.  Maybe a 16.  Could of been a 20."

"Why, yes indeed," I said.  "It was I who shot.  I shot a pig.
With my 20-gauge.  I don't know whose pig it was.  It led a pack
that came through my stock-proof fences.  It tormented me to death.
Why, Mr. Martin, maybe it was your pig.  The mark was a half-moon
in one ear and a bit in the other."

He drew a long breath.

"That were my pig," he said.

He stared at me.

"Of course," I said, "I expect to pay for it.  In a way, I had a
right to shoot it, because it was an outlaw.  In another way, the
right is on your side, because in a no-fence county you have the
right to turn your stock loose.  But I'll pay for it very gladly.
Oh, Mr. Martin, I did so enjoy shooting that pig."

He stepped back and studied me.

"Them pigs was practically pets," he said.

"They were very tame," I said.  "That was the trouble."

"You could of ketched it with your bare hands," he lamented.

"Yes, Mr. Martin," I said, "but then I wouldn't have had the
pleasure of shooting it."

Suddenly I remembered the notches on his gun.

"In a way, Mr. Martin," I said, "I'm sorry.  But that's the way I
am.  I go along quietly for a while, and then out of a clear sky I
just don't know what I'm doing.  I pick up a gun and I shoot
whatever makes me angry.  This time it was a pig.  I'm so afraid
some time it may be a person.  After it was over, I'd be terribly
sorry.  But then it would be too late, wouldn't it?"

He wiped his forehead.

"I don't know what to think," he burst out.  "From the beginning, I
ain't knowed what to think.  I went to all your neighbors, and they
all said, 'Oh, no, Mis' Rawlings wouldn't do a thing like that.'
But all the time something told me, if you got mad enough, you'd do

"It's too bad, isn't it?" I condoled with him.  "When I'm so sorry

He grew confidential.

"I heard the shot and I placed it about here, and my pig come up
missing.  I stopped Dorsey and I got it out of him he'd heard you
shoot.  I went to Citra and I found out where you'd had it dressed
and where you'd had it stored, and they all said, 'Why, yes, Mis'
Rawlings come in with a pig she said she'd shot.'  I saw the
constable and turned out he was a buddy of yours and he just
laughed.  I studied and I studied and I decided to have the law on
you.  I aimed to put you in the jailhouse.  And if they wouldn't
put you in the jailhouse I aimed to settle it my way.  I aimed to
make all the trouble for you I knew to do.  And now--now you talk
so honest--why, I just don't know what to do."

"Don't you worry about it another minute," I soothed him.  "Now
it's all over, and I'm so sorry, I can't bear to have you worried.
You just decide on your price, and whatever that pig was worth to
you, why, it's worth the same to me.  And if you'd rather have
another pig of the same size and pedigree, I'll replace it."

"I don't know how to figure the price," he said.  "I'd not of
dreamed of selling one of them pigs."

He turned away, then back again.

"I could of stood everything," he said, "but then you went and had
a drunken party--and ATE it."

"Oh, Mr. Martin," I said, "the meat was delicious.  I wish I'd sent
you some.  I never had better pork in my life.  And why wouldn't it
be good?  It had fed on biddy-mash and skimmed milk and fluffy-
ruffle petunias."

I suppose that Mr. Martin gave it all up then as a matter in the
realm of madness.  He went away, murmuring that the pig was beyond
price and replacement would be practically impossible.  I gave no
further thought to pig or payment, waiting for the bill to arrive.
The pig was worth several dollars, but I decided that I would pay
anything up to fifteen without protest.  Or I should go to market
and buy its valuable duplicate.  And then Mr. Higgenbotham entered
the picture.

My relations with Mr. Higgenbotham were already involved.

We first became friends over the matter of snakes.  Adrenna came
mincing to my room one morning as though she were announcing the

"Mr. Higgenbotham is calling," she said.  "Mr. Higgenbotham wishes
to show you a snake."

I put on a house-coat and went to the front door.  I knew Mr.
Higgenbotham to speak to, for his ramshackle open truck passed the
house going and coming on his business of frog-hunting and snake-
catching.  Mr. Higgenbotham is a small ragged man with hair shaggy
in his eyes.  He had his campaign planned.  As I came to the door,
he held up one hand in command, unfurled a crocus sack, and with
great drama rolled a large king snake onto the grass.

"There!  Look at him!  Six foot long!  I ain't been getting but
forty cents for 'em.  I just want you to see.  Why, a snake like
that is worth forty cents in the woods!"

His grievance, it appeared, was over the low market on snakes.

"You know folks in the up-country," he said, "and I want you to see
can you get me a better market for my snakes."

His confidence touched me.  I could think of no friend at the
moment who might be interested in upping the price on king snakes.
But I assured him that I would do my best.  A king snake six feet
long was certainly worth forty cents in the woods.  We became
immediately fast friends.  The king snake was to Mr. Higgenbotham
an individual.  It was his pet and its name was Oscar.  He put it
through its tricks.  It coiled like a rattlesnake and struck
playfully at him.  He tapped it on its glistening head.

"That's enough o' that, Oscar.  You wouldn't believe how smart he
is.  I cain't fool him on his rations.  I hold a little snake for
him, or a mouse, and he takes it as dainty as a lady.  Give him a
stick or a strip of shoestring and he turns away disgusted.  And
when I turn him a-loose, he's after the rats in the house like

Foolishly, idiotically, regretting it in an instant, I said,
"That's fine.  I have terrible trouble with rats in my attic."

"I'll lend you Oscar," he said.  "I want to do something for you,
helping me with my business.  I'll put Oscar in your attic."

I could have cut out my tongue.  Mr. Higgenbotham was gathering up
Oscar with enthusiasm, to put him in my attic.

"It's all sealed up," I said.  "We couldn't very well get to it."

"We'll cut a hole," he said.  "Oscar would have to have a hole,
anyway, so he could come down to get water."

I had visions of awakening and staring into the black beady eyes of
Oscar, come down for water.  The rats seemed pleasant companions.

"It wouldn't be safe," I said, inspired.  "My cat is death on

He put Oscar reluctantly into the crocus sack.

"Well--I'd sure hate to have that happen."

I was so happy to be rid of Oscar that I did my best about the
snake market.  I wrote to Ditmars and to the Cincinnati Zoo and the
Washington Zoo.  The replies were courteous and I think amused.
The general opinion was that if my friend was getting forty cents
for king snakes, he was doing nicely.  The big zoos had their own
collectors and snakes were a glut on the market.  Mr. Higgenbotham
was grateful for my efforts, satisfied now with his price.  He
waved violently whenever his truck passed my house.  He usually had
a cross-eyed child with him, and I could see him nudge the child,
so that it too waved to me.  One day Mr. Higgenbotham stopped and
came up the path with the unhappy air of a man about to try to
borrow money.

"I'm in a tight," he said, "and you're my friend, and I figgered
you was the one to help me out.  The sheriffs been after me and
been after me about a license for my truck.  'I cain't let you keep
that thing on the highways no longer without no license,' he said
to me.  He said, 'I hate to be hard on a poor man, but next time I
catch you out without no license, I'm obliged to run you in.'"

"How much do you need?"

"Not but six dollars.  I'll give you a mortgage on the truck."

I looked at it.  There was not six dollars' worth of usable parts
of any description.

"Or," he added, "in a pinch, I could work it out."

The idea seemed feasible enough.  I gave Mr. Higgenbotham six
dollars and he agreed to work it out in pruning on my orange trees.
Days passed, and weeks, and Mr. Higgenbotham passed and re-passed
on his frog- and snake-hunting expeditions and did not stop to
prune.  It is one thing to help a friend in distress and it is
another thing to be done.  I was on the roadside one day picking up
pecans and flagged down Mr. Higgenbotham.  It took him a hundred
yards to stop.  He backed up.  The cross-eyed child began waving

"Don't speak," Mr. Higgenbotham shouted.  "Don't say it.  I know
what you're thinking.  You're thinking I got no intentions o'
paying back what I borrowed.  Mis' Rawlings, I had the confidence
in you not to borrow without I meant to pay it back.  I got my
plans.  You just wait now.  The moon won't be out this month
without I pay back that six dollars."

He drove off with a flourish and the child waved as far as it could
see.  The next week the truck stopped at my gate.  In the back
stood trussed a lean gray razor-back sow.  Mr. Higgenbotham walked
jauntily up the path.

"Want to buy a pig?" he called.

"It's just about the last thing in the world I want to buy," I said
with possible bitterness.

"Couldn't use a pig to trade?" he asked and winked at me.  "Can't
think of nobody now you owe a pig to?"

Understanding struck me.

"I do owe a pig to Mr. Martin," I said, "but how did you know?"

"Oh, everybody knows you owe Mr. Martin a pig.  Now what I got
figgered out is this.  That sow there is worth six dollars if she's
worth a cent.  I owe you six dollars.  If Mr. Martin takes that
sow, you've paid him and I've paid you.  Now how about it?"

I looked at the rangy creature in the truck.

"What makes you think Mr. Martin will take her?"

"Well, when you figger on a sow, you figger on more than a sow.
You buy you a sow, and directly you've got a litter of pigs to
boot.  You've got the sow and you've got eight-ten pigs and the
pigs'll soon make shoats and you carry the shoats to market and you
get good money for 'em and you've yet got the sow.  Now I'm
carrying that sow there to Mr. Martin's boar hog.  You know sows?"

"No," I said, "not very well."

"Well, a sow's peculiar.  Times, she'll take, and again she'll not
take.  It all depends on the moon.  Now last moon, she'd not of
took.  This moon, I figger she'll take.  And if she takes--mind, if
she takes--Mr. Martin'll take her for the debt.  'Course, if she
don't take, I'm the one loses.  In that case, I got a dollar to pay
for the use o' the boar."

It seemed very complicated, between Mr. Martin and Mr. Higgenbotham
and the rental stud of boars and the ways of sows and the moon, but
I had little to lose.

"Very well.  If the sow takes, and Mr. Martin accepts her for my
debt to him, then your debt to me is paid.  Right?"

"Righter'n rain," and he drove off with the gray sow lurching in
the back of the truck and the child waving.

Time passed and I had no bill from Mr. Martin and no call from Mr.
Higgenbotham.  The situation was a little delicate, for a lady is
not supposed to inquire too closely into matters either of debts or
of breeding.  Then I ran into Mr. Martin in the grocery store on a
Saturday night in Citra.  He was cordial.  He was effusive.

"You do any duck-hunting?" he asked.

"Indeed, yes."

"A quick shot like you," he said, "I figgered you'd enjoy duck-
hunting.  Now when winter comes and you're ready, you just get me
word and I'll carry you out to the best duck stand on Orange Lake."

Surely something must have been settled.  The moon must have been
right.  In the formality of the store I could not inquire of the
intimate relation of the gray sow to Mr. Martin's boar.  I longed
to say, "Did she take?  Are we all square, you and Mr. Higgenbotham
and I?"

I said, "The pig I owed you for.  The one I was to replace--"

He put out a big hand for me to shake.

"Mis' Rawlings," he said, "the pig is paid for."

12.  My friend Moe

Sometimes there are friendships that have no apparent reason for
existence, between people set apart by every circumstance of life,
yet so firm in their foundations that they survive conditions that
would separate friends of more apparent suitability.  My friendship
with Moe was one of these.  Moe said and believed that we were
friends because we needed each other.

In the village he said once, "Me and her is buddies, see?  If her
gate falls down, I go and fix it.  If I git in a tight for money
she helps me if she's got it, and if she ain't got it, she gits it
for me.  We stick together.  You got to stick to the bridge that
carries you across."

If he had never fixed a gate for me, waving aside any offer of pay,
leaving a profitable carpenter's job to do it--for I certainly
could not be bothered with the neighbors' stock coming in, could I?--
if I had never scratched up a dollar for him, Moe and I would have
been friends.  Beyond our admiration of something in each other
that might pass for courage, beyond our mutual helpfulness, there
was a warm tenderness that made us like just to sit down together
on the back steps and talk about the world as we saw it, while
three or four of his boys squatted patiently on their heels waiting
for us to be finished.

Sometimes he would wave his arm at them and boom in his deep voice,
"You scapers go on, and eat oranges now.  Me and her ain't half
done talkin'."

He introduced himself on my first Christmas Day at the Creek.  He
came out with a man named Whitey and it was a formal Christmas
call.  I was bustling about cooking Christmas dinner, some of the
family were there, and Moe and Whitey sat on the back steps and
visited with the men.  It was long past the country noon dinner
hour and I grew uneasy as the turkey browned and the squash and
potatoes were done and the hard sauce finished for the plum
pudding.  I took my outdoor shower and dressed.  I delayed, pushing
the gravy to the back of the wood range.  Moe and Whitey sat on.
The turkey was beginning to dry out and the sauce had stood too
long on the oyster cocktails in the ice-box.

In desperation, I said, "Dinner is ready.  Won't you men join us?"

According to my bringing up, that was the signal for uninvited
guests to be on their way.  I found that in rural Florida, to
refuse an invitation to a meal, if one is there at the time it is
ready or nearly so, is to insult hospitality so grievously that the
damage can seldom be repaired.  Moe and Whitey had of course had
their dinner, but to my horror Moe said, "Thank you, Ma'am," led
Whitey to the pump stand to wash up and came in.  The family dinner
was ruined for me.  The intruders were as unhappy as I, but applied
themselves with lowered heads and high-lifted elbows to their
plates.  Whitey was plainly only a follower and I stole a look at
Moe.  He was a great burly man with long arms and thick shoulders,
slightly hunched from years of labor.  His head was massive and
beyond a full fine forehead the receding hair was shaggy and
leonine.  There was the look there of a man who might have been a
statesman.  He had one of the most beautiful speaking voices that I
have ever heard.  It had the deep resonance of a bass fiddle.

He plowed his way through the many-coursed dinner without comment.
When I served the plum pudding that had taken so long to make and
decorate, he looked briefly at the blanched almonds and sugared
fruits on the top and scraped them to one side, as I should scrape
unexpected insects.  The dinner had been one of my best, and it
seemed to me from the rough worn clothes and the backwoods speech
that it must surely have been a little out of the ordinary for
these men.  My vanity about my cooking is known and pandered to,
and it seemed incredible to me that uninvited guests like these
should not only pay me no compliments, but should have put down the
choice dishes like so much hay.

I said, "You men have just eaten a typical Yankee Christmas dinner.
Now tell me, what is the usual Cracker Christmas dinner?"

Moe lifted his big head and looked at me gravely.

"Whatever we can git, Ma'am," he said.  "Whatever we can git."

I should have given the dinner and all my work over it, not to have
asked that question.

I heard later that in the village Moe described the meal dish by
dish.  He spoke even of the edible decorations on the plum pudding
that he rejected.

"A meal like that," I was told he said, "a feller don't know what's
cold-out rations and what's fancy fixin's.  When I seed her face, I
knowed I'd ought to of run the risk and et everything."

I do not remember when we became friends.  The occasion is bound to
have been one when he did me some kindness.  It seems to me that it
was the hot Sunday morning when he passed by with his boys from a
night's frog-hunting and found me in hell.  I shall always
associate my conception of hell with hot Sunday summer mornings at
the Creek.  And why Sunday morning?  Because that is when the
drinking portion of the Negro help fails to arrive.

The Sunday morning that Moe stopped by was one of these.  I was
without household help at the time and I slept late without hearing
a sound on the place to disturb me.  The lowing of the cow finally
penetrated my sleep and I awoke in a humid heat to an uneasy sense
that all was not well.  I dressed and went out to the stillness of
a desert island.  I do not remember which of the procession of
Negro men was the culprit, but whoever he was, he was not there.

The cow was old Laura, weather-beaten, gray and gaunt, and the only
cow I have known with a more evil nature than hers, is her daughter
Dora.  Laura was busily and angrily engaged in tearing down the
pasture fence.  An early daughter, then a calf, little Atrocia, a
repulsive creature whom I later traded to a Negro for a week's
hoeing, was jumping back and forth through the hole in the fence
that Laura had begun.  The young bull had broken through the fence
by the road, and at sight of me began bellowing and pawing the
earth.  The chickens, unfed and protesting, got under my feet and
tripped me as I made my way through the sandspurs to the pasture
gate.  It had been fastened with an intricate African arrangement
of chains, and by the time I had them loosened and the gate swung
wide, Laura had knocked down two more fence posts and was making
her way loftily to the barn.

She then decided to be coy, and food being what I supposed she
wanted, refused to go into the pen where it waited.  She gambolled
like a heifer through the grove, her bony hips heaving, little
Atrocia at her heels in delight at the sudden friskiness of her
aged parent.  I was obliged to give up getting her into the pen.  I
lugged the feed trough out into the open by the barn and brought a
bucket of water, for the lake was low beside the pasture and the
stock must be watered by hand.  I went into the barn for feed.  A
new sack had to be opened and I bruised my fingers working at the
chain-stitch binding.  I took a bucket of the feed and emptied it
into the trough.  Laura was in front of the house eating blue
plumbago blossoms and asparagus fern.  I climbed up the rickety
ladder to the hayloft to pitch down hay, for the bull must have
some of this too.  A chicken snake and two rats ran across my feet
as I lifted a forkful.  A leather-winged bat, disturbed from its
slumbers in the rafters, swooped out of the loft, brushing my hair.
A setting hen under the hay flew into my face and floated to earth,
squawking and shrilling.  I pitched down the hay and descended the
ladder.  The next to the last rung broke under me and I slid to the
ground and walked limping to the feed trough.  Laura had come,
eaten all the feed, and was now over by the tenant house.  Being
full, she had no intention of standing for milking.  She had a
greedy nature and I lured her back to the trough with another
bucket of feed.  The calf was only two months old, though weaned,
and Laura's bag in mid-morning was full and tight.  I had never
milked in my life.  I had never expected to milk in my life.  I
should not have tried it now, but I was certain Laura would burst
if she were not somehow relieved.

I knelt down beside her, put the milk bucket under her, and
tightened my fingers around two of the udders.  Nothing happened.
With her mouth dripping feed, Laura turned her head over her
shoulder and looked at me, as though to say, "What on earth are you
doing?"  In annoyance, she moved a foot to the side.  I moved too.
I began again.  I constricted desperately, trying to recall the
motion I had seen the milkers use.  The knack suddenly came to me,
and I saw the first thin streams of milk drop into the bucket as
though I had brought up pearls from the sea.  By this time the
second bucket of feed was gone, Laura walked off, and I was obliged
to go for a third bucket and lure her back again.  She was
indifferent, but she had become also a little lethargic, and I got
her back to the trough.  This time, because she ate so slowly, I
got a quart of milk.  A sense of proud competence filled me.  I was
dripping with perspiration and the flies hummed around us.  When
they stung me, I went frantically on with my milking.  When they
stung Laura, she switched her long tail across my face.  Now she
stood immobile, ruminating placidly.  With no provocation at all,
because the stinging flies were on me, she lifted a hind foot and
kicked the bucket of milk into my lap.  I looked at her bag.  It
seemed as full as ever.  I went back to the milking.  Humanitarian
motives had left me, but I did not want a good milch cow to swell
up and die.  I got another pint, and Laura lifted a hind leg and
kicked me square in the middle.  There was only one thing left to
do.  I kicked her in the middle, said to her, "You may burst for
all of me," and she stalked off into the coffee-weed.  I tottered
to the pen to close the gate.  It was at this moment that Moe and
his boys drew up by the fence and hailed me.

His big voice boomed out, "What you doin' with a milk bucket?"

I leaned weakly on the fence to answer him.

"My man didn't show up and I tried to milk the cow."

"Where is she?"

He was already putting his long legs out of the old car.  His boys
tumbled out behind him.

"Over there in the coffee-weed.  I hope she pops wide open."

I must have begun then to know him as a friend, for he did not
laugh.  He gave directions to the boys and they scattered to the
points of the compass.  Two of them drove back the cow.  Two made a
noose of a rope from the barn.  All together they held her tied
tight to an orange tree while Moe rested on his heels and milked
and stripped her.

"What else you got around here ain't done?"

The chickens had not been fed and water for all the animals had not
been pumped.  They did that.

Moe said, "Now if that nigger don't show up by evenin', you leave
me know.  I'll go find him and take a whip to him, leavin' you like

He was always indignant when he found me doing work that he
considered too difficult or too heavy, and called his boys in a
swarm to take over.  They were silent, unsmiling youngsters,
undersized and pale.  They went to school passively, and since they
showed no interest in education, Moe was trying to train them in
his own profession of carpentering, and was teaching them frog-
hunting on the side.

"Them scapers is the best frog hunters in the county," he said.
"No fear o' them or their mammy starvin' when I'm done for, long as
they can haul in a hundred pounds o' frogs of a night."

The boys smiled then, wanly.  The irresponsible night hunting was
to their taste.  I am sure the carpentering was not, though they
did accurate enough work under Moe's critical eye.  Moe's true love
was an orange grove, and he would have liked to raise oranges for a
living.  His father, and his grandfather before him, had been
superintendent for the Fairbanks grove, one of the oldest Florida
groves, of which my choice seven acres in Big Hammock is a part.
Moe had lived on the grove as a boy.  One day I heard his voice
giving orders at the gate.  The boys were bringing in a bedstead.
It was handmade, spool turned, of pine, put together with wooden
pegs.  It had the grace of all good handmade things.

"This mought seem like pure trash to you," Moe said, and the boys
set the bed down in front of me.  "But if you want it, it's yours.
It was made for Major Fairbanks, and before he died he give it to
my daddy.  It's been out in the barn for fifty years.  You want

The bed had real value as Floridiana.  There are almost no native
Florida antiques.  Major Fairbanks was not only a famous early
grove owner, but the founder and first president of the Florida
Historical Society and the author of Fairbanks' History of Florida
and the History and Antiquities of St. Augustine, both now
collectors' items.

I said, "It's beautiful, Moe, but it's valuable.  You should keep

"We got no use fer it," he said contemptuously, not of the bed, but
of his household's way of life, which grieved him.  "The way I got
to figgerin', a thing belongs to be used and used right, and you
livin' nice, and havin' a piece o' the Major's old grove, why,
you're the one to have it.  Been layin' up all these years waitin'
for the right person."

The bed is now my own, and it is promised when I am done with it to
the Historical Society.

I did not understand it at the time, but as I look back on our
friendship, I believe that Moe lived vicariously in my grove and in
my "livin' nice."  He was intrigued with every detail of my
housekeeping.  He put in a new kitchen floor for me, saying of the
old one through which 'Geechee had scrubbed a hole, "Why, Ma'am,
they was places you could of throwed a dog through it."  As he
worked, he noticed a row of glass jars of huckleberries that I had
canned.  His grave face brightened.

"Now that's the way to live," he said.  "All the good things we got
here in Florida, blueberries and blackberries and beans and cow-
peas, all them things had ought to be canned and put up on a clean
cupboard shelf with white paper on it.  That's the way my Ma did.
She lived fine, not the way you live, but just as good when it come
to cannin' things and keepin' things clean."  His face darkened.
"I've tried and I've done tried to get my wife to do that-a-way but
it just ain't no use.  One time I bought two dozen glass jars and I
went out by myself and I picked about a bushel o' blackberries and
I went to the store and bought a twenty-five pound sack o' sugar
and I takened it home, and I said, 'Wife, here's a bait o'
blackberries to put up for us for jam and jelly for the winter.'"
He hesitated, his loyalty pricking him.

"She probably didn't have time to do it," I suggested.

"She had time.  She let the blackberries spoil, and the antses got
in the sugar, and I found the jars throwed out in the back yard."

I had light on the matter when I met his mother, who came to visit
in the village.  Moe brought her out and left her with me for the
day.  She was of the admirable Florida pioneer type, plump,
immaculate, wise and kindly.  We talked of her life on the
Fairbanks grove and we talked of Moe.

"It like to killed me when he married," she said.  "Moe did love
bein' to home and havin' things nice.  I said to him, 'Son, don't
you marry that girl.  She ain't your kind and she'll not make you
the home you want.'  He looked kind o' sorrowful, and he said, real
slow, 'I know, Ma.  But I love the little old thing.'"

Moe followed the fortunes of my grove as closely as if it had been
his own.  When I planted ten acres of Valencias across the road
where the dingy pecan trees had been cut down and the vacant space
had stared at me, he rejoiced with me.  We were sure that the new
ten acres would make the needed difference between profit and loss.
I had put my last hundreds of dollars in the planting and was
obliged to watch my simple grocery supplies in consequence.  I went
to the Everglades in the winter on a hunting trip with Dessie and
the Chanceys.  The weather in late November was warm when we left
Tampa.  Cold weather set in the second day at camp.  Even so far
south, we were obliged to have a roaring camp fire night and
morning, and the pond water in which we bathed struck us with icy
power.  We wore sweaters under our hunting clothes and were hard
put to it, as we stood motionless on our deer and turkey stands,
not to stamp our feet and clap our hands to keep our circulation
moving against the cold.  The hunt and the companions were so
delightful that I did not think to associate the cold with any
menace to my new young grove.

When I returned to the Creek, I found that a disastrous freeze had
come in to north and central Florida.  Old groves showed much
damage, fruit was nipped, and many young groves had been frozen to
the ground.  I looked across the road to my small frail Valencia
trees.  A miracle had happened.  They had been mounded with earth
almost to their tops and below the frozen tips they were safe.  No
one could have done this but Moe.  That evening I drove in to his
house to see him.

"Bet you was surprised," he chuckled.  "The cold begun comin' in
that afternoon and it got wuss and wusser.  I drove out to the
Creek to tell you somethin' had ought to be done.  You wasn't there
and Martha said you was off huntin' in the south and likely didn't
know it was freezin' up here.  Dogged if I aimed to let them trees
freeze behind your back.  I got my boys together, and Ivey Sykes,
and Whitey, and a couple more, and I borried all the spades and
shovels in Island Grove, and we went out and we worked all night
'til sunrise.  The wust cold come in about day and by that time we
had the job done."

Such things that Moe did for me could never be paid for.

He tried me out a little later.  He came out one evening with the
boys and sat stiffly on the veranda.

He burst out, "I got to have forty dollars.  How about it?"  He
looked me in the eye with something like belligerence.

I said, "As long as I've got it, it's yours."

The loan caught me very short.  I wrote out the check and as I
handed it to the man, I sensed in him a feeling of triumph.  He
returned the money a week later.  I happened to know that he had
not worked that week.  He was only making certain that he could
count on me.  After that, he borrowed only when he was in dire
straits.  Sometimes I myself had to borrow the money when half of
his immense family was sick, but my credit was better than his.  If
he could not pay me back in cash, he paid in work worth twice what
he owed me.

One summer I decided to make a hurried trip to New York to consult
with my editor.  I put my car in storage and bought my ticket for
New York.  My grove man would drive me in the truck to the train at
the village stop.  The morning that I was to leave, Moe drove out
to see me.  His face was gray.

He said, "I'm in trouble.  Mary's dyin'.  Seems like I'm turned to
stone.  I cain't think.  I cain't figger out what to do."

Mary was one of the youngest of his brood of twelve, a shy child
with a certain brightness of face the others did not possess.

I said, "I'll come," and drove the farm truck behind him to his

The child lay like a crumpled rag doll on her small bed, her blue
eyelids closed, her breathing hoarse and labored.  The mother sat
nearby in a slovenly incompetence.  Moe had taken Mary to the
doctor two days before, and while there was a chance, he had said,
that her illness might pass into pneumonia, there was an equal
chance, with proper nursing, of no danger at all.  The pneumonia
had developed rapidly and literally nothing had been done.  Moe had
been ill and unable to work and his funds were exhausted.  His wife
thought the illness was unimportant.  The child was plainly in a
critical condition.

A heavy downpour of rain had set in, the roof of the farm truck
leaked like a sieve, I was dressed for my trip and had only two
hours before train time.  But my own plans were trivial before
Moe's trouble.  I drove to Ocala in the rain, arranged for a doctor
and a nurse, drew money out of the bank for Moe, and went back to
tell him that help was on the way.  The doctor and nurse had
arrived ahead of me and were working over the sick child.  Moe
looked at my soaked clothes.  He dropped down on the porch of his
house and tears ran down the deep furrows of his face.

He said, "I hadn't ought to of let you do this.  I reckon you can't
figger why I'd take on so over one young un, and me with a whole
houseful of 'em."

He wiped away his tears unashamed with the back of his big hand.

"Mary's different," he said.  "All them other young uns, and their
Ma, they don't pay me a bit o' mind.  When I come home, times they
don't even pass the time o' day with me, lessen to ask maybe did I
bring home meat for supper.  They don't none of 'em care do I come
or go.  But Mary sets by the road and waits for me.  She comes
runnin' and I carry her in on my shoulder.  She calls me 'Bubber.'"

The tears ran like rain.

"I don't know how I'll live if she dies," he said.  "I just
couldn't make out without Mary."

I took my train for New York, but I had almost forgotten why I was
going.  I could not get Moe out of my mind.  All day, far up into
Georgia, the rain fell, and they were Moe's tears, falling for
Mary, the only one who cared whether he came or went.  All night,
the wheels of the train repeated, "Moe and Mary!  Moe and Mary!"
It seemed to me that I should be obliged to get off the train and
go back to them.

I had a brief interview with my editor and hurried home.  Mary was
safe.  She smiled shyly when Moe took me to her bed.  The nurse had
the sickroom in order and Moe was in his best bib and tucker.  His
face was luminous.

"I shore went to pieces," he apologized.  "When I think o' you
comin', all dressed in your best clothes and soppin' wet from
helpin' me, I'm ashamed.  But them things gits made up somehow.
I'll git a chance to do somethin' for you sometime.  Tell you what
I'll do.  I'll take you alligator-huntin'.  You ain't never been
and I'll bet you could write a fine story about it if you saw it

Moe continued to keep an eye on my grove and on tottering fences,
leaking roofs and broken plumbing.  He tried to keep his own
garden, single-handed, and he brought me always the first of his
crop; lettuce, squash, watermelons.  He brought up the matter of
the 'gator hunt every time he came, but somehow we never got
together on it.

"How about that 'gator hunt tonight?" he would say and I would have
some engagement that prevented it.

He could not have been much past fifty in age, but he began to
break like a man much older.  There were increasing periods when he
could not do his carpentering and when he could not go frog-hunting
with his boys.  The last summer of his life he was very ill.  He
asked if the boys might help with my summer grove pruning.  I was
glad of the extra labor.  At the time Moe owed me twenty-five
dollars and since I knew it fretted him, I asked if he wanted the
boys' pay applied on the debt.  He hesitated.

"No, jest pay 'em right out," he said.  "That other's somethin'
between you and me."

There was no hope for him.  Years of improper food and overwork, of
anxiety over the future of his family, above all, I think, despair
at not living as he longed to have them live, had eaten at his big
burly frame and great gentle mind.  He knew that he was going.  He
sent the boys out for me one day.  He sat propped in a chair, his
face gaunt, his hair tousled above the broad forehead.

"I ain't goin' to make it," he said and his voice was as deep and
rich as ever.  "I ain't never taken you on that 'gator hunt like I
promised, and I hate that."

A few days later I stopped by his place, drawn by an uneasy
instinct.  Moe was still propped in his chair.  As I stood in the
doorway, his breath made a strangling sound in his throat and the
big head dropped forward on his chest and did not lift again.  The
family stood stonily.  Only Mary huddled behind his chair with a
desperate small face.  Only she and I have missed him, finding the
world less generous for his going.

13.  Residue

I have my own explanation of the cynical Biblical statement that it
is as easy for a rich man to enter Heaven as for a camel to pass
through the eye of a needle.  On the surface, the statement is
unjust, for wealth is so accidental a thing, that either its
possession or its lack should not be held against any man.  Sift
each of us through the great sieve of circumstance and you have a
residue, great or small as the case may be, that is the man or the
woman.  The rich, the well-favored, the well-situated, are
surrounded with a confusing protective mass of extraneous and
irrelevant matter that tends to hide the substance beneath.  The
poor, the unfortunate, have been put through the sieve and stand
nakedly for what they are.  A poor and simple man stands with bare
outstretched hands at the gates of Heaven, and his essential
character is written in broad letters across him, for life has
stripped him down to it.  Confronted with the fortunate but
cluttered man, St. Peter must do a neat problem in psychiatry and
estimate, "Now what would this man's honor be if he were starving?
He gives much, having a surfeit.  What would he give if he had
nothing?"  Being busy with the checking of admissions to Heaven, it
is conceivable that St. Peter is obliged to tell the rich man that
he must wait in the anteroom until he can go deeper into his case.

These thoughts come to me when there pass down the road in front of
my house those Creek residents whom Life, shall we say, has knocked
down and sat on.  There are always one or two outright derelicts in
the neighborhood, men cast adrift by life, waiting patiently to be
cast up on some hospitable and nurturing shore, finding it, often,
here.  The evil and dishonorable among them do not stay long at the
Creek, for we are too busy to be bothered with neighbors we cannot
trust.  We leave our houses wide open.  I sleep alone in my
rambling farmhouse with never the latching of a door, and I am away
for weeks at a time, with the place as free of access as a public
picnic ground.  Nothing has ever been taken.  Small tools disappear
gradually, of course, from my open barn, parts from my tractor and
sometimes gasoline from my truck, but this only because some man
needs a shovel and a shovel is available; needs a coil or a
generator for his broken-down car and a coil or generator sits
invitingly in the idle tractor under the shed; gives out of
gasoline on his way from the Creek to the village with his night's
catch of frog legs and gasoline waits providentially in the truck.
This seems no more predatory than the taking of fallen timber from
the open woods, the drinking of water from a stranger's well.
Usually the silently borrowed implements are returned as quietly as
they went.  Sometimes a man says, "I forgot to tell you, I got your
Brinley plow.  Leave me know when you want it."  Sometimes a frog
hunter leaves me a fine mess of frog legs or an alligator hide, and
I know that this is pay for gasoline.

We know the character of the most destitute drifter.  One or two of
these are drifters in the spiritual sense, for physically they have
come to rest at the Creek.  Sometimes that character commands our
respect, for its sieved residue is sound, and we do not hold it
against a man that he goes in rags and cannot or will not work for
a living.  One unfortunate is Mr. Tubble, who gets along in life by
attaching himself to one stronger than he.  All the men at the
Creek feel a responsibility for him, and when evil befalls him,
usually through the medium of the jug or bottle, they join forces
and set out to find him and nurse him back to normal.

He has a trick of "coming up missing."  The expression is not as
contradictory as it sounds.  I, for instance, never come up
missing, for it is a known habit of mine to be absent from the
Creek without explanation.  My car is either under its shelter, the
porte-cochre that Moe built and called a "cashay," and I am at
home, or it is not under the cashay and I am simply "off."  A
roving cat does not come up missing, for it is expected of a cat
that he ramble.  But if a dog of steady habits is not at the door
one morning for his breakfast, that dog "comes up missing."  A
misplaced household object comes up missing.  A man, like Mr.
Tubble, who needs to have an eye kept on him, is suddenly not in
his usual haunts.  Mr. Tubble has come up missing.  Snow came
anxiously to me one day to report that it had happened again.

He said, "We want to borrow your outboard motor.  We've all paddled
until we're give out.  We can't cover all of Orange Lake in this
wind, just paddlin'."

"Do you suppose he's drowned?"

"We're gettin' feered of it."

"How long has he been gone?"

"He was seen last on Wednesday evenin', mighty drunk.  Not fitten
to fish his traps.  But he must of set out to fish 'em, for his
boat's not there."

"Well, if there's anything I can do, let me know."

"We'll cover the lake with the kicker, then if we have to, we'll
portion out the lake and cover it closer.  A boat can lodge up
against a tussock and you not see it for the marsh grass.  The
tussocks move around so bad, too."

The next day Snow returned the motor.

"Did you find Mr. Tubble?"

He was plainly disgusted.

"We found him."


"No more than half."

"Where did you find him?"

"We never did.  He come in Saturday night and asked what day of the
week 'twas--and what week."

"Where had he been all that time?"

"In a tussock."

"In a tussock?  On one of those floating islands?  Since

"Since Wednesday.  He'd drawed up his boat beside him and laid down
with a gallon jug beside him."

"How did he ever manage to get back?"

"Come a rain Saturday night and fell on him and sobered him up."

"I see."

Snow said, "It's his business, gettin' drunk, but he'd ought to had
more consideration for his friends.  I paddled past that tussock a
dozen times.  Now tell me, if you aimed to pitch a long drunk,
would you pick out a floatin' tussock to do it in?"

George Fairbanks has both Snow and Old Boss to look out for him,
and they do the job with mingled irritation and affection.  Yet
George somehow needs as little looking out for as any of us and has
proved his ability to survive under conditions that would quite
finish the rest of us.  He has an aloofness, a central integrity,
that is his heritage from his good blood.  He is the last of a once
proud and prosperous line.  The great Fairbanks family itself has
been sifted by time and circumstance until only George is left to
carry the name.  He carries it in an amazing body, bony and
gangling, with no chin at all, a black mustache, the whole dressed
loosely in nondescript garments topped by an immense black Stetson
hat.  The effect is a parody of the villain in an old-fashioned
melodrama.  He is gentleness itself, except when corn liquor
inflames him and the Fairbanks blood runs hot, and stuttering, he
tells any man on earth what he thinks of him.

Fifty years ago, before the Big Freeze, the Fairbanks family owned
section on section of the best land in the county.  Theirs were the
finest stretches of hammock, needing only a few hundred dollars'
worth of labor to clear into the choicest citrus land in the state.
The fine grove in Big Hammock, where lie my choice money-making
seven acres, is still known as the Fairbanks grove.  It was Major
Fairbanks, of whom I have spoken, owner of my hand-carved pine bed,
who was the greatest of George's line.  I feel that I should offer
George the pine bed, but since every house he lives in eventually
burns down, it seems safer with me.

At one time George had a half-blind horse, a parlor organ, a modest
income from the Fairbanks estate, administered for him by Old Boss,
and the whole of a house.  The house was a derelict, too, of gray
weathered pine, but it had been a good house in its day, it had two
stories, a chimney and a shingled roof that leaked no more than was
to be expected after fifty years of Florida sun and rain.  George
entertained lavishly in those days, the entertainment consisting
largely of corn liquor, the guests a queer assortment, mostly
crudely painted women who were after George's "wealth."  One of
them managed to marry him and when she found that his worldly goods
were not only extremely modest but were tightly in the wise hands
of Old Boss, the fur flew.  He could not accept his betrayal.  He
came regularly once a week to tell me his grievous story.  I have
wondered if he hoped I might know a formula for handling a
harridan.  He is what we call tie-tongued and I strained my
attention to understand his morose tale.  The phonetics of the
cleft palate cannot be intelligibly reproduced.

"I do' see how a woman tin hol' so much meanness," he lamented.
"S'e wake up mean, s'e go thu the day mean, s'e go to s'eep mean.
S'e thwow things a' me.  S'e tuss me.  Any man in the tounty but me
tin s'eep wi' her."

I think he got an advance from Old Boss with which to buy her off.
At any rate, he got rid of her, and soon afterward the horse died,
the house burned to the ground, parlor organ and all, leaving only
the fine brick chimney standing bleakly, and Old Boss was obliged
to withhold cash income from him, providing instead the clothes and
groceries he would not buy for himself as long as liquor might be
bought instead.  He was not discouraged.  He moved into a shed left
unburned near the chimney and began to look for another and a more
agreeable wife.  He made tentative overtures to me.

"I been thinkin'," he said.  "I dot a Victwola an' twenty-five
wecords.  Here you are, livin' alone.  There I am, livin' alone.  I
bwing my Victwola an' my twenty-five wecords an' I play for you."

I pled too great a business to listen to twenty-five Victrola
records and contrived to discourage him.  He was soon safely off on
another tack.  He courted a widow's daughter somewhere in the woods
and stopped by one day to tell me that he was on his way to resolve
the issue.  It did me good to see the old Fairbanks pride and
arrogance blaze brightly in him.

"I goin' to det her told," he said haughtily.  "S'e tan't fool
aroun' wi' me.  I goin' tell her, if s'e want me, s'e gotta take me
wight now.  If s'e don't want me, there's plenty more rarin' for

Mr. Swilley, unlike George, was infinitely humble.  Yet in his
grotesque way he too had his integrity.  We frightened each other
almost out of our wits the first time we met.  I went out to the
barn one morning, and so close to the threshold that I very nearly
tripped on him, sat Mr. Swilley.  I not only did not know that he
was Mr. Swilley, I did not know that such a person existed, or had
come to reside in our neighborhood.  He looked like a cross between
an Indian and one of those travelling quacks known as medicine men.
He had dark cavernous eyes, high cheekbones and lank black hair
that hung to his shoulders.  I found later that he cut his own hair
and was dependent for even this rudimentary barbering on the loan
of some one's scissors.  I jumped back with a startled cry and Mr.
Swilley frightened me still further by going apparently into a
convulsion.  He jerked all over, his head swung from side to side,
his arms shot forward spasmodically, his feet flew in my direction,
and all the while he let out pained and explosive grunts, "Uh, uh,
uh, uh."  I had terrified him more than he had me.  I learned in
time to make some preliminary noise whenever I approached him,
preferably some natural woods noise such as the breaking a stick,
for if I called or spoke or came unexpectedly within his vision, he
cried out in that grunting pain and jerked like a monkey on a
stick.  He lived most of the time, I think, in a trance, and I have
wondered from what strange and lovely world I brought him unhappily
back to life.

He was in my barn that first morning, a cold one, waiting for Snow
to come to work, in the hope that the truck would be going to the
village and he could get a ride.  The truck did happen to be going
to town and Mr. Swilley rode in and out on it.  Snow came to me
with his brown eyes twinkling.

"Don't be surprised at anything," he said.  "Mr. Swilley had a

The whole business of Mr. Swilley seemed in the nature of a
nightmare, and now Snow was participating.

"Mr. Swilley dreamed," Snow continued, "that his dead mother came
to him and told him his troubles were over.  'You got nothin' more
to worry about, son,' she told him.  'You'll have a good roof over
your head, good clothes to wear, a car to ride in and plenty to
eat.  The week'll not be out before you meet a rich widow.'"

I had never seen the silent Snow so close to laughter.

"I just thought I'd warn you," he said.  "I'm mighty afraid you're
the rich widow."

It is unkind to slap a ghost in the face, but I called to Mr.
Swilley's dead mother and thanked her to mind her own business.
Mr. Swilley came daily to ask for work, though we had none, and for
fear that on the strength of supernatural backing he would also ask
at once for my hand, I dealt with him through Snow.  Snow hinted
that the man was starving, so we put him to work as a hoe-hand.  He
was plainly dejected.  Ghosts take a great responsibility when they
encourage mortals.  Mr. Swilley must have clung to hope, for he
made excuses to speak to me.  Once he asked me to do an errand for
him and brought a handful of silver from his overalls pocket.  The
nickels and dimes that he handed me were strangely smooth and
bright, the design almost obliterated by a tinny covering.

I said, "What on earth is on this money, Mr. Swilley?"

He fidgeted and jerked and stammered.

"Uh--uh--you know--it's quicksilver--for bedbugs."

I wondered how the mercury controlled bedbugs and whether he used
it on his dead mother's recommendation but I did not press the

At Christmas time I thought of the man's baggy clothes, his still
uncut hair, his quicksilver and his dejection, and made up a box
for him; a cooked ham, a fruit cake, pecans and candy.  I wanted to
put in shirts and socks and a sweater, as for Snow, but I feared
these personal items might invoke again the shade of his hope-
bringing parent.  Snow had told me that Mr. Swilley was living on
the old Turner place.  I knew the Turner house had burned, at a
time when George was occupying it, and I had wondered vaguely how
Mr. Swilley had been able to build for himself.  I made my rounds
on Christmas morning and turned with the last box down the magnolia-
lined lane that led to the Turner place.  The gate had been
ingeniously mended with wire, the only sign that the land was used
by any one but hunters.  For a moment I thought that Snow must be
mistaken.  There was no possible human habitation in sight.  I
fastened the gate behind me and went on foot toward the scrawny
orange and camphor trees that had once shaded the Turner house.
Under the camphor tree was a tin box.  True, it was almost as tall
as a short man, and about six feet by six, but surely the Townsend
boys must have thrown it together for the purpose of playing
pirates or G-men.  Then I remembered that the Townsend boys did not
build things, and certainly would engage in no game as strenuous as
pirates or G-men.  The box was made of sheets of corrugated tin
roofing that had survived the fire.  I walked around it.  One sheet
of tin had been nailed to the adjacent sheet with hinges made of
old harness leather.  Opposite the hinges was a new lock.  This,
then, was a door.  I walked around the corner and a square of about
twelve inches had been cut in the side.  This was a window.  I
poked my head inside the square.  I had found Mr. Swilley's home.

It was as dark as a cave.  It made Snow's palmetto shack seem as
comfortable as a city apartment.  One by one I identified the
objects that made up the household equipment.  A bunk of rough
saplings filled one wall.  It was covered with pine boughs.  The
bedding consisted of a ragged patchwork quilt, the work, I
gathered, of Mr. Swilley's mother.  From the look of the quilt, she
had been dead a long time.  There was no chair.  There was no room
for a chair.  The near side of the box was filled with a stove that
Robinson Crusoe would have considered beyond the pale.  It
consisted of a rusty piece of sheet iron.  Under it ran a length of
old stovepipe and fire still smouldered in this.  There was one
battered pot on the stove.  It held a few spoonfuls of lumpy grits.
There may have been supplies under the stovepipe but there were
none in sight.  There were no clothes hanging on the wall, for the
only clothes Mr. Swilley owned were on his stooped back, wherever
it might be.  I could no longer begrudge him the dreams his mother
brought him.  I pushed my box in the window and went away.

When he came the next day to hoe, he said, "I'm sorry I wasn't to
home when you called.  I knowed it was you.  I got a little
somethin' for you, too."

His gift was a ladder of a length he knew I needed.  The sides were
of peeled cypress saplings.  The rungs were hand-carved from
straight hickory limbs, set in solidly with wooden pegs.  It was a
good ladder and it made my box seem very trifling indeed.  I
suppose he took encouragement from the exchange.  Dreams die hard,
and perhaps as he huddled on his pine boughs under his ragged quilt
his mother came to him again to tell him to keep heart.  For he
began to prance.  When I spoke to him, if I managed to attract his
attention without startling him into the jerks, he jumped from
whatever he was doing and pranced toward me like an old and
decrepit goat.  I never saw him negotiate six yards without

It is still a marvel to me that he did not break his neck the time
I took him with me to bring colored Mary's belongings to the Creek.
The whole expedition, including Mary, was a mistake.  The
confidence I showed in Mr. Swilley in entrusting him with the
mission was all he needed to assure him that the solution of his
life was at hand.  I had engaged Mary as a maid, knowing nothing of
her but that she was neat, well-spoken, of good honest Negro
farming stock near Fairfield, and that she assured me that the
lonely job I offered was all she asked of Heaven.  Her bed, trunk
and boxes that she asked to bring could not be carried in my car.
Snow was behind with the tractoring and I asked Mr. Swilley to
follow me in the truck to bring home Mary and her worldly goods.

He had assured me that he was a finished driver and mechanic.  I
believe that this was the first time he had ever driven a car.  The
truck was in good running order, but I noticed that he called Snow
from the field to start it for him.  I had the sudden wisdom to
tell him that I should drive slowly ahead, and to blow the horn if
he had trouble.  Four times on curves or at cross-roads the horn
sounded desperately and I stopped and went back to find the truck
stalled.  I started it for him and we reached's Mary's home in the
backwoods.  She pointed out the things that were to go and said she
would call her brother to help.  Mr. Swilley protested that for a
man of his strength, handling them alone was nothing.  He came out
first with a heavy old walnut bed which he said it was not
necessary to dismantle.  He carried it by the headboard, the whole
sticking out in front of him as though he meant to use it as a
mammoth trap for a bear.  I was horrified to see him ignore the
wide gate and leap, bed and all, over the fence.  The bed crashed
down ahead of him, Mary let out a shriek that was to become
familiar, and Mr. Swilley picked himself up and flung the bed
bodily into the back of the truck.  He dusted his hands, flushed
with pride, and hurdled the fence back to the house.

I called, "The trunk will go through the gate, Mr. Swilley."

He beamed and waggled his head, poised the heavy trunk jauntily on
one shoulder, and again attacked the fence.  His intention was not
only to jump it, but to soar lightly over it.  Mr. Swilley missed
soaring by half the height of the fence.  One leg cleared it in a
blithe arc, the other caught midway, the trunk bounced to earth and
flew open, Mary screamed, and Mr. Swilley hung dangling, an almost
inextricable part of the fence.  He unwove himself, staggered to
the trunk, helped Mary to heap things back in it, sat on the lid,
fastened it, and heaved it into the truck.  He smiled happily and
returned for the collection of boxes.  Only a little cautious, he
took the fence from a standing jump, picked up himself and the
boxes from the ground, and we were ready to set out for home.  He
managed to start the truck this time, and I had gone perhaps half a
mile over the winding woods road when I realized that he was not
behind me.  The road was too narrow and curved for backing or
turning around and I went back on foot to where the truck stood
motionless with a great roaring of the engine.

"Seems to be stuck," Mr. Swilley panted, and leaped from the seat
and threw himself prone to examine nonexistent obstacles.

The truck was not stuck.  He had managed to throw it out of gear
and had sat racing an impotent engine.  The truth came to me now
but it was too late.  Dusk was falling and we had to get home.  I
was reminded of the nursery story of the fire that had to burn the
stick, so that the stick would beat the pig, so that the pig would
jump over the stile, "or we won't get home before morning."  I gave
Mr. Swilley a belated and elemental lesson in gear-shifting and we
were on our way again.  He got along nicely for a few miles and
hope and success went to his head.  In a great burst of speed, he
passed me, and the rest of the trip was a nightmare.  Mr. Swilley
swooped and swerved ahead of me, as though he were trying to take
the truck itself over fences.  I dared not pass him, for fear he
should think it was a coy game.  He took curves on two wheels, dogs
and pigs and chickens and other cars fled out of his way, and by a
miracle he brought the truck in to the home grounds and to rest
against the side of the barn.

"We went through some beautiful country," he said.

I was glad he had enjoyed the scenery, for I had seen none.
Perhaps his dead mother had told him that the proper approach was
the sthetic one.

I lived through the rest of Mr. Swilley and Mary together.  They
were sad, strange, violent days, and I would not live them again
for the wealth of India.  Mary began promisingly, keeping my house
as clean as a laboratory.  Martha brought me the first word that
all was not well.

"Sugar," she said, "I think you'd ought to know.  Mary comes down
to my house almost every day and tells me she's starvin' to death.
Says you don't give her a thing to eat.  Says she has to walk to
town and buy herself a little somethin' with her own money."

I was horrified.

I said, "Why, I give her exactly what I have myself.  I buy enough
of everything for both of us, and I thought I made it clear that
she was to help herself."

"You don't need to tell me, Sugar.  I knows your kitchen and I
knows your ways.  I just figgered you'd ought to know."

It occurred to me that perhaps my steaks and chops and asparagus
and lettuce were not to the taste of a country woman.  Perhaps Mary
longed for cornpone and cowpeas and white bacon.

I said to her, "Mary, if you don't like what I happen to have to
eat, help yourself at any time to cornmeal and bacon and things
like that, and fix whatever you want for yourself."

She looked at me with cold glittering eyes and made no answer.  A
few days later she began shouting.  She was at the washtubs and a
wave of angry shrieks came to me, as though she were driving off an
assailant.  I ran to the back and she stopped instantly, bending
low over the tub.

"Mary, what's the matter?  Why were you screaming?"

She looked up innocently.

"I never opened my mouth," she said, and dipped a sheet up and down
in the water.

The shouting began to have a rhythmic pattern.  It came regularly
every six days.  Once I awakened in the early morning grayness and
heard her in the kitchen.  She seemed to be throwing pots and pans
about the kitchen, shouting as she threw.  The shouts lifted to the
familiar shriek.  I looked at my watch.  It was five o'clock.
Suddenly the sound ended and she was gone.  At the usual hour of
seven o'clock she was back in the kitchen.  She brought me my
coffee quietly.  I could not believe that the quiet woman serving
me capably was the one I had heard before daylight.

One night I told her that I must have coffee early the next
morning, at six-thirty instead of seven-thirty.  I must leave
promptly at seven to drive to Jacksonville where I was meeting a
party at nine, I said, to go on a trek to Fort George Island.  I
set the alarm clock and gave it to her.  I awakened in the morning
with the uneasy sense of lateness.  It was a quarter of eight.  The
kitchen was silent.  A light rain beat on the shingled roof.  I
dashed to the kitchen and put on the coffee pot and returned to my
room to dress.  I could not now possibly reach Jacksonville in
time, and since the party was large, it could not wait for me, and
I must drive to the village and telephone that I could not join
them.  As I poured a cup of coffee, at a quarter past eight, Mary
sauntered in.

I said, "Didn't your alarm go off?  Did you oversleep?"

She said jauntily, "Oh, the alarm went off all right.  I was up at
daylight.  But it was raining, and I didn't care to get wet."

I said, "You could have thrown a quilt around you.  You had all day
to change your clothes."

I turned and looked into her eyes and knew instantly what I should
have known before, that she was as mad as a March hare.

Bits of her history had seeped out in her outbursts.  She had
mentioned a northern hospital where, she said, she had worked.  I
asked my doctor to investigate.  Word came back that she had indeed
been at the hospital, not as an employee, but as a patient in the
insane ward.  She had a long record as a manic-depressive.  She had
had a quiet spell, and while attention was relaxed, she had
escaped, back to Florida.

My doctor said, "You can't get rid of her fast enough.  With that
type of insanity, you're likely to wake up one morning and find her
standing over you, with a maniac's strength, with an axe."

She had driven me almost as insane as herself, but in her quiet
periods she was sweet and gentle and infinitely pathetic.  She
needed a minor operation, and it seemed to me that her mental
illness might possibly be traced to the physical one.  I took her
to the hospital, paid for the operation, nursed her at home
afterward, and she was patient and grateful.  She was entirely
recovered and there had been no shouting.  She asked to spend a
week end at her father's farm.  I took her there and told her I
should call for her at Fairfield, at the store, about ten-thirty
Sunday night.

"I may be a little earlier than ten-thirty," I said, "or a little
later.  If I'm early, I'll wait for you, and if I'm late, you wait
for me."

At ten-thirty-five Sunday night I was at the store.  There was no
Mary.  The village was dark.  I waited until eleven-thirty and
drove home.  On Wednesday there came a note in Mary's very good

"I came to the store at ten-thirty," she wrote, "and you were not
there.  The weather was inclement so I returned to my father's
house.  You may come for me."

I wrote, "Dear Mary: I shall not come at all."

With Martha tiding me over until I should find some one else, I
realized that I had been living in the heart of an electrical
storm.  My ragged nerves eased their tension and peace filled the
Creek beneficently.  A year ago Martha went to Fairfield for the

"Mary was pickin' beans with us," she reported.  "She sent her love
to you."

My last days with Mary ran concurrently with my last days with Mr.
Swilley.  Together they were part of a dark tortured unreality.
After the expedition to bring her belongings, he took to sitting in
the yard after his work was done.  Two or three times I asked if he
were expecting a ride, or needed something.

"I'm just waitin'," he said.

Between Mary's shrieks and Mr. Swilley's waiting, I was in a fair
way to become a psychopathic case myself.  I longed to send him
packing, but there was no other work at the Creek, and I could not
endure to think of the tin box without even a pot of grits boiling
over the stovepipe.  All I could do was to provide hoeing and to
ignore the long-haired derelict who squatted under the orange
trees.  One day he was blessedly gone and did not appear again.
Snow brought me good news of him.

"Mr. Swilley found his widow," he said.  "I reckon she was rich,
like his mother promised, for they live in a right good cabin by
the edge of a little stream and I see an old car setting out in

I can only hope that the widow keeps control of the car.  I dare
not conjecture, if Mr. Swilley is the answer to her dream, her own
mentality and appearance.

The Bernie Bass family is prospering.  They can now afford to buy
milk for the children.  It makes me feel as good as when I have a
stroke of luck of my own.  As long as Bernie has a job, the somehow
terrible matter of the dime cannot arise again.  When my cow Dora
and Lady, the heifer, came fresh at the same time, I sent out word
to the Creek that any family with children could have skimmed milk
without charge.  Any one who wished to pay might have it at the
rate of three quarts for ten cents.  The milk was skimmed after
only eight hours in the ice box and was even then as rich as city
milk.  I had the Raney family and the Basses in mind.  The Raneys
were too lazy or too shy ever to send and the Basses did not, I am
sure, for pride.  They could not pay and they would not accept the
milk without it.

Mrs. Bernie Bass came lately to arrange for milk, two of the boys
stubbing bare toes behind her.  She untied a fifty-cent piece from
a handkerchief and paid, with an immense satisfaction, in advance.

"A dime of that," she said, "is what I owed you a'ready.  I reckon
you don't even remember.  Near about a year ago, I come to you to
carry a dime for the little one's lunch.  But I hadn't forgotten."

I had not forgotten, either.

Mrs. Bernie Bass is a small thin woman.  She flutters like a
nervous mother bird.  The first time I met her, after the Basses
had moved into the tenant house in Cow Hammock, she came running,
calling out in the panic that I associate with her.  The woods fire
that had been smouldering around us for days had fanned into fresh
flame and was closing in on her house.  She was alone and needed

"I been fightin' and frammin' 'til I'm wore out.  I hate to see the
house go for lack of help."

I called the men from the grove and we all pitched in and fought
fire.  It is hard and evil work.  A shift of wind helped us save
the clearing.

Long later, when the woman called from my gate about the dime, her
voice held the same distress as when the fire menaced.

"I do hate to worry you," she said, and brushed her hair back from
her forehead.  "I know you'll do it, but I shore hate to ask.  It's
the little one.  Bernie ain't had no work for the longest.  He
didn't have no dime to give him today for his school lunch.  I just
found out he went off on the school bus without no dime.  He gets
two of them nickel packages of raisin buns for his lunch.  Seems
like they fill him up better than anything else he can get.  It's a
heap to ask, but could you drive in to the school and give him a
dime?  I'll pay you back just as soon as I can."

"Of course.  I'll go right away."

"It's a heap to ask, but I just had to."

A day without food is a trifle to the adult Basses.

"He ain't but seven," she apologized.  "He's so little to go all
day without his rations."

The repayment of the dime a year later was a triumph.  The putting
down of money in advance for milk, when it could have been received
free, was the winning of a major battle.  When one has a basic
integrity, one's standards are high.  A dime becomes a banner.

Grampa Hicks lived in a palmetto-log shack at the edge of Cross
Creek.  His brown old face was beardless.  He wore one blue mail-
order shirt, "Chieftain" brand--loyalty forbade his buying the
cheaper "Big Yank"--and one pair of blue pin-check pants until they
dropped from his unlaundered body.  He lived, slept and fished in
them.  He was also loyal to "Three Thistles" snuff.  He considered
"Railroad" fitten only for niggers and "Buttercup" for women.

He existed by the illegal trapping of fish in Orange Lake and by
renting other men's rowboats, without permission, to fishermen from
Jacksonville.  If a customer's outboard motor lacked gas, he
shuffled mysteriously to the other side of the bridge across the
Creek, where lay beached other boats and motors, and returned with
fuel.  If a stranger to these parts needed liquor, so that when the
fish didn't bite he could spit on his hook, cuss and take a drink
to get them started, Grampa went into the underbrush beyond his
shack, returning with a catsup bottle of 'shine.  If catfish were
scarce on his own lines, he ran the other fellow's.

Man's law is one thing, God's another.

One Sunday morning we asked Grampa to go fishing with us.  He knew
where the bream were biting and we had had no luck for weeks.  He

"I don't fish on Sundays," he said haughtily.  "I wa'n't raised up

Mister Marsh Turner might have been called a vagabond, but never a
derelict.  I shall always be sorry that the high sheriff did not
know what I knew about him.  The law called him troublesome, and
certainly his ways and his live stock did not make for peace in the
environs.  But I think of him still as a man peaceable at heart,
and definitely a gentleman.  The Negroes, who are infallible snobs,
recognized the mark of high caste that illuminated his drunkenness
and his violence and spoke of him always as Mister Marsh Turner.

He lived across the Creek on the old Turner place with his elderly
mother.  Why the decaying house did not fall down around their
ears, especially when he was in a mood to hurl furniture through
the windows, I do not know.  He owned considerable numbers of hogs
and cattle.  They roamed at will over the woods, our county being
open range, and crossed the bridge and intruded on our side of the
Creek.  We are accustomed to ordinary pigs and cows that root and
browse harmlessly.  But Mister Marsh Turner's stock seemed to share
his lawlessness.  The hogs were of the large razor-back variety and
fought the Creek dogs at sight.  No fence could resist their
attacks.  They went through them, over them or under them.  Once in
my house yard, they broke into the feed room of the barn and turned
over feed barrels with a din like thunder.  They devoured young and
unwary chickens in their stride.  The Turner cattle were almost as
bad.  They were led by a big bony range bull who once went so far
as to gather my two milch cows into his harem and to refuse to
allow them to enter my lot for the evening milking.

I had heard tall tales of the Turner doings but I had never seen
him.  Almost every Monday morning Martha had a racy account of his
Saturday night drunk.  He was as addicted to music as to liquor and
thought nothing of walking uninvited into a frolic and taking the
fiddle away from the fiddler and playing his own tune, independent
of the rest of the music.  One Saturday night he played the guitar
all night on the courthouse steps in Gainesville, where a sleepy
sheriff took him over at dawn, still picking the strings.  Jail was
almost his week-end home.  He paid his fine amiably on Monday
morning, went home, got drunk again, and becoming enraged, took out
his fury by throwing whatever he could lift inside the house or
out.  It was all harmless enough and Mother Turner did not seem to
mind.  When his activities had spent themselves and he had slept it
off, he arose quickly, ate heartily and set about making new table
and chair legs to replace the broken ones.  I got these reports
from Martha.

"Whatever Mister Marsh Turner do wrong," she said proudly, "he set
in and make right."

One morning I reached the limit of my patience with his stock.  The
bull crashed a new gate, the Turner cows and heifers and yearlings
followed, and I awoke to a veritable stampede around and around my
bedroom.  I sent word to Martha to tell him, when next he brought
the Turner washing to her, that something must be done and if
necessary I would do it.  The law gave a property owner certain
rights against true outlaw stock and if the law proved indifferent,
I should not continue so.

The next day a bay horse trotted smartly to my gate and a long
graceful figure wavered in the saddle, then dismounted and swayed
up my path.  It was indubitably Mister Marsh Turner and he was
unbelievably drunk.  I had a moment of panic in which I could
picture him lassoing me and mounting me on the back of the
offending bull, for I knew his imagination was as vivid as mine.  I
went to the door and called "Good morning," politely.  He continued
his zig-zag course up the path.  When he reached my steps, he took
off his broad-brimmed black Stetson with a flourish, swept it
across his breast, and bowed almost to the ground.

"I am Marsh Turner, callin'," he said.

"Your stock," I began.

He held up one hand to stop me.

"I been told," he said, "I been told my stock has been a-botherin'
of you.  The next time them cattle and them hogs comes over here a-
botherin' of you--" he bowed deeply and unsteadily again--"them's
your cattle."  He put one hand on his heart.  "Them's your hogs."

He turned with dignity and swayed down the path, out of the gate,
closing it carefully behind him as a countryman should do, and
managed to mount the bay.  I never saw him again.

I was distressed when his gentility, however violent, was removed
from our terrain.  He gave an air to the Creek that is gone with
him.  None of us is so dramatic, so picturesque, or drinks with
such originality.  I do not know the truth about Mister Marsh
Turner's death.  I have heard several versions.  The one I choose
to believe may be apocryphal.  It is certainly, though spectacular,
the most plausible.  Mister Marsh Turner had tried the sheriff's
patience for a long time.  As the story goes, on the previous
Saturday Marsh had taken his hurling proclivities when inebriated
into the house of a total stranger.  When he finished throwing
things, he shot holes through the north wall of the house.  No
householder relishes the idea of a tall, dark, handsome, drunken
intruder's stalking into his home and pitching the furniture out of
the window.  A shot-up wall is of course insult added to injury.
He could not be expected to know that the stranger's habit was to
make full restitution.  A warrant for Mister Marsh Turner's arrest
was, to say the least, in order.

The sheriff went to the Turner homestead to serve it.  He found
Marsh leaning against the doorway, oiling his shotgun.  Marsh
turned with no surprise.  The gun was at an ominous angle in his

The sheriff called, "Put down that gun."

Marsh took a step toward him and said quietly, "Sheriff, this here
gun is for you."

The sheriff shot and Marsh fell and it was the end of glamor at
Cross Creek.  If the tale be true, I am the only person who knows
that when Marsh spoke, it was without menace.  He was offering the
sheriff the offending gun exactly as he had once offered me his
trespassing hogs and cattle.

14.  Toady-frogs, lizards, antses, and varmints

I do not profess to know all there is to know about frogs, lizards,
ants and varmints.  I have learned enough, however, in years of
enforced intimacy, to turn them from aliens into friends, or at
least into bowing acquaintances.  I should have been prepared to
like frogs.  One who has heard a northern spring come in on that
silver chorus should make decent obeisance to the singers and all
their related family.  The frog Philharmonic of the Florida lakes
and marshes is unendurable in its sweetness.  I have lain through a
long moonlit night, with the scent of orange blossoms palpable as
spilled perfume on the air, and listened to the murmur of minor
chords until, just as I have wept over the Brahms waltz in A flat
on a master's violin, I thought my heart would break with the
beauty of it.  If there is not a finished tune, there are phrases,
and there is assuredly a motif, articulated, reiterated.  I
searched long in my mental attic before I remembered where I had
heard the sound before.  It is the high thin jangle of Chinese
music, overlaid with the pattern of glass wind-chimes, such as
Alvah had given me for Christmas.

If frogs an inch long have never been carved in apple-green jade,
they should be.  Nothing else could repeat the jewel-like
perfection of this diminutive species.  Their eyes are tiny
moonstones.  I am sure of this, for I just stepped off the veranda
and turned back a spider-lily leaf to look at one and make certain.
They are also as soft and smooth as satin.  I know this, too, for
the variety is the one that clings to the wetness of the shower-
bath pipe and drops on my skin.

They appear in June, full-fledged, and do not seem to change their
size all summer.  Martha calls them the rain-frogs.  They are inch-
long, animated pieces of pale green enamel.  Self-conscious jewels,
they seem to choose their setting.  I find them until the first
frost on the pleasanter side of a lily leaf.  Spider lily leaves
are preferred, being roomier, but a large Amaryllis will do.  At
night, or when the sun is not too fierce, they lie in the inner
trough of the thick spiked leaves.  When the sun is high, or when
the rain comes down tempestuously, they cling with tiny cream-jade
vacuumed feet to the under side of a leaf.  They roll their
moonstone eyes.  They quiver slightly if their perch is shaken.
They move only when actually dispossessed, taking off in a long
leap that is almost a flight.

They are a celestial breed of frogs and in season are found in
apartments suitable to reincarnated Chinese emperors--large yellow
allamanda blossoms.  The flowers are trumpet-shaped, two inches
deep.  The chosen few among the frogs lie all day in these deep
golden caves, contemptuous of a less luxurious world.  I have no
doubt that prevailing winds blow in their breakfasts and their teas
of insects.  There is an uncanny resemblance between the frogs and
the buds of the allamanda.  Until they open, the buds are precisely
the size and shape of the frogs.  Until well along into yellow
prematurity, they are even the same shade of green.  They have the
same snub nose, the same little bulges of two eyes.  It is easy to
imagine that the more royal frogs are born in the allamanda
blossoms, giving the buds their shape.  It seems as though there
must be a mystic affinity between the flower and its inhabitant.
If I were a theosophist, I should certainly revere the tiny frogs
as the living shape of Chinese aristocrats, who, even in an
enforced humility of form, maintain an archaic arrogance.  It would
surely, I decided, be lse majest to scream at one in the shower

The Widow Slater, however, always screamed at them.

"I'm as skeert of a toady-frog as of a snake," she said.  "I don't
want a thing to do with anything can swaller fire and shot."

Some connotation from Elizabethan witch days still clings in these
Anglo-saxon parts to a frog or toad.  "Eye of newt and toe of frog"
in the litany of Macbeth's witches has its counterpart here.  It is
not the only trace of Old English in the Florida interior, for the
backwoods people come of a line that stems back to Chaucer.  The
fire-swallowing of the Widow Slater's complaint I cannot vouch for,
but I have it on reliable authority that a toad will swallow
buckshot until he can hold no more.  The legend is old in American
folklore, for Mark Twain used it in his famous story, "The Jumping
Frog of Calaveras County."  Fred Tompkins and my friend Moe
testified to holding a toad hypnotized with a light and slowly
rolling the small lead pellets toward him on the ground.  He
scooped them in solemnly, they said, until his paunch protruded
like an alderman's.  When released from the spell of the light, he
hopped an inch at a time with the heavy thud of a coin-filled
purse.  Whether a toad believes the balls of lead to be some new
delicacy, or whether his appetite is an indication of his ancient
witchery, I cannot say.  I can only hope that the experimenters
were humane enough to do as in Twain's story, and turn the
surfeited creature upside down until he was relieved of his
indigestible burden.

Although the Negro and the backwoodsman call the toad a hoppy-toad
and the frog a toady-frog, they make the common distinction between
a frog and a toad.

The large edible frogs of lake and marsh have been a boon to the
otherwise unemployed of Creek and village.

My profane friend Zelma, the census taker, said, "The b--s killed
the egrets for their plumage until the egrets gave out.  They
killed alligators for their hides until the alligators gave out.
If the frogs ever give out, the sons of b--s will starve to death."

The frogs show no signs of giving out, for even the improvident and
needy do not take the small ones, so that there is always a new
crop coming on.  When you order frog-legs in a Northern restaurant
or hotel, there is a good chance that you are served frog-legs from
Orange Lake and the Creek marshes.  The hunters are paid a high
price for them, for the Boyt brothers of Citra get seventy cents a
pound wholesale, as middlemen, and I must pay fifty cents for the
dressed legs.  On a dark night, Orange Lake seems to be dotted with
will-o'-the-wisps, and these are the lights of the frog hunters.

Fred Tompkins took me frog hunting one shadowy night up the winding
channels of the Creek.  Later in our friendship, I should have
known that he was up to mischief.  Fred is Puck incarnate, in spite
of being a Spanish war veteran, a deputy sheriff, and the constable
at Citra.  He paddled our boat Indian-soft along the reed-filled
shore, in and out of coves choked with coontail and water lilies.
I lay in the bow, according to his instructions, playing a
flashlight on the lily pads.  Sometimes the bright eyes of water
spiders caught the light and deceived me.  When the light picked
out the hypnotized eyes of a frog, they gleamed like two drops of
dew.  Fred paddled close.

"Now just reach out and get him," he said.

I reached out a cautious hand.  At the moment of what seemed
certain capture, the frog straightened out his legs like a jack-
knife unfolding and was gone.  We repeated this aggravating
procedure for two hours.

At last, I said, "You just can't catch them this way."

Fred said, "Me and the Boyts gets 'em."

I turned and flashed the light in his face.  His eyes were two
brown pools of laughter.

"There's something you aren't telling me," I said.

He slapped his knee and could hold his delight no longer.

"Didn't I tell you 'twas the light holds 'em?  What happens to the
light when you reach for 'em?"

"Let me try again."

What happened to the light was that when I reached for the frog, my
hand threw a shadow and the spell was broken.  By reaching slowly
to the side and then behind the frog, capture was as simple as
though the frog were asleep.

I said, a little irritated, "Now we'd have had lots of frogs, if
you'd told me.  This was foolish."

"Well," he said, and chuckled, "no fool, no fun."

Now that my lesson was learned, the moon had rolled day-bright from
behind the clouds, silvering the water and the shaggy-headed palms
on the horizon, and the flashlight was useless in the brilliance.
We came home with two frogs.  Skinning them was embarrassing.
Peeling back the green glovelike skin from the white flesh of the
legs is like pulling off a small boy's breeches.  When they came to
table, they affected me as alligator steak does Fred, but for
another reason.

"The longer you chaw," he says, "the bigger it gets."

For when I thought of the frog chorus, and wondered if I had ever
listened to these two particular voices, I felt as though I had
just had a hearty meal on Kirsten Flagstad and Nino Martini.

I find lizards altogether ingratiating.  The red-runner lizards are
the least attractive, in spite of their shining red and brown and
orange, for they are the most snakelike of the lizards.  They run
to body and tail, with very little visible leg.  They are shy, and
slither out of sight in a flash.  The Negroes and many of the
whites believe them to be poisonous, but this is rural fiction.

The small gray lizards have a catholic taste in dwelling places.
Every abandoned house is full of them; they live in the woods; they
live comfortably in your home with you, wondering what you are
doing there, but tolerant on the whole of your intrusion.  They are
the color of old cypress shingles, with bellies of rich cobalt
blue, and there is nothing more impudent unless it is a mocking
bird.  They are one of the few creatures who really look at a human
being, returning stare for stare.  They roll their many-faceted
eyes and cock their heads, and I do not think it is my imagination
that they feel complete contempt for the human race.  One sat so
long beside me on the veranda steps, looking me up and down with an
icy loathing, that I took a small stick and began to tap him
lightly on his tail.  He was at first more curious than annoyed, as
though this were a new puzzle in human behavior.  Suddenly he
whirled and bit stormily on the stick.  Then he flicked his tail
and sauntered a few feet away with his back to me.  He made it
plain that he could as easily have attacked my fingers, if he had
cared to bother.

The little chameleons are definitely friendly.  Yet they are
detached, like friends with their minds on other matters.  They are
partial to a warm bed that a human has slept in and expects to
sleep in again that night.  They have to be lifted from it by the
tail, which surprises you by breaking off in your fingers.  They
clamber slowly, gracefully, up and down screens.  They watch you
for hours with bright small eyes.  They enjoy being brought into
the house on a bunch of roses, to serve on the dining table for
ornament, shading obligingly from their favorite sage-green through
taupe to a pinkish mauve, according to their passage over leaf or
stem or blossom.

They have amazing acrobatic tricks in their repertoire.  I watched
one do a neat piece of tight-rope balancing on top of the wire
fence.  Their tiny pointed feet have a suction grip, but even so
the wire seemed something of a problem.  The chameleon reached a
fence post and lay there resting.  I wondered why he did not slide
down the post to the more navigable ground.  He knew what he wanted
and where he was going.  He may have noticed a cluster of
dragonflies or a swarm of midges in the adjacent orange tree, for
he gathered his three-inch length together like a horse before a
hedge and flung himself at least two feet out and up to the tip of
an orange bough.  The most ambitious chamelon I have ever seen was
swallowing a butterfly twice as wide as he himself was long, the
body almost as large as the swallower's.  When I first noticed him,
he had the butterfly's head in his mouth and the wings stuck out on
either side like vast and ferocious mustaches.  I stood and laughed
at him and he eyed me furiously, switching his tail.  I said,
"You'll never do it," and went on about my business.  An hour later
I passed by again and all the butterfly was down except for the
wing tips.  As I watched, he gulped and the job was done.

They live solitary and free-lance lives, meeting only to make love
or to fight.  I presume the fighting is among males in season.
Among some ferns at the foot of an orange tree I saw such a
commotion, such a shaking of fronds, that a miniature earthquake
might have been in progress.  Separating the ferns, I found two
chameleons locked in a death embrace.  By some wizardry, each had
the other by the throat and there they meant to stay.  When I
pulled them apart, they did not resume their battle, but turned
their joint fury on me.  No Deus ex machina of the human tribe they
had so often contemplated with curiosity and contempt was to be
allowed to interfere in a championship fight between chameleons.
When I took my last glimpse of them, they were glaring after me,
heaving up and down on their small stomachs, their throats inflated
into enormous rose-pink bubbles.  I think this inflation of the
throat must be emotional, for I see it when I know that one is
angry or amorous.  I could not guarantee that it is not also,
ignominiously, a digestive symptom, for I see it too when the
chameleon is lying quietly in a spider lily, and when I happen to
know that he has been there long enough, in the midst of abundant
insect food, already to have had his dinner.  Yet I feel such
confidence in the brittle intelligence of these tiny replicas of
dragons, that I have convinced myself that even then he is,
stormily, thinking.

Ants have played havoc with my belief that anything is interesting
when known.  Having come prepared to loathe crawling things and
stayed to admire them, I came full of copybook reverence for the
ant and remain filled with the desire to exterminate the last one.
In a still predatory world, good and evil are not fixed values, but
are relative.  "Good" is what helps us or at least does not hinder.
"Evil" is whatever harms us or interferes with us, according to our
own selfish standards.  The ant as a symbol of industry, of social
organization, of superb community instinct, has been extolled by
science as well as the Bible.  But for whom does the ant function
so industriously and so socially?  No one has troubled to point out
that it is for the ant.

In the tropics and the semi-tropics, the ant is a major pest.  When
in the spring the orange trees put out their new growth of tender
frail leaves, overnight those leaves may curl in on themselves into
a hard twisted mass incapable forever of taking in the nourishment
of sun and earth for the growth of tree and fruit.  Examination
shows the under side of the leaves a mass of small green aphis, or
plant lice, sucking the sustenance of the leaves and so of the
tree.  A few of these come in on the wind from other infected
areas, but most of them are moved there, fed, cultivated and
milked, by the ants.  The aphis is known as the ant's cow, and
school children are taught to be intrigued by the conception.  The
analogy is no more charming than if one's neighbor moved his herd
of cattle into one's garden.  In the same fashion, the ant brings
in and nourishes the cottony-cushion scale, which can turn a
thriving young grove in a few weeks into a Dali-esque nightmare of
brown sticks.  Agronomists have discovered of late years that the
cottony-cushion scale has its enemy, an imported Japanese variety
of ladybug, whose sole food is the scale.  Without this one food,
the Japanese lady-bug perishes, and all through one summer I traded
to the University's citrus department boughs covered with cottony-
cushion scale, in return for Japanese ladybugs.  The balance of
nature is a mysterious thing, and man must fight on one side or the
other with caution, or he will find that in his battle he has
exterminated some friendly element.  Old-timers in citrus growing
do not believe in much of the spraying for unfriendly parasites,
and some of the moderns are agreeing, for in destroying them, the
friendly parasites are also destroyed.

Ants in the garden are psychic.  They set up housekeeping in their
intricate nests with no apparent adjacent food supply.  Somehow
they know that the next day the owner of the garden will plant
lettuce seed.  Their larders are swept and waiting, and the night
after the lettuce seed bed has been watered down in the fatuous
hope of its sprouting, the ants move in en masse and carry it home.
Local custom scatters hominy grits around any freshly planted bed
of small seeds, but from its inefficacy, I think it must be
intended only as a propitiatory rite, for the ants first take away
the seeds, then return to make off with the grits.

Ants in the house seem to be, not intruders, but the owners.  Of
all things they seem the least aware of human beings.  Even a
cockroach will scuttle at sight of the mistress of the kitchen, but
a colony of ants goes ahead with its thievery under her eye and
fury.  Every other creature that comes to mind sees us with bright
eyes as man-things and enemies.  I have often wondered what
appearance we make to the ants that they so ignore us.  We must
loom up to them with the detachment of a storm cloud, and when
human hands take away the feast of the cake, or shake the busy
thieves from the cold biscuit, it must seem as though only a strong
wind had disrupted their activities.  This is not flattering and it
may be that my dislike is born of a deflated ego.  It is
disconcerting, too, to be outsmarted.  I lost a birthday cake
placed on a pan inside a basin of water sitting on a table whose
legs were bound with ant-proof "Hoodoo Tape," because I forgot, and
the ants did not, that a wire leading from the wall to an electric
fan on the table made the easiest of runways.

Oddly, for all their sweet tooth and their innocent love of aphis
milk and lettuce seed, ants are fiercely carnivorous.  It is meat
for which they would tear you limb from limb.  Eat your lamb chop
in the tropics while you may, for if you are gone from the room
long enough to identify a new butterfly, you will return to find
your plate already under fire.  The small red sugar ants are
omnipresent, but they distress me only mildly, perhaps because they
are so small.  I do not particularly mind a few floating in my
coffee.  When little black Ben protested the ants on his cold
cornpone, Martha overrode him.

"Chile, antses is fine fo' the stummick-ache," she said suavely.

He wanted plainly to insist that he had no stomach ache, but did
not, for experience had taught him that Martha would have an answer
for that, too.

One Saturday night I heard a Negro boy ask for a cinnamon bun in
Cap'n Howard's store.

"There you are, boy.  The last one."

The Negro was suspicious before the storekeeper's heartiness.

"Lemme look, boss.  Uh-huh.  Hit's got antses."

"What's the matter with you, nigger?  A few ants don't matter."

"No suh, boss, a few don't, but this bun am all antses."

Before I left another black boy made the mistake of handing over
his nickel without looking at the package.  Cap'n had the nickel
and he had the antses.  He walked slowly out of the store, picking
them out by the dozens with a sorrowful philosophy.

Philosophy of a sort is possible toward all the ants except the
black stinging ant.  He at least is enough aware of humans to fling
himself on their flesh if they step within a foot of his path.  He
jumps with an insane frenzy, doubling up his body in an effort to
sink his jaws to the bone.  His bite is liquid fire and the
infinitesimal speck of acid poison is so potent that it has been
estimated that if he were the size of a rattlesnake, he would kill
in a fraction of its time.  I do not know of what use even to
himself his venom may be, for as far as I know, he does not use it
to numb or kill and does not eat living tissue.  His function with
small dead things may correspond to that of the scavenging buzzard,
for a dead mouse or snake or bird is covered within a few minutes
by a black voracious swarm.

I include termites deliberately among the ants I have accepted
philosophically.  I have read lately that termites are not ants,
but a scientist might as well try to convince me that woodpeckers
are not birds.  I include termites in spite of the fact that I have
known for some time they were eating my house down, or up.  The
front living room seemed to sway one day when I leaned against it.
I sent for Moe, who began ripping out the old hand-hewn pine
boards.  When he had finished, one sound board was found to have
been holding the wall together.

"It's a hell of a wonder," he said, "the roof ain't fell in on

It was termites, of course, and the marvel was not that they were
there, but that they had not demolished the old farmhouse years
ago.  Its resistance, Moe said, came from having been built of
solid fat pine, whose resinous juices are distasteful to the
insects.  I am no great seeker of silver cloud linings, but I have
had few blessings in disguise greater than the devourers of my
front living room wall.  For when the room was laid bare to the
light, I realized that it had been a dark, almost unhappy room,
cozy only on cold winter evenings, when the open fire is all one
wants of comfort, and what goes on in the outside world is of no
importance.  Moe replaced the walls and two small windows with
French doors, all the way across the front of the room.  Now the
sunlight streams in across the veranda and gives the long shabby
room an elegance that comes from being one with the sky and clouds,
the orange trees and the palms, with the red birds like moving
flowers across the panes.  And when the winter's-night coziness is
wanted, the long linen curtains may be drawn, and the hearth fire
lighted, and the old snug closeness is still there.

A plausible youth with a tank on a truck once tried to persuade me
to let him "exterminate" my termites.  I needed no proof that they
were with me, but he burrowed under the house to make his point and
after frightening a setting hen from her nest near one chimney,
emerged with termites clustered in dozens on his shirt sleeves.
For a hundred and twenty dollars, he would guarantee that they
would make no further depredations for a period of three years.  I
was afraid that it might turn out like the boy with the cinnamon
bun, that he would have the hundred and twenty dollars and I would
still have the termites.  And forty dollars a year seemed a good
deal of money for any purely destructive activity.  I consulted

"Now the only way you can cold-out exterminate them knockers," he
said, "is to tear down the house and burn it.  And enough of 'em'll
be laying up waitin' to set right in on the new house.  Don't think
I ain't had an eye on them sills and joists.  I figger it'll take
them termite jessies about five years more to finish their meal.
Then I aim just to set in and put you in a new set o' floors and
underpinnin's.  And it ain't goin' to average you no forty dollars
a year."

"Starting with new good pine, how long should the job be good for?"

"Hit'll take a batch o' termites a good twenty years to eat out the
bottom of a house.  If it's fat pine, now."

"Well, I have an idea about twenty years may see me through.  We'll
gamble on the house and me holding out together."

My race with the termites against time has a sporting element.
Having lived long enough already to know that a world may turn
upside down in twenty years, I am leaving my termites to their
gnawing.  Who knows but that some insect enemy may appear to wipe
out their solid existence, while my own topsy-turvy world in that
period may stabilize?  At the moment, the odds are of course with
the termites.

"Martha," I asked, "just exactly what is a varmint?"

"Why, a wild-cat be's a varmint, Sugar," she said.  "Skunks be
varmints, an' 'coons an' foxes an' 'possums.  Minkses, too.  A
panther be's a varmint, an' a bear.  All them wild things, Sugar,
out in the woods.  Tigers be varmints, an' lions.  A lion," she
said earnestly, "he'll kill you right now.  We ain't got tigers an'
lions, praise God, but did we have, they'd be varmints."

She pondered.

"But a cow, now, Sugar, hit ain't a varmint.  Nor a hog.  Them's

She chuckled.

"Heap o' folkses be varmints," she said.

A varmint then, is any one of the wild things in the woods either
definitely predatory or of no domestic service.  A human varmint is
one who possesses skulking qualities and may be expected to be "low
down."  We use the epithets "bastard" and "son of a bitch" freely
in these parts, and the former in particular is not a fighting
term, but may even be used with a certain amount of affection.  It
is objectionable only when it is literally true, and then, of
course, one would never use it.  When I stayed in the Big Scrub
with Leonard and his mother, he complained about unfriendly
activities of his cousin.  He referred to him as to many others as
"that bastard."  To my surprise, his mother, accustomed if never
reconciled to his language, took violent issue.

"Now you're throwin' off on my sister," she said.  "She's a good
woman.  Don't you go callin' her boy a bastard."

Leonard grinned amiably.

"All right then," he said, "call him the pimp."

She was satisfied.

"That's a whole heap better," she said.  "The pimp."

In deference to her feelings, her nephew was thenceforward "the

But when we call any one a varmint, we mean it.

Of "all them wild things out in the woods," the panther remains the
only one in Florida still gilded with the bright legend of fear.
To hear a panther scream is to add a new horror to the catalogue of
evil.  I have heard the sound twice, once above the Ocklawaha River
and once in the wilds of Gulf Hammock near the Suwannee River.  It
is the shriek of a vampire woman, an insane shrill tremolo, half
laughter and half moan.  Any two or three generation backwoodsman
can tell of a child pounced on at the edge of a clearing; of wagons
followed; of the sight of a lithe body like a tawny ghost, with its
head in the gallberry bushes on one side of the road and its tail
in the myrtle on the other.  Soon after the last panther in the Big
Scrub disappeared, the one I had heard, Fred Tompkins thought he
had run afoul of its ghost.

"I'd put Raymond Boyt out of the boat at Eureka," he said, "and was
paddling up to Orange Springs to the camp.  Night overtakened me
and I begun to feel a mite creepified.  You know how black it gets
on the Ocklawaha, the way them banks lifts up, and the trees thick
and the water dark.  Direckly I catches sight of a pair of eyes
half-ways up the left bank.  They was wide apart and I knowed
whatever was behind 'em had considerable size to it.  Thinks I,
could be that's a deer, come down to water.  Now you know the law
says you can't fire-hunt deer at night, and I says to myself, 'Was
I to bop one to them eyes, will the law call it fire-hunting?'
Then I decides 'tain't a deer, for the eyes is too redlike.  A
deer's eyes shines green, like a dog's.  The current was carrying
me close, and thinks I, now whatever 'tis, 'tain't a-going to set
there quiet and me passing it.  I ain't aiming to have nothing
dropping down on my shoulders in a plumb dark night on the
Ocklawaha River.  So I lifts my gun and I bams at the eyes.  You
know I usually hit what I aims at.  Well, them eyes don't blink no
more nor quit looking at me.  I fires again, Bam! and the eyes is
still there.  I shoves in a fresh shell and I shoots one more time.
Them eyes goes right on looking at me.

"Fred, I says to myself, that ain't natural.  You get out of here
right now.  You know I ain't superstitious, but when a pair of eyes
I'd done shot at three times was yet there, I figured something was
wrong.  It come to me about that panther had disappeared from along
the river.  Fred, I says to myself, do you reckon you've done been
shooting at that panther's damn ghost?  You got to make allowance
for the black night, and the creepified feeling a river'll give you
in the dark.  I sold out.  I didn't say nothing to the men at camp
when I got there.  Next morning my spirits had done rose, and I
says to myself, Fred, you ain't going to take a licking from no
damn pair of eyes you shoot at and they don't shut.  So I paddles
back up the river to the place I figured was about right.  I goes
up a ways and drifts back down.  And you know what?  I'd done shot
a wild-cat in a scrub oak tree, and it was laying in a crotch of
the tree, and when I hit him, he had no place to go but to lay
right there in the crotch, and them eyes was as dead as my great
granddaddy, but they'd gone right on looking at me.  Now you know
I'm plumb proud I went back and found that thing, or I'd of figured
all the rest of my life there was a damn panther's ghost on the
Ocklawaha River."

The panthers now in Florida are a few in Gulf Hammock and a number
still in the Everglades.  Somehow the fiction had built up that
there were none in the state.  A few years ago, hunters from
Arizona brought their pack of dogs to the Everglades to hunt
panther.  Outsiders laughed at the idea.  Panthers were taken in
plenty and still prowl the 'Glades, killing deer and cattle.  No
one knows what became of the last one in the Big Scrub.  I was
startled to find "tygers" listed among Florida's wild animals in
the Travels of William Bartram, but a footnote explained that while
these were called panthers in Pennsylvania, the Carolina and
Florida natives called them tygers.  The name has disappeared in
the hundred and fifty years since Bartram's chronicle, and even the
old-timers call them only "painters" or "panter-cats."

The panther's half-cousin, the wild-cat, seems only a cross,
naughty boy.  Although wild-cats were hunted with hounds at Cross
Creek thirty years ago, and although the snarling cry kept me awake
the first night I slept here at the grove, and a large one has been
haunting my duck-pen of late, I am not personally acquainted with
the animal.  I should like to be, and should not be afraid, for it
is I who would be the object of terror.  A wildcat is more bashful
than a squirrel.  He spits like any self-conscious cat, not sure of
the world's intentions.  He is probably never more than three feet
from nose to tail.  I missed close acquaintance with a whole wild-
cat family one gray dawn in the heart of the scrub.  In the dew-
moist sand road were the tracks of a mother wild-cat and her
kittens.  They had seen or scented us and had turned off into the
dense undergrowth of gallberry and scrub oak.  The treads were so
fresh that the sand was crumbling into the depressions made by the
paws.  Leonard and I paid our respects to maternal feeling and did
not follow.  The mother's track was perhaps four inches in
diameter.  Those of the kittens were the size of ordinary house

The smaller varmints may all be identified by their tracks.  The
long pointed hand of the 'coon, the dainty, birdlike mark of the
skunk, are unmistakable.  All these smaller creatures are
delightful on close acquaintance, and the young of any of them may
be made a fine pet.  An old colored man at Micanopy guarantees to
make a household joy of any skunk.  His price is a dollar and a

"I only gits me a dollar profit," he explains, "count o' havin' to
spend fifty cents for Hoyt's Cologne 'fore my old woman'll leave me
come in the house again.  To say nothin' o' havin' to wash all
over.  To say nothin' o' my feelin's."

In the light of one's feelings, a dollar profit for removing a
skunk's musk-sack seems little enough.

My own closest association with a skunk embarrassed me because of
the picture it gave me of my Negroes' conception of my psychology
and habits.  My friend Dessie was spending the night at the grove.
Early in the morning I heard a commotion in the chicken coop where
two fryers were penned for fattening.  I called Dessie and she came
from her room with her revolver.  We went together to the coop.

She said, "That's a skunk in there."

I said, "But I don't smell anything."

"You don't always smell a skunk."

I said, "I'll bet you a dinner that it's not a skunk."

I held a flashlight while she peered into the coop.  Her revolver
barked and barked again.  An unmistakable odor sailed suffocatingly
from the coop.

I said, "You win," and we laughed noisily.

The next morning I said to black Raymond, "You weren't much help
last night.  You must have heard the commotion.  Why didn't you
show up?"

"I heered the ruckus all right," he said.  "But I heered you
shootin' and I heered you laughin' and I figgered you was just

Some years ago I met a tame raccoon for the first time.  It
belonged across the Creek to Mrs. Guthrie's small boy.  I was
enchanted by her account of its friendship with the family watch
dog, a dog who is the only one of my experience to bite me.  It had
never occurred to me to be afraid of a dog.  I thought I knew the
secret of handling vicious dogs, which is to walk calmly and
steadily toward them, calling, "Come here, boy."  This might have
worked with the Guthrie dog if I had known that he was dangerous.
I walked into their yard one day when no one was at home, in search
of permission to hunt across their fields.  The dog walked quietly
behind me and as I crossed what to him was the boundary line
permitted to intruders, he as quietly sunk his teeth in the calf of
my leg.  I had on heavy boots, but I carried the bruise and
soreness for weeks.  News that this dog was friendly with the boy's
raccoon seemed to me spectacular.

I have unearthed the notes that I made at the time.  They are
lyrical and useless.  I could not foresee that I should have a pet
'coon of my own at a later day and that he would make a farce of
them.  They may possibly apply to the average pet 'coon, but they
most assuredly do not apply to Racket.  I have a strong suspicion
that he was an individualist.

Note: A young pet raccoon needs far less discipline in the matter
of housebreaking than the most aristocratic puppy.

Correction: Racket refused outright to be housebroken.  He knew
what he was doing and he did it on purpose.  He waited for women in
their best dresses.  He did not like women, anyway.  He tricked
them.  He climbed amiably on the shoulder of the wife of a
university president, in gray lace.  She said, "He likes me!  Isn't
he cunning!"  Then--.  He KNEW what he was doing.

Note: A 'coon is as clean as most human beings.  It washes its dear
little hands and face with a frequency that Mrs. Guthrie urges her
small boy to emulate.  Any food except a plate directly from the
table, the admirable creature washes carefully before eating.

Correction: Racket didn't wash anything.  He liked dirt.

Note: When punished, it cries pitifully, like a child.

Correction: When punished, Racket bit pieces out of you.

Note: It snuggles confidently and touchingly in human laps and on
human shoulders.

Correction: Yes, but see correction above for ulterior motive.

Note: The entente cordiale between a pet 'coon and the family dog
speaks movingly for the strength of environment as against the pull
of heredity.  There are unplumbed depths of possible relations
between man and beast, and beast and beast.

Correction: Racket did everything possible to make a tramp of my
young pointer, Pat.  He played with him, indeed, but so strenuously
that the dog came whimpering to me to be gotten out of the clutches
of an indefatigable small ball of gray fur who gnawed all day on
his legs and tail.  Racket seduced Pat into going into the marsh
with him beyond the grove.  They would disappear in the morning,
and toward dusk the dog would come limping home, utterly exhausted
and covered with marsh mud.  Racket would come home the next day,
as fresh as a daisy, and having been in the open for thirty-six
hours, would make for the top of the bookshelves for his own
purposes.  He would then head for the kitchen if not caught at it,
swing himself up to the table where an extra pan of milk usually
sat, and would climb into the pan for a bath.  Trailing milk all
through the house, he would find the cringing dog and begin to

Note: A 'coon has a most ingratiating curiosity.

Correction: Racket was curious but not ingratiating.  He learned to
open screen doors from either side.  There are eight screen doors
in the farmhouse and it was impossible to keep all eight locked all
the time.  Life wasn't worth living if you had to go around locking
screen doors.  Racket preferred to pull one open and come in when
you were not looking.  It was no fun to come in under your eye and
be stopped from whatever he had thought up to do.  I was having
dinner on the veranda.  My new silk-lined coat was on the chair,
for the spring evening was cool.  Some one called me from the rear
and I left the veranda.  When I returned, my dinner was gone.  It
was liver and bacon and French fried potatoes.  Racket had slipped
in through the front screen door.  I didn't so much mind the
dinner, but he had taken it from the serving platter and moved it
to the silk lining of my new coat to eat it--liver and bacon and
French fried potatoes.

He could open all the ice-box doors.  One day the colored iceman
let out unholy shrieks.  He had not noticed that the door of the
ice compartment was ajar.  He swung it open, and there sat Racket
on top of the cake of ice, eating raw breakfast bacon.

Note: A pet 'coon has a deep capacity for personal devotion.  The
Guthrie 'coon sleeps with the boy, his little iron-gray body under
the covers, his strange black-masked face on the pillow beside the
child's, like a changeling brother.

Correction: Racket was only devoted to Racket.  He had no desire to
sleep with me, but if I left one of my bedroom screen doors
unlatched, he liked to slip in about midnight, nip my ear with
teeth like hypodermic needles, and slip out again.

Note: A 'coon learns early to eat everything the family eats.  He
soon takes to canned salmon, cooked fish and scrambled eggs.

Correction: Racket was half grown before he would touch anything
but rich warm milk.  How so ferocious an infant clung so long to
the bottle, I do not know, unless he knew that it made the most
trouble.  He was brought to me as a baby.  A colored boy brought me
two in a cracker box, and remembering that Uncle Barney Dillard had
told me that of twin young of many animals, one would have a mean
eye and one a kind eye, I picked.  My mistake--I picked Racket.  I
fed him from a baby's nursing bottle and in a few days he had
learned to lie on his back and balance it on his stomach with his
hind paws, gripping the top with his forepaws.  In a week, he had
learned, when done with the milk, to chew the rubber nipple to
bits.  It took more nipples to raise him than to raise the Dionnes.
When offered canned salmon, cooked fish and scrambled eggs, he
growled menacingly and I hurried to replace his so-called natural
foods with milk.  If insufficiently warm or with too low a
percentage of cream, he took a chunk out of my hand.

He weaned himself in a way possible only to Racket.  I have a
friend who is addicted to my Alexander cocktails, for my thick
Jersey cream blends smoothly with the gin and crme de cacao to
make a perfect Alexander.  I made a shaker of them one afternoon
and we sat on the veranda with new-filled glasses in our hands.
Racket came swinging in, jumped into my lap and reached up his
small human hands to see what was in my glass.  He growled when I
tried to lift it out of his reach.  Most animals are Puritans about
liquor and turn away their heads in disgust at the smell of it.  I
not only wanted to avoid being bitten, but I was certain that
Racket too would be content to jump down like a good boy when he
scented the gin.  I put the cocktail to his pointed nose.  He
clutched the stem and drank the whole cocktail and licked the
glass.  It was over in a moment.  W. C. Fields never tossed down a
drink with greater speed or gusto.

In a few minutes, Racket was paying the piper.  Not that he minded,
for he held his liquor, but his eyes crossed and his legs would not
support him.  He wabbled about, as cross-eyed as an owl, and
disappeared.  I saw no more of him and was busy the rest of the
afternoon seeing to preparations for dinner, for guests were
coming.  When they arrived, I led the women into my bedroom to take
off their hats.  Racket was on my pillow, sleeping it off.  I was
grateful, for it would keep him out of the way while we dined on
the veranda.  Half-way through dinner I heard a pattering of little
feet and Racket came swaggering out.  He hunched his shoulders like
a prizefighter.  All his bearing was that of a bully who has come
into his own.  He was cold sober and pleased with himself.  He
swung under the table.  I suppose he nipped a female ankle, for one
of the women let out a shriek and tossed a pair of frog-legs to the

I said nervously, in the manner of one trying to pretend that all
is well, "Oh, he won't touch it.  He won't take anything but milk."

Racket pounced on the frog-legs with a snarl and ate them bones and
all.  He ate six pairs.  He never touched milk again.  He was a
man.  A fellow who could down two ounces of gin could do anything.

I gave him up gladly.  There was no use in turning him loose in the
woods, for I think he would have come home to nip me at midnight
from ten miles away.  A farmer once reported seeing him, swaggering
in his small leather collar, five miles from home.  I took him to
Ross Allen's zoo, thirty miles away, to be penned.  A year later he
led a jail break.  He worked at the latch of the cage until he
opened it.  He took five other 'coons with him to freedom.

A year ago Little Will heard a commotion late at night on the steps
of the tenant house.  He opened the door and flashed a light.  An
enormous 'coon was digging in a box of rubbish.  He growled and
jumped at the man, then turned coolly on his heel and sauntered
away into the darkness.  Something tells me it was Racket.

15.  The ancient enmity

"And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done
this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of
the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat
all the days of thy life:

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy
seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise
his heel."

Genesis 3:14-15

Fear of the serpent is inherent in most animals.  A placid mare has
bolted under me like any wild filly at sight of a coiled moccasin
by the road.  I have seen my cat jump with arched back like a
witch's cat, at the unexpected movement of a garter snake.  All
hunters have seen their bird dogs tumble backward to avoid a snake.
If avoidance is impossible, the dog comes to an unforgettable
point, obviously not on birds, a point that is one long tense
quiver of distress.

I believe that, contrary to Biblical implications, fear of snakes
is not inherent in human beings, but is planted at an age so early
that memory draws no line for its beginnings.  Fear is the most
easily taught of all lessons, and the fight against terror, real or
imagined, is perhaps the history of man's mind.  The average man or
woman says, and believes it, "I have an instinctive horror of
snakes."  Yet babies and small children, who might be instinctively
terrified at sight of a large animal such as a cow or dog, show no
fear of snakes, but reach out their hands to them, and have even
been known to handle venomous snakes without harm.

I came to Cross Creek with such a phobia against snakes that a
picture of one in the dictionary gave me what Martha calls "the all-
overs."  I had the common misconception that in Florida they were
omnipresent.  I thought, "If anything defeats me, sends me back to
urban civilization, it will be the snakes."  They were not
ubiquitous as I expected, but I saw one often enough to keep my
anxiety alive.  A black snake actually ran at me, and a chicken
snake thrust his face into mine from a pantry shelf.  These were
harmless, I knew, but none the less revolting.  I took my first
faltering steps of progress through sheer shame.  In a section
where the country women possess great physical fearlessness, I felt
feeble-minded to find myself screaming at sight of a king snake
that asked nothing more than a chance to destroy the rats that
infested the old barn.  I forced myself to stand still when I saw a
snake in the weeds of the neglected house yard, at least long
enough to determine its non-venomous nature.  The only poisonous
reptiles in Florida, I knew, were the rattlesnake and the
cottonmouth moccasin, which I had already seen with horror, and the
coral snake, which I did not know.

My determination to use common sense might have been my undoing.
One late winter day in my first year I discovered under the palm
tree by the gate a small pile of Amaryllis bulbs.  The yard was
desperate for flowers and greenery and I began separating the bulbs
to set out for spring blooming.  I dug with my fingers under the
pile and brought out in my hand not a snake, surely, but a ten-inch
long piece of Chinese lacquer.  The slim inert reptile was an
exquisite series of shining bands of yellow and black and
vermilion, with a tiny black nose.  I thought, "Here is a snake, in
my hands, and it is as beautiful as a necklace.  This is the moment
in which to forget all nonsense."  I let it slide back and forth
through my fingers.  Its texture was like satin.  I played with it
a long time, then killed it reluctantly with a stick, not for fear
or hate, but because I decided to cure the skin for an ornament on
the handle of a riding crop.  I salted the hide and tacked it to a
sunny wall.  I showed it proudly to my friend Ed Hopkins, who was
teaching me the Florida flora and fauna.

He said, "God takes care of fools and children."

The snake was the deadly coral snake.  Its venom is of the cobra
type, killing within a few minutes by a paralyzing of the nerves.
The old terror was back again, and it seemed to me that I should
never now be able to pass beyond it.  I had no fear of death as
death, but the medium was another matter, and one is certainly
entitled to one's prejudices in so personal a matter.  I found that
I had still the blind, unthinking, "instinctive" horror of coming
on a poisonous serpent.  Nothing could warm the frozen column that
replaced my spine at the thought of finding myself face to face
with a Florida diamond-back rattler.  In a varied life I had
discarded one physical fear after another, finding them harmless
when confronted.  I said, "I am only afraid of the intangibles."
Yet even such intangibles as poverty and loneliness might be,
simply, accepted, and so disarmed.  I discovered that for me
rattlesnakes represented the last outpost of physical fear.

I discovered this when Ross Allen, a young Florida herpetologist,
invited me to join him on a hunt in the upper Everglades--for
rattlesnakes.  At the moment I was passing through one of those
periods of emotional distress that all of us experience, when some
personal catastrophe has tumbled our house of cards about our ears.
My small world had crumbled.  I should have said offhand that there
was nothing left to frighten me.  Instantly I realized that I was
numb all over at the thought of going out of my way to encounter

I am something of a fatalist, in that I believe in a fatalism that
stems from one's own adjustment, or lack of it, to circumstance.
The Chinese call this "luck character," and it is the same thing.
This rather out of the way invitation had been laid on my doorstep
like an unwanted foundling.  There was no better time to see the
thing through; to go down in defeat and hysteria before my fear;
or, by facing it, to rip away the veil of panic that stood,
perhaps, between me and the facts.  I got out of bed, where my
mental agony was causing physical symptoms, and packed my bag.

Ross and I drove to Arcadia in his coup on a warm January day.

I said, "How will you bring back the rattlesnakes?"

"In the back of my car."

My courage was not adequate to inquire whether they were thrown in
loose and might be expected to appear between our feet.  Actually,
a large portable box of heavy close-meshed wire made a safe cage.
Ross wanted me to write an article about his work and on our way to
the unhappy hunting grounds I took notes on a mass of data that he
had accumulated in years of herpetological research.  The
scientific and dispassionate detachment of the material and the man
made a desirable approach to rattlesnake territory.  As I had
discovered with the insects and varmints, it is difficult to be
afraid of anything about which enough is known, and Ross' facts
were fresh from the laboratory.

The hunting ground was Big Prairie, south of Arcadia and west of
the northern tip of Lake Okeechobee.  Big Prairie is a desolate
cattle country, half marsh, half pasture, with islands of palm
trees and cypress and oaks.  At that time of year the cattlemen and
Indians were burning the country, on the theory that the young
fresh wire grass that springs up from the roots after a fire is the
best cattle forage.  Ross planned to hunt his rattlers in the
forefront of the fires.  They lived in winter, he said, in gopher
holes, coming out in the midday warmth to forage, and would move
ahead of the flames and be easily taken.  We joined forces with a
big Cracker named Will, his snake-hunting companion of the
territory, and set out in early morning, after a long rough drive
over deep-rutted roads into the open wilds.

I hope never in my life to be so frightened as I was in those first
few hours.  I kept on Ross' footsteps, I moved when he moved,
sometimes jolting into him when I thought he might leave me behind.
He does not use the forked stick of conventional snake hunting, but
a steel prong, shaped like an L, at the end of a long stout stick.
He hunted casually, calling my attention to the varying vegetation,
to hawks overhead, to a pair of the rare whooping cranes that
flapped over us.  In mid-morning he stopped short, dropped his
stick, and brought up a five-foot rattlesnake draped limply over
the steel L.  It seemed to me that I should drop in my tracks.

"They're not active at this season," he said quietly.  "A snake
takes on the temperature of its surroundings.  They can't stand too
much heat for that reason, and when the weather is cool, as now,
they're sluggish."

The sun was bright overhead, the sky a translucent blue, and it
seemed to me that it was warm enough for any snake to do as it
willed.  The sweat poured down my back.  Ross dropped the rattler
in a crocus sack and Will carried it.  By noon, he had caught four.
I felt faint and ill.  We stopped by a pond and went swimming.  The
region was flat, the horizon limitless, and as I came out of the
cool blue water I expected to find myself surrounded by a ring of
rattlers.  There were only Ross and Will, opening the lunch basket.
I could not eat.  Ross never touches liquor and it seemed to me
that I would give my hope of salvation for a dram of whiskey.  Will
went back and drove his truck closer, for Ross expected the hunting
to be better in the afternoon.  The hunting was much better.  When
we went back to the truck to deposit two more rattlers in the wire
cage, there was a rattlesnake lying under the truck.

Ross said, "Whenever I leave my car or truck with snakes already in
it, other rattlers always appear.  I don't know whether this is
because they scent or sense the presence of other snakes, or
whether in this arid area they come to the car for shade in the
heat of the day."

The problem was scientific, but I had no interest.

That night Ross and Will and I camped out in the vast spaces of the
Everglades prairies.  We got water from an abandoned well and
cooked supper under buttonwood bushes by a flowing stream.  The
camp fire blazed cheerfully under the stars and a new moon lifted
in the sky.  Will told tall tales of the cattlemen and the Indians
and we were at peace.

Ross said, "We couldn't have a better night for catching water

After the rattlers, water snakes seemed innocuous enough.  We
worked along the edge of the stream and here Ross did not use his L-
shaped steel.  He reached under rocks and along the edge of the
water and brought out harmless reptiles with his hands.  I had said
nothing to him of my fears, but he understood them.  He brought a
small dark snake from under a willow root.

"Wouldn't you like to hold it?" he asked.  "People think snakes are
cold and clammy, but they aren't.  Take it in your hands.  You'll
see that it is warm."

Again, because I was ashamed, I took the snake in my hands.

It was not cold, it was not clammy, and it lay trustingly in my
hands, a thing that lived and breathed and had mortality like the
rest of us.  I felt an upsurgence of spirit.

The next day was magnificent.  The air was crystal, the sky was
aquamarine, and the far horizon of palms and oaks lay against the
sky.  I felt a new boldness and followed Ross bravely.  He was
making the rounds of the gopher holes.  The rattlers came out in
the mid-morning warmth and were never far away.  He could tell by
their trails whether one had come out or was still in the hole.
Sometimes the two men dug the snake out.  At times it was down so
long and winding a tunnel that the digging was hopeless.  Then they
blocked the entrance and went on to other holes.  In an hour or so
they made the original rounds, unblocking the holes.  The rattler
in every case came out hurriedly, as though anything were
preferable to being shut in.  All the time Ross talked to me,
telling me the scientific facts he had discovered about the habits
of the rattlers.

"They pay no attention to a man standing perfectly still," he said,
and proved it by letting Will unblock a hole while he stood at the
entrance as the snake came out.  It was exciting to watch the snake
crawl slowly beside and past the man's legs.  When it was at a safe
distance he walked within its range of vision, which he had proved
to be no higher than a man's knee, and the snake whirled and drew
back in an attitude of fighting defense.  The rattler strikes only
for paralyzing and killing its food, and for defense.

"It is a slow and heavy snake," Ross said.  "It lies in wait on a
small game trail and strikes the rat or rabbit passing by.  It
waits a few minutes, then follows along the trail, coming to the
small animal, now dead or dying.  It noses it from all sides,
making sure that it is its own kill, and that it is dead and ready
for swallowing."

A rattler will lie quietly without revealing himself if a man
passes by and it thinks it is not seen.  It slips away without
fighting if given the chance.  Only Ross' sharp eyes sometimes
picked out the gray and yellow diamond pattern, camouflaged among
the grasses.  In the cool of the morning, chilled by the January
air, the snakes showed no fight.  They could be looped up limply
over the steel L and dropped in a sack or up into the wire cage on
the back of Will's truck.  As the sun mounted in the sky and warmed
the moist Everglades earth, the snakes were warmed too, and Ross
warned that it was time to go more cautiously.  Yet having learned
that it was we who were the aggressors; that immobility meant
complete safety; that the snakes, for all their lightning flash in
striking, were inaccurate in their aim, with limited vision; having
watched again and again the liquid grace of movement, the beauty of
pattern, suddenly I understood that I was drinking in freely the
magnificent sweep of the horizon, with no fear of what might be at
the moment under my feet.  I went off hunting by myself, and though
I found no snakes, I should have known what to do.

The sun was dropping low in the west.  Masses of white cloud hung
above the flat marshy plain and seemed to be tangled in the tops of
distant palms and cypresses.  The sky turned orange, then saffron.
I walked leisurely back toward the truck.  In the distance I could
see Ross and Will making their way in too.  The season was more
advanced than at the Creek, two hundred miles to the north, and I
noticed that spring flowers were blooming among the lumpy hummocks.
I leaned over to pick a white violet.  There was a rattlesnake
under the violet.

If this had happened the week before, if it had happened the day
before, I think I should have lain down and died on top of the
rattlesnake, with no need of being struck and poisoned.  The snake
did not coil, but lifted its head and whirred its rattles lightly.
I stepped back slowly and put the violet in a buttonhole.  I
reached forward and laid the steel L across the snake's neck, just
back of the blunt head.  I called to Ross:

"I've got one."

He strolled toward me.

"Well, pick it up," he said.

I released it and slipped the L under the middle of the thick body.

"Go put it in the box."

He went ahead of me and lifted the top of the wire cage.  I made
the truck with the rattler, but when I reached up the six feet to
drop it in the cage, it slipped off the stick and dropped on Ross'
feet.  It made no effort to strike.

"Pick it up again," he said.  "If you'll pin it down lightly and
reach just back of its head with your hand, as you've seen me do,
you can drop it in more easily."

I pinned it and leaned over.

"I'm awfully sorry," I said, "but you're pushing me a little too

He grinned.  I lifted it on the stick and again as I had it at head
height, it slipped off, down Ross' boots and on top of his feet.
He stood as still as a stump.  I dropped the snake on his feet for
the third time.  It seemed to me that the most patient of rattlers
might in time resent being hauled up and down, and for all the
man's quiet certainty that in standing motionless there was no
danger, would strike at whatever was nearest, and that would be

I said, "I'm just not man enough to keep this up any longer," and
he laughed and reached down with his smooth quickness and lifted
the snake back of the head and dropped it in the cage.  It slid in
among its mates and settled in a corner.  The hunt was over and we
drove back over the uneven trail to Will's village and left him and
went on to Arcadia and home.  Our catch for the two days was thirty-
two rattlers.

I said to Ross, "I believe that tomorrow I could have picked up
that snake."

Back at the Creek, I felt a new lightness.  I had done battle with
a great fear, and the victory was mine.

It would be impossible for me ever to feel affection for a snake.
One may be ever so interested and tolerant, but prefer work dogs to
lap dogs, dogs to cats, cats to horses, and almost any living thing
at all, to snakes.  But with the conquering of the horror, it has
been possible to watch the comings and goings of various reptiles
with conjectures as to their habits and to consider them as

A king snake lived for several years in a hole beside the front
gate.  When the first strong sun of spring, in February or early
March, struck into the ground, he appeared, a majestic fellow,
fresh shed, in yellow and black.  His favorite place was coiled on
top of the first post to the right of the gate.  This was probably
a good vantage point over the passing of rats and mice, frogs and
smaller snakes.  He seemed to enjoy being within sight of human
activity and lifted his slim bright-eyed head with interest when
any one went in or out of the gate.  He was very ornamental and
when he did not appear on his post I felt a certain anxiety about
him.  I had sweet-peas planted on the fence one year and often
worked and weeded among them as he watched me a few feet away.
Sometimes he slid gracefully into his hole, leaving a careless half-
foot of tail hanging out, as though hostage to his friendly
confidence.  He was itchy one season at shedding time and nothing
pleased him more than to have fingers stroke his back.  He lay
quietly, rippling his muscles as one does under the touch of a
masseur.  He had some sort of rapprochement with my cat, for I
often saw Jib pat the exposed tail playfully but gently.  The king
snake withdrew it without hurry and Jib followed with an
unmolesting claw-sheathed paw.  Perhaps they divided their extra

Jib's relations with black snakes did not seem so friendly.  The
one who lived under the kitchen came out one morning with a broken
tail, tell-tale slashes at its tip.  The innocuous black snake is
both brave and impudent.  I walked close to a slim ebony beauty
with his smooth narrow head high above the grass.  My purpose was
only to admire at close range but he resented my attention.  He
made a running attack at me.  Quite naturally, I jumped out of his
way.  It reminded me of the utterly ignominious evening when a
skunk chased me down the road for several hundred yards.
Discretion in both cases seemed the better part of valor.  The
black snake turned and ran at me again.  He switched himself
arrogantly as long as I stood near.  When I went away, he retired
in the opposite direction, probably well pleased with himself as a
ferocious and awe-inspiring fellow.  The fastest living thing I
have ever seen was a black snake crossing a bed of hot ashes with a
mouse in his mouth.  We use the expression here, "Fast as a black
snake," and I can amend it to, "Fast as a black snake with his
belly burning."

I have been obliged to wage unceasing war on the chicken or oak
snakes.  If I left them to themselves, we should never raise a
biddy or a young Mallard duck.  The snakes ignore nests of new-laid
eggs through the winter.  When nesting time comes and the peanut
hay in the loft of the barn is full of the game hens setting, and
the Mallards begin to set under the Turk's-cap bushes and along the
fence row, the chicken snakes appear from nowhere.  Usually they
wait for their feast until the night the hatching begins and
swallow the wet chicks and ducklings as they pip their shells and
emerge, for an instant, into the unfriendly world.  It is heart-
breaking to leave one of the Mallard mothers hovering her new brood
contentedly one night, and in the morning to find her childless,
fluttering and crying in her distress, the trail of a chicken snake
leading away from the nest.  Little Will and I watch with constant
vigilance at these times and at the first squawk of a hen, the
first almost human cry of a female Mallard, one or the other of us
dashes to the nest.  I once shot a very large chicken snake who
came to a nest in one corner of the duck pen while the mother was
out getting a bit of green for herself.  He had a duck egg in his
mouth and rolled his yellow eyes at me as he distended his jaws to
swallow it.  I did not want to shoot and destroy the other eggs and
poked him with the gun barrel to force him to a place more
convenient for my purposes.  He merely wrapped his tail around the
mesh of the wire pen, for purchase, gulped down his egg and opened
his jaws over another.  This was too insulting and I gave him one
shot in the tail.  He withdrew then, the egg still in his mouth.
It was halfway down before I managed to destroy him.

I have never actually seen a rattlesnake on my land, though the
east hammock is a crossing place for them.  I see them sometimes on
the road at the edge of my place, always moving too rapidly for me
to get hold of a hoe or a shotgun.  One was killed at the corner
where my house grove joins that of Old Boss, and the hoe-hands in
summer, or Snow and Little Will on the tractor, come across half a
dozen or so in the grove in season.  I admire the great beauty of
the diamond-back rattler and feel that as snakes go, he is very
much of a gentleman.

The cottonmouth moccasins make free of the house yard and I have
killed several large ones a few feet from the house.  My friend
Ross feels that I fail him in not taking them alive for him.  I
have a guilty moment, thinking of the wasted venom that he would
milk from them for scientific and medical purposes, but I am forced
to prefer the death of a poisonous snake in my yard to not knowing
at what moment it will strike the dog, the cat, one of the Creek
children coming for milk, or appear under my own feet in the
darkness.  I have no particular fear of the cottonmouth, for he is
sluggish and easily killed, but he is revolting in appearance.  He
is darkly nondescript in color, he is fat and greasy.  He slithers.
When I look at him I think of Martha's shuddering summing up of the
reasons for her dislike of all snakes, "Ain't got no footses an'
kin slide so!"

I think the motion of all snakes, if watched and studied long
enough, would move any lover of rhythm.  I can understand why a
cobra sways to music.  The way of the serpent is the way of music.
I have sat on the veranda watching the movement of a green tree
snake rippling in and out among the orange boughs; watching a black
snake flow like water in a dream among the leaves of a poinsettia,
or lie like a Japanese brush stroke along a spider-lily leaf, and
felt that I watched the poetry of motion.  Ruth St. Denis caught
this serpentine grace in some of her Oriental dances.  I should
like to have seen her use, as the Hopi Indians use the rattlesnake,
the coral snake, in all its jewelled enamel--properly de-fanged, of
course, as a scientist has recently discovered the Hopi rattlers to

I shall always feel an interest in snakes, after my exposure to
Ross' wisdom and knowledge, but it will never extend to making one
welcome in the house.  I was obliged to deal unconventionally a few
nights ago with a small cottonmouth in the guest bathroom.  The
screen door leading on one side to the porch had been left ajar and
he had wandered in, attracted perhaps by the light burning there.
If the light had not been on, I should have stepped on him in the
dark on my way to my own quarters, for he was directly in my path.
He was small and young but he was belligerent and quite as venomous
as though he had been six feet long.  My first thought was of my
.22 rifle or my shotgun on the back porch, but I knew that if I
left the visitor he would slip away, and I could think of many
places where he might reappear that would be less convenient than
his present one.  Too, it seemed absurd to fill the bathroom floor
full of holes.  The Negroes would be sound asleep in the tenant
house and could not hear me call.  It seemed to me also that I
should feel very foolish having Little Will come from his bed, hoe
in hand, to face so small a creature.  I looked around the room
behind me.  On the chest of drawers were two books.  One was the
Sears Roebuck catalogue, a hefty volume.  I heaved it at the
moccasin.  It hurt him enough so that he went into convulsive coils
instead of slipping under the bathtub and I knew I could approach
closer.  The other book was a copy of one of my own writings, The
Yearling.  I took it and finished off the moccasin.  I told Little
Will next morning of the encounter, and the method by which I had
dispatched the intruder.  He chuckled.  "It sho' do come in handy
to write books," he said.

16.  Black shadows

I am not of the race of southerners who claim to understand the
Negro.  There are a few platitudes dear to the hearts of these that
seem reasonably accurate.  The Negro is just a child.  The Negro is
carefree and gay.  The Negro is religious in an amusing way.  The
Negro is a congenital liar.  There is no dependence to be put in
the best of them.

Back of these superficial truths lies the mystery of the primitive
African nature, subjected precipitously first to slavery and then
to so-called civilization, the one as difficult and unjust as the
other.  The Negro today is paid instead of being rationed.  He is
left to shift for himself for the most part instead of being cared
for.  In the South his wages are a scandal and there is no hope of
racial development until racial economics are adjusted.  Meantime,
he continues to be, ostensibly, childish, carefree, religious,
untruthful and unreliable.  Back of it all is a defense mechanism
as ingrained as the color of his skin.  He could adapt himself to
the injustice of his position and to the master white race only by
being childish, carefree, religious, untruthful and unreliable.

The prettier side of the picture does indeed lie in the possibility
of real affection between individuals of the two races, conditioned
by the fact that one is master, and the other, for all of Lincoln,
still a slave.  The servant has two weapons.  He can make life not
worth living for his employer.  And he can walk out.  When a
southern Negro uses neither of the two, it is likely to mean, not
necessarily that he is well treated, but that he is truly attached
to master or mistress.  And he can feel an actual love, and yet
make life miserable or walk out.  Therein lies his unpredictability,
and beyond the half-truth of its fact is a mental and emotional
turmoil past the comprehension of the most old-school southern
aristocrat who ever slurred his witticisms over a mint julep.

I have made one grave mistake in dealing with Negroes at the grove.
I have expected that, given justice and kindness, a reasonable
attitude toward their problems, and wages higher than the customary
ones, they could carry considerable responsibility and learn to
discipline themselves.  I should have known better.  I should have
understood that only in rare instances can a Negro work for long on
his own initiative.  For long years since actual slavery he has
been told what to do and what not to do.  He has used his little
time of freedom to cut loose, to escape for the moment the
lowliness and the poverty and the puzzle of living.  Left to
himself to work toward an unseen goal without jurisdiction or
direction, no matter how reliable ordinarily, he realizes suddenly,
not that he has responsibilities, but that he is free, he is on his
own, and he pounces without warrant on that freedom as though it
were already the Saturday night he had earned.  I do not blame Kate
and Raymond for going wild.  I blame myself for asking of them what
most of us manage so painfully and so inadequately for ourselves.

Kate and Raymond came after 'Geechee and ahead of Martha's daughter
Adrenna.  The long line of Negroes has come and gone like a string
of exploding firecrackers, each one arriving on the smoking heels
of another and departing as violently.  Most have gone in insanity,
mad love affairs, delirious drunkenness and shootings.  Their
shadows lie long and black against the pattern of the Creek.  Kate
and Raymond began promisingly.  Raymond was long and lean and very
black, as strong as an ox, and in deathly fear of small Kate.  She
could make him run in terror, not only with the butcher knife, but
by lifting her little brown hand or her strong shrill voice.  He
was a good grove man and I have often lamented his passing from the
Creek.  Kate began impudently and on the defensive.  She had never
done housework or my kind of cooking and I had to begin at the
bottom.  She learned quickly and praise warmed her.

I left off feeling as though the sword of Damocles hung dark and
pointed over my head.  I began to trust the fragile hair by which
it was suspended.  I went to the Carolina mountains for the summer
to cool the malaria in my blood and to begin a book.  Kate and
Raymond assured me that all would go as well as though I were at
the grove in person.  I mailed their weekly pay and had in return
an occasional pencilled note, "The groav is fine.  we is fine."

Of course they were fine.  They were having the time of their
lives.  It would have been a simple insurance to have delegated
Fred to pay them for me, to let them know there was still authority
over them.  In my stupidity I pounded my typewriter happily and
drank in the good mountain air.  Autumn came and the mountain ash
and maples and sourwood were gold and crimson.  I think I might
still have lingered, but my brother was coming from Alaska for the
hunting season.  We were renewing a joyous relationship after a
separation of ten years.  I wrote ahead to Kate and Raymond,
specifying house cleaning, dressed chickens in the icebox, and
enclosing money and a grocery list to be filled.

I drove in to the grove at dusk on a Saturday evening.  The
farmhouse was dark.  The atmosphere was silent and ominous.  No one
came to meet me as my car crossed the cattle-gap and swung into the
yard.  I went into the house.  It had not been swept or dusted all
summer.  Spiders swung comfortably in every corner.  I went to the
icebox.  There was ice, only, I imagine, because Kate and Raymond
had used it for cooling drinks.  There should have been several
pans of milk, for the cow had been fresh when I left.  There was
one small pan.  It had the thin bluish look that showed the cow was
nearly dry.  She could only have dried up by being improperly and
erratically milked.  There was nothing else in the box.  I shut the
door.  I heard a step.  Kate came to the porch, walking rigidly and
with glazed eyes.

I asked, "Where's Raymond?"

She waved a vague arm.

"He to the house.  He don't feel so good."

"Where are the chickens I wrote you to have dressed?"

"Oh, they ain't no mo' chickens.  Varmints got 'em."

"But there were fifty-four young chickens when I left."

"Yessum.  Varmints got 'em."

I knew the nature of the varmints.  We lose a few fryers from
skunks and 'possums, but a watchful man can always catch them at
their depredations after the first kill.

"Why isn't the house clean?  Where are the groceries?"

"They wasn't time to do nothin' when your letter come.  They wasn't
no money in it nohow."

The letter had been sent ten days before and there was money in it.
I gave Kate a dollar and told her with a calm that I had never
expected to own, to send Raymond in the truck to the village for
bread and coffee for my breakfast.  I dismissed her, for I could
not trust my temper.  I told myself to go and make a highball and
hold steady.  I went to the locked cupboard where I had left
Bourbon.  There was nothing there.  I looked up to the ceiling of
the cupboard.  The square cut for ventilation, covered with a
tightly nailed screen, was ajar.  The cupboard had been entered by
going into the attic from a similar vent in another room and
entering to this one.  There were no food supplies in the pantry
and in my exhaustion I went to bed hungry.  Morning brought the
same silence as when I had driven in the evening before.  I dressed
and went to the kitchen.  Kate sat dreamily.

"Raymond ain't never come back," she said.

I drove six miles away to Citra.  The recalcitrant and completely
happy Raymond had been seen at a Negro boarding house.  My truck
sat in front of it.  I called.  Raymond staggered out with blank
and stupid eyes.  He was cramming fried fish into his mouth.
Nothing has ever enraged me like that fried fish, I suppose because
I was so hungry.  I told him he was fired.  I arranged to have the
Boyts drive the truck home for me.  Then I thought, appalled, of my
brother's coming within the next day or two.

Well-trained city Negroes simply will not work in the country,
miles from their kind.  There were plenty of field-hands, like
Kate, delighted at the thought of being elevated to housework, who
could be trained into good servants.  But the job takes from six
months to a year.  I had sweat and toiled with Kate, doing most of
the work myself as I taught her.  Given a little time, I could
discipline Kate and even Raymond back into shape.  There was no
time for anything.  Meantime, my brother's comfort depended on my
being free to hunt and prowl with him, and on coming home at night
to an orderly house and a waiting and edible dinner.  He was
driving more than three thousand miles to be with me, and I did not
intend to ruin his visit with my domestic difficulties.  It was no
moment in which to fire Kate or to set up a rigid discipline.  I
told her that I had fired Raymond but would keep her on trial.  She
applauded heartily.  Raymond had been the root of all evil.  Left
to herself she would have been a model of deportment.  I remembered
Raymond shrinking from her voice and hand.  It is of course part of
the slave psychology to blame any one else, mother, father,
husband, child, to save one's own hide.  Kate settled down demurely
and when my brother arrived he was unaware of the volcano sizzling
under the charm and peace of the Creek.

"I can't get over the ease and smoothness of this life," he said,
and I smiled blandly.

"It's wonderful, isn't it," I said.

We were home only for breakfast and dinner and to sleep.  We "did"
Florida exuberantly.  I was amiable with Kate and she was suave and
amiable with me.  She had acquired a sweetheart, she told me, and
Raymond was a thing of the past.  She would never forgive him for
the great wrong he had done both of us.  I saw the sweetheart slip
in at night, and it seemed to me that sometimes I saw Raymond's
long legs swing over the fence, but as long as the beds were made,
the floors swept and dinner prepared, Kate might be a black
Cleopatra for all of me.  A healthy hell would pop when my brother
had gone and I would get us all straightened out and off to a fresh
start--probably, I thought, with the penitent Raymond back again,
working better than ever for having sinned.  Hell popped, but it
was not healthy and it was not of my making.  Toward the end of his
visit, a week-end deer hunt was arranged for my brother.  We left
before dawn on a Saturday morning and reached home again at
midnight Sunday.

As we drove in, I heard the cow bawling.  She was standing beside
the barn.  The car lights showed her bag at bursting point.  She
had plainly not been milked or fed or watered since we had left.
My dog yelped from the back porch.  He was locked in.  His feed and
water pans were bone dry and the porch showed that he had been
there since Saturday morning.  In the house the beds had not been
made.  Our Saturday breakfast things had been carried out on a tray
and the whole business dumped higgledy-piggledy on the floor of the
pantry.  My brother blew up like a geyser.

"I've seen what you have to put up with.  We're going over to the
tenant house and run that black ape off."

I tried then to explain, but the time had passed for sound
psychological explanations.  I had given them too much leeway,
without supervision, and was only paying the penalty for something
that could be straightened out.  I had wanted his visit free and
comfortable.  A period of strict discipline after he had gone would
take care of everything.  It was too late.  We had had colored help
in our Washington days, but he had been only a child when we left
the city and Negroes were as strange to him as though he had never
known them.  He had been in the Northwest where foreign labor was
sometimes an ominous thing.  Nothing could convince him now that I
was not in peril of my very life.

"This is dangerous," he said, "and I am not going to leave you here
alone without cleaning house before I go."

I tried to murmur my tale of the long training, of what cleaning
house would mean.

"Get your gun," he said.

I gasped.

"We don't need guns.  All I have to do is stamp my foot and they're
in deathly terror.  Kate would almost die in her tracks if we
shoved a gun at her."

He looked at me pityingly.

We went to the tenant house like an invading army.  Arthur strapped
a focussing flashlight to his forehead.  He carried his big-game
rifle, a Winchester .30-40 with a telescopic sight.  I had my
revolver meekly in my hand.  It began to strike me as extremely
funny.  My giggles impressed him of course as hysteria.  He patted
me protectingly.

"Everything's going to be all right.  Just don't lose your nerve.
Don't let them see you're afraid."

I whooped and he held me and poured brandy down my throat.

We crept to the door of the tenant house.  Arthur threw it open
with a magnificent gesture and turned the flashlight on the bed.

"Don't anybody move!" he shouted.  "We've got you covered."

We had an amazing assemblage covered.  Three occupants of the bed
raised up and blinked in the light.  In the middle was Kate,
modestly dressed in a long-sleeved, high-necked flannel nightgown.
On one side of her was the sweetheart, and cozily on the other side
was Raymond.  Raymond and the sweetheart were buck naked.  All
three were so drunk that their wooly heads wobbled on their necks.
Kate was the first to come to her senses.  The light glinted on the
telescopic sight of the Winchester rifle.  She let out a blood-
curdling shriek and leaped from the bed.

There began a strange community dance.  Dance is the only word for
it.  Kate gyrated, flailing her arms.  The long flannel nightgown
swirled around her bare shifting feet.  The sweetheart rolled from
the bed and jumped up and down, reaching spasmodically into midair
in hope of finding his breeches.  Raymond raised to a sitting
position, collapsed on the bed, raised again and collapsed,
rhythmically.  As Kate spun around and around she shrieked, the
sound keeping time to her spinning and the sweetheart's jumps.
Around it and through it Arthur pranced.  He is six feet four, thin
and gangling, and looks like a cross between Daniel Boone and
Abraham Lincoln.

"Don't let them rush you!" he bellowed.  "Keep your man covered!"

I wanted to say, "The only rush they'll make is for the great open
spaces," but it was no moment for trivial conversation.  "My man"
whom I was covering found his pants.  I kept my head turned away
from him and my revolver levelled in his general direction.  Out of
the corner of my eye I saw the pants ascending with the jerky
motion of a broken escalator.  Raymond had given up.  He lay prone
with closed eyes, waiting for Nemesis to descend as it willed.

Arthur waved the Winchester rifle under his nose and shouted, "Get

Raymond was past getting up.  I do not think he even heard him.

Kate left off her whirling and begged, "Raymond, honey, the man
gwine kill you where you lay.  Get up, honey!"

Raymond opened one eye, groaned, and closed it again.  Arthur
pranced to the bed and reached in with one of his long arms and
heaved Raymond to his feet.

"Keep your man covered!  I'm taking care of this one."

"My man" was trembling against the wall.  Love nor money could not
have made him stir.  Kate rushed to cover Raymond's nakedness.

"Put somethin' over you, honey," she crooned.

Raymond fumbled for the sheet and held it hopefully behind his

"In the front," Kate moaned.  "Honey--in the front!"

I made the mental note that, passing sweetheart or no, Raymond was
her truelove.  For an instant, I planned our future together.
Raymond would be back, chastened and capable, the sweetheart would
slink on his way, I should never again ask of them more than they
could do, and life at the Creek would go on smoothly and better
than before.  Then I knew that something was finished.  One's
relations with Negroes are like love affairs.  When they end, they
end.  Kate packed their suitcase and flanked by lover and husband,
set out down the road toward town in her flannel nightgown.

My brother was happy at having saved me.  When he reads this
account, it will be his first inkling that I should have chosen
differently.  I adored being "protected," for I had never had it in
my mature life before.  But I was sad.  The only compensation was
in finding, now that it was over, that Kate had turned into a
thief.  She had taken a considerable amount of money from my
brother's wallet, there were missing some of my best clothes and
several pieces of my mother's silver.  Yet even there, I
understood.  We had so much and she had so little.  We tossed our
wealth about carelessly.  Surely we would never miss such trifles
out of our abundance.

There was an interim, as always, when old Martha came in to take
care of me and to tide me over.  Between all the explosions she is
here, steady as a lodestar.  She is utterly incompetent and serves
a spoon for the eating of scrambled eggs, and her inabilities
grieve her more than they do me.

"Sugar," she mourns, "I wisht you'd ketched me young.  You could of
learned me anything."

She had a daughter, Adrenna, in want of a job.  Adrenna would
please me.  Adrenna came, and I was in deeper than I had ever been
before.  A new black-and-white love affair was in the making, and
doomed from its beginning.  Adrenna drove me perfectly mad at
first.  She claimed to be able to do everything and could do
nothing.  When I corrected her in any detail she went to pieces.
It took me several months to realize that she was in great fear not
only of me, but of her own ignorance.  When I proceeded on the
tacit theory that in spite of her own protests she knew nothing of
the amenities of living, and taught her as kindly and as patiently
as I had taught Kate, all went well.  I never made a really good
servant of her, never a really good cook, for her mentality was not
up to it.  But as time went on she learned certain dishes and
certain menus by heart, like a parrot, and I could order a fixed
meal with the certainty that it would be edible.  And the usual
love built itself up between us.

I could not believe at first that not only was Adrenna man-crazy,
in her early forties, but that she could rope in almost any Negro
man on whom she concentrated.  Trying to see even through male
Negro eyes, I could not detect the faintest trace of charm.  She
was slovenly, she received her suitors in untidy rags, even when
good dresses of my giving hung in her cupboard.  She wore her kinky
hair in tight pig-tails, like Topsy, or combed them out into an
alarming piece of shrubbery that stood up around her thin face.
She was knock-kneed.  She was not young.  But when she swung that
shingle-butted rear down the road, the Negro men followed and were

She said, as a fact, "You needs a good man on the place."

I said, "Indeed I do."

"You jes' leave it to me.  I'll get us a man.  One that'll suit you
and one that'll suit me."

Her efforts to trap a man, who should please me by day and her by
night, fell between two stools.  One by one she lured them in, and
one by one they were incompetent in one capacity or the other.  She
was not discouraged.

"I'll get us one directly can do everything," she said.

I began to be embarrassed about it.  Our search was flagrant.  We
had a succession of Negro men who occupied one half of the tenant
house while she occupied the other, and while I tried one aspect
and Adrenna tried another.  There was Enmon, who pleased me
immensely, and was the best grove and yard man I had ever had.
Enmon was obliged to leave, reluctantly, he assured me, because a
rival suitor of Adrenna, and a much larger and more imposing
suitor, threatened to cut his throat with a razor and Enmon was
sure he meant it.  Jeff Davis was promising.  He already had a
wife, who came with him to the Creek, but what were wives to
Adrenna?  The wife was city-bred, owned a good house, stayed here
briefly and in fury, and drew Jeff Davis back to her solely by the
power of her wordly goods.  I had a message from him lately that
his wife had left him and he would like to come back, and was
Adrenna still with me?  But meantime Adrenna had gone, and I have
Adrenna's brother Little Will, most satisfactory for the moment,
and I have the perfect maid, and again it was too late.

Adrenna really worked on Sherman.  She had known him in the hey-day
of her youth and she told me that he was everything either of us
could ask.  We drove to the farm where he was working to interview
him.  I was frank and Adrenna was coy.  I took lessons that day
from her technique.  Sherman rose to the bait.  He longed to come
to us, but he was share-cropping and could not leave until the
crops were marketed.

Adrenna said to me, "You jes' leave it to me.  I'll get him for

By the time Sherman's crops were in and he sent word that he was
ready for come what might, Adrenna was off on another tack.  She
had roped in Samson.  Jeff Davis--Sherman--Samson.  She was nothing
if not ambitious.  Samson looked too good to be true when she
brought him to the door for my approval.  I never knew where or how
she found him.  He was tall, light brown and handsome.  He could do
and had done, he said, anything and everything--grove work, garden
work and house service and was an expert driver and mechanic.  I
sighed with relief.

Adrenna said demurely, "He wants us to move to Miami when us is
married, but I tol' him you'd more'n likely make it worth his while
jes' to stay here."

I jumped into the breech to make it worth his while.  I would stake
them to their wedding, with a grand wedding breakfast afterward,
and I would pay him more than I had ever dreamed of paying before.
Adrenna had taken not only Samson, but me, into camp.  I took them
to the judge in Gainesville to be married, and when Adrenna
admitted that she was "divo'ced," the judge did not question it,
though I knew that three more or less legal husbands were still in
the offing.  But I was desperate and so was Adrenna.  I gave them
ten dollars for the wedding party, they went fourteen miles away to
Hawthorn for a week-end honeymoon, and returned to the tenant house
to settle down into what Adrenna and I had both looked forward to
as unmitigated bliss of one sort and another.

I think that Samson failed Adrenna before he failed me.  At least
it took me longer to find out that his boasts were based on thin
air.  Out of doors he knew nothing of grove work, inside the house
he did not know a knife from a fork, and when he tried the first
time to drive the farm truck I heard such a clashing of gears that
I thought the car was on its last legs.  But he had the growing
hand.  He was an expensive gardener, and I luxuriated with a sense
of guilt over the miracles he worked with flowers.  I had
delphinium and Canterbury bells for the first time.  I had always
wanted a rose-bed, but since I had had to stand threateningly over
previous workers to get the commonest flowers weeded and watered,
it had seemed useless to attempt the care of roses.  Samson begged
me to put them in the garden.

"I kin really make roses," he said earnestly.

I ordered the bushes from Texas, red and pink Radiance, Etoile de
Hollande, Talisman, Lady Hillingdon, Ophelia and Luxembourg.
Samson had roses for me in little over a month.  It was immensely
elegant, and for what I was paying Samson, who spent most of the
day in the garden, while the grove languished and Adrenna did the
milking for him, I might as well have bought American Beauties from
a florist.  I decided that it would be a warm winter and I really
did not need a new winter coat.  Adrenna had become completely
necessary to me, we were very much en rapport, and if the only way
to keep her was to pay her ornamental husband to raise roses, paid
he should be, and if I went over the hill to the poorhouse, I
should go magnificently, with armfuls of roses.

I sensed dimly as the winter went on that Adrenna and Samson were
feuding with Henry.  Henry is Sissie's husband and Sissie is
Adrenna's sister and Martha's daughter.  Martha had come from
across the Creek to live in the old Mackay house.  She dropped
hints that I ignored.  Sissie and Henry lived in the little white-
washed shack at the edge of the Creek by the bridge.  When Martha
suggested to me that I "kind o' notice the way Henry's actin'," I
decided that Samson and his lordliness irked him.  I began to
realize that Samson irked me, too.  He was courteous, he was a
beautiful specimen to look at, he was raising roses, but I just
didn't like him.  Adrenna was cryptic.  I closed my eyes to the
tension.  We had worked too hard to get us a man to ask questions

New Year's came, and I went to Daytona for the holidays.  I was
sitting in a caf when a long distance call came in.  The
Gainesville sheriff was trying to reach me.

"A man that works for you, Samson, was shot and isn't expected to
live," he said over the wire.  "The hospital wants to know if
you'll guarantee his bill."

"Who shot him?"

"Another one of your Creek niggers.  Name of Henry.  We've got him
locked up."

"I'll guarantee the bill.  I suppose the man will be thrown out in
the street if I don't."

I thought bitterly that if socialized medicine came, it would be
because of things like this.

I reached the hospital by night.  Samson was still alive.  The
doctors had taken one look and ordered him not to be touched, not
even for X-rays.  Henry had put three loads of No. 5 shot in his
belly from a distance of a few yards.  Adrenna was my greatest
concern.  I found her, and usually so careful not to touch me with
her clean brown hands, she threw herself on me.  She must stay in
town, I told her, to be near the hospital, and I would come again
the next day.  The Mickens family has ramifications all over the
state and there was an aunt, Big Ham, with whom she could stay.

Tom Glisson told me all that was known of the shooting.  He had
heard the reports of the gun, then Adrenna's screams, and had run
down the road.  He had loaded Samson into his truck and taken him
to town.  Adrenna stood in the back of the truck like a Flying
Victory, shrieking all the way to Gainesville.  Henry had given Tom
the gun and gone along with him peacefully to surrender.  It was a
Sunday and Tom had combed the town for a sheriff, deputy or

"You know," he said, "there wasn't a piece of law in the place."

He had bullied the hospital into taking in the wounded man, had
beaten on the door of the jail until he roused some one to take in
the meek and drooping Henry, and had given clues as to where I
might be located by telephone.

"I was sure tempted," he said, "to turn around and bring everybody
right back here to the Creek and nurse Samson and try Henry our own

Samson lived.  Not even the doctors knew how he did it.  He lay for
days, green-white and bleeding.  Then suddenly he opened his eyes
when I went into his room, smiled weakly and announced that we
needn't worry about him.  His time, he said, had not come to die.
The best explanation of his recovery was that his size had saved
him.  The shot that would have gone entirely through a small thin
man, had largely embedded itself in his thick flesh.  The pellets
began to roll out of him.  Every time the nurse changed his bed,
she gathered up a handful.  Some would stay in him as long as he
lived.  My mind jumped ahead to the inevitable repercussions.
Henry would now face no murder or manslaughter charge.  At most, it
would be assault with intent to kill; a few years in the
penitentiary.  What would Samson do?  Would he bide his time, until
Henry should emerge from jail?  I sounded him out cautiously one
day.  He held no malice toward Henry.

"Henry done wrong," he said simply.  "But I forgive him."

He was most concerned about his hands and about my garden.  His big
hands had caught a part of the load and it was doubtful whether he
would regain their use.  He held up the thick bandages.

"I jes' got to git these back," he said.  "I been layin' here
thinkin' about the garden.  Ain't nobody but me goin' to take keer
of it right.  Them roses had ought to been fertilized yestiddy.  I
figgered it up.  I got to git back my hands."

I came away in tears.  Something in the man's nature was truly big.
Then I realized with horror that for all my admiration I still just
didn't like Samson.  The thought came to me that his forgiveness
was both bland and unnatural.  What had he done to provoke Henry?
Adrenna was more enigmatic than ever.  She stayed with Big Ham and
went three times a day to sit by her husband's bed.  But when I
came on her sitting there, she was staring blankly ahead of her, as
though she sat as a duty by the unmourned dead.  I tried to draw
her out about the shooting.  She was evasive.  It had just
happened, that was all.  Henry was afraid of Samson.  Had Samson
done anything to make him afraid?  Henry was just afraid.  An
unholy suspicion came to me that Adrenna the flirt, Adrenna the
butt-switcher, was back of it all.  Was it possible that she had
egged Henry on?  I shall never know.

Samson was ready to leave the hospital.  His belly wounds had
healed and only his big hands were bandaged.  With a few operations
on the remaining shot, he would recover their use.  I arranged to
take him back for these.  I was to get Adrenna at Big Ham's and
then we would pick up Samson.

"Big Ham want to meet you," Adrenna said.  "She say she got
somethin' to say to you."

Big Ham's place was a neat little cottage on the outskirts of
Gainesville.  I drove to the door.  Adrenna waved.  An enormous
black woman waddled toward my car.  She walked with a fixed
purpose, a little ominously.

She shouted, "This the woman?"

I wondered if she blamed me for something, if she thought I had not
done enough, or had done it improperly.  She reached the car and
leaned into the window and peered at me belligerently.

"Look at me," she said.

I looked at her meekly.

"I want to look in your face," she said.  "I want to look in the
face of the white woman has got such sympathy for the black one."

Her voice softened.

"Say me your name."

I said it.  I did not use the "Mrs.," as one does usually with this
race.  I gave my full name as one does for a document.  She
repeated it after me, accurately.

"I want to carry your name to the Lord," she shouted.  "I gwine
pray for you.  And when I carry your name, I want to carry it
straight, so the Lord know exactly who I mean."

She turned and strode back to her house.  Adrenna got into the car
and we gathered up Samson at the hospital and we drove home.

A story so full of black nobility should end idyllically.  It ended
in complete confusion.  The aftermath brought me into my one
conflict with Old Boss, who presumably had nothing to do with it.
Samson was back at the Creek.  He wandered around for two weeks
while his hands healed, then went at the garden.  He could use them
well enough to work around the rosebushes.  I longed to like him
and could not.  Then the question of Henry arose, like a ghost
materialized.  All the Creek, it seemed, wanted Henry back.  Sissie
and the babies were desolate.  I sent them money secretly.  I found
that I, too, wanted Henry back.  But justice was justice, and
whether or no we loved Henry and could not love Samson, I decided
that justice should prevail.  Meantime, the rest of the Creek lined
up solidly to stand with Henry.

I think it made me angry that they all went behind my back.  If
they had come to me and told me that they wanted Henry, we might
have worked it out.  There was Samson's lack of ill feeling to take
into consideration, and the fact that none knew what he and Adrenna
had done to provoke the attack.  I was pushed into the position of
persecuting Henry, my favorite, in the name of Samson, the
stranger, and I loathed my situation.  The next thing I knew, Henry
was free.  He was reported camping across the Creek where Sissie
joined him of nights.  He was afraid to come home and face my
vengeance, they told me.  Adrenna rolled her eyes and was
noncommittal.  I wanted to wring her scrawny neck.  We were in this
mess because I had trusted her to get us our man, and now I was
left holding the bag, the whole Creek lined up against me.  Samson
was terrified, or pretended to be.

"That man aims to finish me," he said, but there was a false note
in the way he said it.

I went to the sheriff's office to make inquiries.  The sheriff was
bland.  Henry had been let out of jail for lack of evidence.  I did
not see what more evidence a court of law could require than three
loads of No. 5 shot in an unarmed man's belly.  I pressed the
sheriff and threatened to take the matter to the state's attorney
and the governor.  The truth came out.  Old Boss had gone to the
judge, a lifelong friend, and had told him, simply, that Henry was
his man and he wanted him released.  The judge released him.  That
was all there was to it.  All, except that now I was aroused, and
felt that I could not allow so flagrant a miscarriage of justice to

I swore out a new warrant for Henry's arrest.  The sheriff hedged,
for Old Boss and the judge antedated me.  He could not find Henry,
he said.  I told him where Henry might be found, and on threat of
exposing the sheriff himself, Henry was promptly found and clapped
back into jail to await trial on charges of assault with intent to
kill.  It was an unhappy time at the Creek, and I was the most
miserable of all.  Nobody wanted Samson, for all his virtues, and
everybody, myself included, wanted Henry, for all his faults.  But
justice was justice and my dander was up.  I grieved for Sissie and
sent her more money.  Martha shared the opprobrium heaped on me,
for it was believed she had put me up to my cruelties.  Actually,
she was on Henry's side, too.  She received anonymous letters,
threatening her life if she stayed at the Creek.  We do not know to
this day who sent them, but they came from Henry's cohorts.  Martha
would have stayed it out, but Old Will got in a panic and they
moved to Gainesville.

Henry languished in jail, from which he wrote Sissie.  Adrenna
presumably stood with me on the side of right, and she stole the
letter and brought it to me, for her honor was now involved as well
as mine.

"My dear sweet wife.  When the trial comes up, you are to testify
that Samson threatened me.  Just forget what happened, and say that
Samson come at me and I had to shoot in self-defense."

Back of Henry, as I found, was a lawyer hired by Old Boss and Tom
Glisson.  I was angrier than ever.  Then Martha slipped back to the
Creek to see me.

"Sugar," she said, "everybody want Henry back.  Nobody don't want
Samson, especially Adrenna.  You ask her."

I asked her.  I was appalled.

"Samson jes' don't fit in at the Creek," she said.  She burst out,
"The man 'bout to drive me crazy.  I ain't never really liked him.
I figured he'd do for you and me, but he ain't.  What do he do?
How do he spend the nights?  He spend 'em drinkin' coffee and
quarrelin'.  Please get rid of him for me--jes' this once."

I gave in to mass opinion at the Creek.

"Samson," I said, "you're not happy here, are you?"

"Might be," he said, "did Adrenna seem satisfied."

"But you and Adrenna aren't getting on together, are you?" I

"No'm.  Nobody couldn't say me and Adrenna is gettin' along."

"Wouldn't you rather be some place else?"

"Reckons I would.  Cross Creek is the most queerest place and the
queerest people I've ever knowed."

I gave him a month's pay, with guilt and shame in my soul, and
Samson was gone.  Adrenna thanked me profusely.

"I won't never make us a mistake like that again," she said.

Meantime, Henry was in jail.  Sissie came to me, babe in arms.
Martha came to me.  Old Will came.  Tom Glisson came to me.

"You know, all this trouble is really your fault," he said.

I had felt that, too, but I did not know why.

"I figgered you'd learned your lesson from Kate and Raymond, and
them eatin' all your chickens and raisin' Cain on the highway, but
you ain't quite learned it.  Don't you know that truck of yours
causes more trouble at the Creek than a dose of smallpox?"

I said, "What has that to do with Henry?"

"You let Adrenna and Samson and Henry go off on that truck.  They
got drunk and hard feelin's come up.  Who's to blame for the hard
feelin's, I don't know, but I do know if there's trouble, Adrenna's
back of it.  We want Henry here.  Old Boss needs him to work on his
grove.  The rest is up to you."

Henry's trial came off, as great a farce as could come before a
court of justice.  I had decided what I must do, for peace at the
Creek is a vital matter.  In a private courtroom, the judge called
us to order.  Henry was represented by the lawyer.  There was no
prosecuting attorney at all, the judge announcing that he would act
in that capacity.  I was the first witness called, and the entire
population of Cross Creek leaned forward in its seats, and may God
forgive me, I said blandly that my testimony was of no value, as I
had not been present when the shooting occurred and had my evidence
only from hearsay.  A long breath of relief filled the courtroom.
The lawyer stared at me.  He called his witnesses.  The testimony
was completely irrelevant.  Bernie Bass, a satellite at the moment
of Tom Glisson, stood up blithely to say that he had come down the
road in time to hear Henry beg piteously of Samson, "Don't you come
any closer."  Tom Glisson took the occasion to express, with no
bearing on the case, his low and suspicious opinion of Adrenna.

"Judge, you can just bet she was back of it."

Adrenna rolled a baleful eye at him, and now that Samson was safely
away from the Creek, and Henry destined to be back again, testified
so noncommittally that one would have supposed her merely to have
passed by, a stranger, on the unfortunate occasion.  Samson, gazing
mournfully at the steely Adrenna, told a story less larded with
imaginative fabrications.  Yet back of him were unsaid things.  It
came to me that I had never been in a court of justice less touched
by truth and honesty.  Henry is a born actor.  He stood, a drooping
picture of outraged innocence, and told a story of the danger from
Samson in which he had lived; of his shooting at the last moment,
when Samson strode toward him with threats and in menace.  The
judge did not trouble to point out that Henry had stolen Old Boss'
shotgun some hours before Samson had passed by; or that Samson had
stood outside the gate when Henry shot him.  I longed to tear the
farce to tatters, to demand an authentic trial.  Yet Sissie sat
rocking the baby, and Martha had told me that she was carrying
another, and who would look out for her?  And paradoxically, for
all of Henry's guilt, I knew in my heart that he was not dangerous.
A thing like this would never happen again, and the social value of
jail in any case lies only in prevention.  I sat still and heard
the judge announce that the case was dismissed, again, "for lack of

I went up to him and said, "I've let this mockery go through for
reasons of my own.  I just want you to know nothing has been put

He sputtered, "I'll have you up for contempt of court."

"Oh no, you won't.  You don't dare."

And he did not.

He said, "You understand, having signed the warrant, you are
responsible for the court costs."

I said, "I am not," and I never heard another word from the matter.

The assembled witnesses listened, big-eyed.  I gathered them
together outside in the corridor, Martha and Old Will, Henry and
Sissie, Adrenna, Tom Glisson and Bernie Bass and the lawyer.

I said, "Now we all know this has been as crooked a business as the
Creek ever got mixed up in.  Samson is all right, but the rest of
you wanted Henry back.  And if there's ever any trouble at the
Creek again, it won't ever reach a court.  I'll take care of it.
And if there's any shooting, I'm going to do it."

We shook hands all around, and the lawyer asked me to support him
when he ran for the state legislature.  The dove of peace flew with
us to the Creek and nested in the orange trees.  Henry went humbly
about Old Boss' work, Sissie had her new baby, the hard feeling
against Martha's presumed intervention died down and Tom Glisson
intimated that it would be good to have old Aunt Martha back with
us again, and I built an addition to the tenant house that is hers
for life.  Adrenna settled down again to the business of finding a
man who should suit both of us.  I met Old Boss on the road a few
weeks later.  At first I thought that our long friendship had
ended.  Then he put out his hand to me and his blue old eyes

"Next time," he said, "we'll talk things over."

Martha took great pride in the matter.  Old Boss' son-in-law, Mr.
Williams, kept a vicious dog at the Creek.

Martha said, "Us got a new boss at the Creek.  Boss o' Cross Creek
now is her--and Mr. Williams' Pat."

I wish sadly that I might report that Adrenna found us our man.
She worked hard at it.  At last she decided that between us we were
undertaking too much.  She would look out for herself and I should
have to do the same.  Without warning, she eloped with a brown
youth half her age.  She found too late that it had been a mistake
to let him know that she had a fortune of a hundred and thirty
dollars in postal savings.  Robert had married her for her money.
When her wealth was gone, Robert was gone, too.

Martha had meantime been pulling her usual strings.  She announced
that her favorite son, Little Will, was visiting opportunely at
Sissie's and would be charmed to have my job.  We moved Little Will
smoothly into the job and the tenant house.  A left-over lettuce
hand, Alberta, was staying there, too, for lack of a place to go.
In the Jeff Davis days, Jeff had brought her in from a nearby town
to set out our lettuce plants and when Jeff's wife lured him back
from Adrenna's clutches, Alberta was left behind.  It was natural
that, with very little preliminary courting, Little Will married
the left-over lettuce hand.  I had an optimistic moment in which I
thought I might train Alberta to my work.  But as soon as the
homeless orphan for whom we had all felt so sorry was safely
married to a wage-earner, she announced that her working days were

Martha, of course, filled in.  She tried with all her wiles to keep
the job open until the inevitable day when Adrenna should drift
back home again.  Much as I loved Adrenna, I could not look forward
happily to future man-hunts.  There came to me, in answer to
prayer, a reward for my sufferings, the perfect maid.  She is well
trained, as good a cook as I, well educated, with almost my own
tastes in literature and movies.  She loves the country, she loves
my dog, she loves company dinners, she dislikes liquor and has no
interest in men.  The Lord taketh away but the Lord also definitely
giveth.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

I expressed as much to Martha.  She was at first obstructive.  When
she hinted that I could not possibly be pleased by a girl from
Reddick, and advised me darkly not to spend money on refurnishing
her room, for she was certain not to be here long, I knew that she
was up to her old tricks of manipulation.  I had not won perfection
to have it snatched from me, even by Martha.  I talked to her
frankly and for the first and only time, brutally.  Idella was
satisfied, I said, and I was more than satisfied with her.  I would
keep her if it meant throwing every one else out.  Adrenna could
not come back even if she wanted to.  I played my last card, and
for once Martha did not see through me.  If I could not live
comfortably at the Creek, I told her, I should sell my grove to
Yankees and move away.  Martha gave up gracefully and joined me in
pans of praise for Idella.

I said, "You know what I've been through with maids.  I feel
perfectly sure that the Lord sent me Idella."

She sighed.

"Reckon so, Sugar.  The Lord stands high, but He sees low."

She meant, I think, that the Lord had seen through her.

If, even with the Lord on my side, providing Idella, I imagined
that Martha would allow Adrenna to pass from our lives, the dream
was fatuous.  Martha has just brought Adrenna here for a "visit."
She showed up with a four months' old baby, of exactly the right
age to be a memento of the vanished Robert.  This she denies, quite
simply.  The baby was born to a neighbor, she said, who was going
to throw it away.

"I told 'em I'd raise it," Adrenna said, "rather than them jes'
throw it in the garbage."

Adrenna has been jobless since she left and she needs a major

"I decide I rather have the operation here," she said, "so's I can
be home, at the Creek."

I had a sinking sensation.  The baby, Betty Jean, is bright and
ingratiating.  I can see Martha behind the scenes, managing,
manipulating.  I am doomed to pay for the operation and doomed to
help Adrenna raise the baby.  Perhaps Martha is looking ahead to
the day when the Lord reaches down His hand to the Creek and turns
her over to Abraham's bosom.  Perhaps she sees Adrenna replacing
her in the addition to the tenant house in her old age, and Betty
Jean serving me in mine.  Martha will have a finger in my pie from
beyond the grave.

17.  Our daily Bread

I hold the theory that the serving of good food is the one certain
way of pleasing everybody.  A Readers' Club, in advertising its
wares, advises one and all to turn to books when love and liquor
fail them.  Love and liquor are admittedly fallible comforters, but
who is to agree on books?  One man's meat is another man's poison
more certainly in literature than in gastronomy.  Conversation is
fallible, for not all want to talk about the same things, and some
do not want to talk at all, and some do not want to listen.  But
short of dyspepsia or stomach ulcers, any man or woman may be
pleased with well-cooked and imaginative dishes.

Cookery is my one vanity and I am a slave to any guest who praises
my culinary art.  This is my Achilles heel.  Dorothy Parker has a
delightful verse dealing with the abuse she is willing to take from
her beloved, and ending, "But say my verses do not scan, and I get
me another man."  For my part, my literary ability may safely be
questioned as harshly as one wills, but indifference to my table
puts me in a rage.

My recognition of cookery as one of the great arts was not an
original discovery, but it is as important a one for the individual
woman as the discovery of love.  My mother and her mother had been
famous cooks.  When I read Della Lutes' A Country Kitchen, I wept
in nostalgia for my Michigan grandmother's dinner table.  My mother
was as great a cook, but there was a taint on her art, for she did
not consider it a notable accomplishment and she refused to teach
me.  Also, she worked so hard at it, with so little joy, no matter
how capable a maid stood at her side, that she was exhausted, with
a migraine headache, when a special feast was ready, and could not
touch any of the magnificent dishes.  I watched her in the kitchen
with utter fascination, and since she apparently used no recipes,
but combined her inherited knowledge with her own natural gift, I
came to the secret conclusion that cooking was a matter of
instinct, and that surely it must be in my blood.  This belief was
as fatuous as the belief of most people that they could write if
they cared to take the time for it.

My instinctive cooking proved, in my maturity, a thing of horror.
It bore no relation to that of my mother and my grandmother.  The
climax was dual, two shocks following closely on each other.  One
night at dinner a plate of tomato mayonnaise salad was heaved at my
head.  There was nothing wrong with the salad, but every other dish
on the table was inedible.  I began to wonder if heredity might not
be a snare and a delusion.  A week later my mother-in-law came to
visit, and while she ate my meals gracefully, courageously and
without comment, she had no sooner returned to her home than there
came to me in the mail a copy of the Boston Cook Book, even ahead
of the conventional bread and butter letter.

I was not offended, but grateful, and I studied Fanny Farmer as a
novitiate the prayer book.  Lo and behold, my memories of my
mother's dishes suddenly fitted in with the new exactness and I
could duplicate her secret recipes, her heart-melting egg
croquettes, her chicken in aspic, her potato puffs, her white
almond cake.  Science, art and instinct joined hands in a happy
ring-around-the-rosy.  I had solid rock under me.  I have often
thought that if I should be quite destitute, provided I had a
modicum of health, I should enjoy making my living as a cook, but
it would have to be in an establishment where the cream and butter
and cooking sherry were not stinted, for life at the Creek with
Jersey cows has unfitted me for skimmed milk and margarine.  And I
should buy cooking sherry with my last dollar.

The new foods that I found in Florida were a challenge and I have
learned more about cookery in my years at the Creek than in those
that preceded them.  Some of my best dishes are entirely native and
local and I shiver with delight when a stranger pokes at something
and asks dubiously, "What is it?" then, urged to taste, is wreathed
with smiles and says, "It's good, even if it's rattlesnake."
Rattlesnake is of course eaten as a delicate hors d'oeuvre, but of
all the queer things I have served or eaten, this alone is not
among them.  It is sheer prejudice, no doubt, but I know too well
the heavy, rolling black and yellow bodies to relish a morsel from
their midriffs.

William Bartram gives a pertinent account of a similar divergence
of taste.  The occasion was a trip to Florida, near St. Augustine,
with his father, the botanist John Bartram, at a much earlier date
than William's famous travels of 1773.

"Some time after we had been rambling in a swamp about a quarter of
a mile from the camp, I being ahead a few paces, my father bid me
observe the rattlesnake before and just at my feet.  I stopped and
saw the monster formed in a high spiral coil, not half his length
from my feet: another step forward would have put my life in his
power, as I must have touched if not stumbled over him.  The fright
and perturbation of my spirits at once excited resentment; at that
time I was entirely insensible to gratitude or mercy.  I instantly
cut off a little sapling, and soon dispatched him: this serpent was
about six feet in length, and as thick as an ordinary man's leg.
The encounter deterred us from proceeding on our researches for the
day.  So I cut off a long tough withe or vine, which fastening
round the neck of the slain serpent, I dragged him after me, his
scaly body sounding over the ground, and entering the camp with him
in triumph, was soon surrounded by the amazed multitude, both
Indians and my countrymen.  The adventure soon reached the ears of
the commander, who sent an officer to request that, if the snake
had not bit himself, he might have him served up for his dinner.  I
readily delivered up the body of the snake to the cooks, and being
that day invited to dine at the governor's table, saw the snake
served up in several dishes; governor Grant being fond of the flesh
of the rattlesnake.  I tasted of it, but could not swallow it."

At the Creek I was obliged to learn all over again the simple
matter of "bread."  Bread to me had always been the baked wheat
loaf, white or of the whole grain.  One drew a line only between
homemade and baker's bread.  This is not "bread" to the Creek at
all.  If I asked a neighbor for some bread in an emergency, I
should receive a pan of cornbread.  It is the staple bread and the
young Townsends were correct in believing that one must have it to
grow on.  Bread as I once knew it is called "light bread," and
healthy appetites despise it for "wasp's-nest bread," with contempt
for its texture and its filling qualities.  There are gradations of
cornbread.  True cornbread is made elegantly with milk and eggs and
shortening and is considered, rightly, good enough for any one.
Then comes cornpone.  It is not so rich, leaving out the eggs and
usually the milk, and is made in a skillet on top of the stove.
Below cornpone is hoe-cake and this is made simply of cornmeal,
salt and water, very thin in texture, and fried in a skillet if one
has fat for frying, or often in a Dutch oven or over a hearth or
camp fire.  The field hands of slavery times and the soldiers in
the War Between the States baked it on a shovel or hoe held to the
open flame.  When made of good sweet water-ground meal, it is crisp
and palatable, much like Mexican corn-chips.

I do not know where, among the cornbreads, to place hush-puppies.
There are elevated Floridians who turn up their noses at hush-
puppies, but any huntsman would not exchange a plate of them for
crpes suzettes.  They are made and served only in camp, or when
one is frying fresh-caught fish informally at home, with the
returned fishermen clustered comfortably in the kitchen while the
cook works.  Hush-puppies have a background, which is more than
many fancy breads can claim.  Back of them is the hunt, the fishing
trip, the camaraderie, the grease in the Dutch oven aromatic to
hungry sportsmen.  First, you fry your pristine fish, boned and
filleted, rolled in fine cornmeal and salt and dropped into
sizzling fat.  You lift out the fish, golden-brown, and lay them on
pie plates close to the camp fire.  While they have been frying,
you have stirred up your mixture: fine white cornmeal, salt, a
little soda or baking powder, an egg or two or three if the camp be
affluent, and, if you want hush-puppies de resistance, finely
chipped raw onion.  You make the mixture dry and firm.  You pat it
into little cakes or croquettes between your hands and drop the
patties into the smoking deep fat in which the fish have been
fried.  They brown quickly to the color of winter oak leaves, and
you must be sure to have your coffee and any other trifles ready,
for when the hush-puppies are brown, your meal is ready.

They must be eaten so hot that they burn the fingers that lift
them, for the licking of fingers, as with the Chinese genius who
discovered roast pig, is the very best of it.  Do they sound
impossible?  I assure you that under the open sky they are so
succulent that you do not care whether you have the rest of your
dinner or not.  The name?  It came, old-timers say, from hunting
trips of long ago, when the hunters sat or stood around the camp
fire and the Negro cooks and helpers sweat over their cooking and
the hunters ate lustily.  And although the hunting dogs tethered to
nearby trees had been fed their evening meal, they smelled the good
smells of man's victuals, and tugged at their leashes, and whined
for a tid-bit extra.  Then cook or helper or huntsman would toss
the left-over little corn patties to the dogs, calling, "Hush,
puppies!"  And the dogs bolted the toothsome morsels and hushed, in
their great content.

The hot biscuit runs a poor second to cornbread, but is considered
of higher social caste.  We abrogate and deprecate corn-bread when
we have guests, but we should consider ourselves deficient in
hospitality if we served a company meal without hot biscuits.  We
cannot conceive of a guest's not relishing them, and a tale is told
of a visitor to the South who never got to taste a hot biscuit,
solely from his hostess' zeal in trying to provide them hot.  It
seems that the visitor was a great conversationalist, and as the
hot biscuits were passed him by the maid, he would take one, butter
it, and delve into talk.  He would pause, reach for his biscuit,
and the hostess would say, "Oh, but that one is cold.  You must
have a hot one."  She would ring for fresh biscuits, the guest
would take one and butter it, make conversation, and again, his
biscuit would be snatched from him as he was about to eat it.  The
story goes that he left the South without ever having tasted a hot
southern biscuit.  It sounds like one of Irvin Cobb's yarns, but it
is more than plausible.  We do not have here the beaten biscuit of
Kentucky, but we make our biscuits much shorter than northern
biscuits, and while I sometimes think longingly of my mother's and
grandmother's biscuits, light, flaky, falling apart in layers, I
bite into a Florida biscuit, crisp as Scotch shortbread, and no
longer recall my ancestry.  The sorriest Negress, who can turn out
nothing else fit to eat, can make hot biscuits that would have
melted the hard heart of Sherman.

We have a wonderful recipe in these parts for ice-box rolls, whose
yeast-rising dough may be prepared in advance, kept in the icebox,
and brought out to be raised and baked when needed.  It is perhaps
exceptional or local only in that we bake it by preference in a
Dutch oven with live coals for heat.  Cast iron is so superior for
cooking utensils to our modern aluminum that I not only cannot
grieve for the pioneer hardship of cooking in iron over the hearth,
but shall retire if necessary to the back yard with my two Dutch
ovens, turning over all my aluminum cookers for airplanes with a
secret delight.  The Parker House in its hey-day could not have
made rolls as good as those we make on camps in the Dutch oven.  I
make the rolls a trifle larger than is usual and tuck them in
tightly in their buttered iron nest.  I put on the heavy cover and
set the oven with its three short legs either within faint warming
distance of the camp fire, or out in the sun.  The heat for baking,
when they have risen and are ready in an hour or so, must be
handled as carefully as a munitions plant handles its powder.  Too
little heat in baking means pale wan doughy rolls, and too much
means rolls of charcoal.  Only experience teaches the number and
depth of hot glowing oak coals both under the oven and on the lid.
When properly done, the rolls are light as feathers, done to a
great flakiness, hazel-nut brown, and of a flavor achieved under no
other circumstances.

My most successful Dutch oven rolls were prepared in the middle of
the St. John's River.  The doctor and his wife Dessie and I were on
a fishing trip on a warm winter day down the Ocklawaha River to its
junction with the St. John's, through little Lake George, to the
mouth of Salt Springs Run, where we planned to cook supper and camp
for the night.  I had brought along my large Dutch oven and a big
bowl of dough for my rolls.  We fished late into the afternoon and
it was plain that by the time we reached our camping place, it
would be too late to set my dough to rise.  There would be time
enough for the baking, for the fish must be cleaned and fried.  We
estimated the time to the landing, and an hour and a quarter
beforehand, I brought out my bowl of dough, my extra flour, my
butter and my Dutch oven from under a seat of the row-boat, and
while spray from the wind-swept river dashed into my face, I mixed
the dough in the bowl in my lap, shaped my rolls and placed them
tenderly in the Dutch oven.  I put the oven far forward where the
late afternoon sun would rest on the lid, and by the time we
reached Salt Springs Run and the camp fire was built, the rolls had
risen and were ready for the baking.  They had never been so
delicious.  Supper was superb, the fresh-caught bass white and
sweet and firm, the coffee strong and good as it can only be in the

We were on a little promontory at the mouth of the run, with great
live oaks around us, and palms tall against the aquamarine evening
sky.  A full moon rose in front of us and we felt ourselves favored
of all mortals.  After so much delight, we might have expected to
pay the piper.  The night was hideous.  Because the time was
winter, we had assumed there would be no mosquitoes.  But because
the winter was warm, they had hatched, and as we lay on blankets on
the sand, they descended in swarms.  We built up the camp fire to
make smoke to drive them away and the smoke was more annoying than
the mosquitoes.  Hoot owls settled in the oaks over our heads and
cried jeeringly all night.  Wood roaches came in and awakened us
from our spasms of slumber with their sharp nibbling on our ears.
When we arose at dawn, the doctor said, "You know, the only thing
that kept me going through the night was remembering those rolls."

Florida vegetables are all found, I think, in northern markets, but
many of them are never cooked properly there, for the reason that
the Yankee does not understand the benign uses of white bacon.
When you say "meat" in the north, you mean beef or lamb or
something of the sort.  "Meat" in Florida is one thing--white
bacon.  We call it white bacon to distinguish it from breakfast
bacon, or side meat, and it is, simply, salt pork, or, to the army,
sow belly.  If it is under-rated in the north and by the military,
it is perhaps over-rated in Florida, for it is the staple meat.
Affluent rural families serve it three times a day, no matter what
other meats may be on the table, poor families have it as often as
they can afford it, and town families of rural antecedents serve it
when the nostalgic hunger becomes too great.  The other evening I
found my colored maid Idella laughing to herself in the kitchen.  I
inquired the source of her mirth.

"Guess what I had for my supper," she said.

I could not guess.

"Well, I had cornpone and white bacon.  When we were growing up and
there were so many of us in the family, all we had most of the time
was cornpone and white bacon, and we had to eat it or go hungry.  I
thought I'd just like to see how it tasted when I didn't have to
eat it."

It tasted very good indeed, she reported.

White bacon is cooked everywhere in about the same fashion.  It is
usually soaked a little while in warm water or in milk, squeezed
dry, dipped in flour and fried to a crisp golden brown.  The large
amount of grease that fries from it is poured into a bowl and this
to the backwoodsman is "gravy."  It is solid grease, and it is
poured over grits, over sweet potatoes, over corn-bread or soda
biscuits, and how country stomachs survive ten hundred and ninety-
five servings of this a year is a mystery past my solving.

But the bacon itself is very tasty and is a requirement in cooking
many vegetables.  I cannot conceive of cow-peas without a few thin
slices boiled along with them, and even string beans, which here we
call green beans or wax beans according to color, now seem insipid
to me when cooked with butter or even with cream.  "Greens"
probably save more backwoods lives than the doctors, for they are
the one vegetable, aside from cow-peas, for which country folk have
a passion.  Spinach as a green is unheard of, although it is raised
for the northern market.  Beet greens are not relished.  But turnip
greens, mustard greens and above all, collard greens, cooked with
white bacon, with cornbread on the side, make an occasion.  Pot
liquor and corn-bread have their adherents and have even entered
into southern politics, a man addicted to the combination being
able to claim himself a man of the people.

Mustard greens are strong and hot and are best used sparingly along
with turnip greens.  Wherever mustard has been planted, it goes
wild and spreads, so that today, ten years after my last planting,
I can still go down toward the lake under the old seedling pecan
trees and pick a good mess in season.  Collard greens are my
favorite of the three.  They have a sweet nutty flavor.  An unhappy
combination is collard greens and hog chitlings.  Rural Florida is
divided into chitling and anti-chitling camps and feeling sometimes
runs high.  Man stands against wife and mother against child.  Fred
Tompkins solved the dissension over them between himself and his
wife in a practical way.

"The Old Hen's a fool for chitlin's," he said, "and I don't believe
in deprivin' another of anything they call pleasure.  So when she
cooks 'em, I just sell out and leave home for a day or two."

Pokeweed flourishes here and in late winter or early spring the
broad-leaved green shoots spring up all over the grove.  Others at
the Creek use the leaves for "poke salat," or cook them like any
other greens.  I hunt through the grove after a spring rain, basket
in hand, for the most tender shoots, cutting those from six to
eight inches in length.  I trim off the leaves and thin skin and
cook the shoots exactly as I do asparagus, serving them on buttered
toast with a rich cream sauce poured over, and strips of crisp
breakfast bacon around them.  The flavor is delicate and delicious,
with a faint taste of iron.

Longing for asparagus, I imported a quantity of the roots and made
a deep rich bed according to instructions.  The asparagus grew and
thrived, but the year-round blandness of temperature here, with no
long dormant period, excited it so violently that it grew twelve
months of the year, sending up long neurotic shoots every night, no
larger than a bridge pencil.  It grew so fast that there was never
a moment of that crisp succulence in which to cut it.  By noon the
thin sprigs had burst into ferny leaf.  I was discouraged, but I
think the asparagus was not, for after generations of offering damp
heads to a cold northern April sky, here were sun and heat all day
long, and the asparagus went wild with joy.

Okra is a Cinderella among vegetables.  It lives a lowly life,
stewed stickily with tomatoes, or lost of identity in a Creole
gumbo.  I do not know whether the magic wand with which I wave it
into something finer than mere edibility is original, but I know no
other cook who serves it as I do.  To bring it to its glamorous
fulfillment, only the very small tender young pods must be used.
These are left with the stem end uncut and are cooked exactly seven
minutes in rapidly boiling salted water.  I serve them arranged
like the spokes of a wheel on individual small plates, with
individual bowls of Hollandaise sauce set in the center.  The okra
is lifted by the stem end as one lifts unhulled strawberries,
dipped in the Hollandaise and eaten much more daintily than is
possible with asparagus.  The flavor is unique.  The Hollandaise,
it goes without saying, must be perfect; just holding its shape;
velvety in texture; properly acid.  I use the yolk of one egg, the
juice of half a lemon, and a quarter of a pound of Dora's butter
per person.  The only other place I have eaten Hollandaise as good
as mine is at the Ritz-Carlton, and even theirs does not have quite
enough lemon juice to suit me.  And of course, for the price of one
serving of broccoli or asparagus  la Hollandaise at the Ritz, I
can buy a whole hamper of okra and feed Dora for a week.

The Ritz and the Waldorf and such haunts also serve our most exotic
vegetable.  They call it hearts of palm, but to us at the Creek it
is, simply, swamp cabbage.  I serve it seldom, for it is truly the
heart of a palm tree and the epicure's feast means the death of a
palmetto.  I am so enamored of the tall swaying palms that I cut
one only on special occasions, although it makes one of my favorite
dishes.  You cannot have your palm tree and eat it too.  Only the
young palms have edible hearts.  The proper height is about six or
eight feet.  It is a yeoman's job to cut down the tough fibrous
trunk and split off the overlapping tight outer layers.  I do not
see how any one gets the white inner cylinder trimmed down
correctly, wasting none of the sweet portion but cutting away all
that will be strong and bitter, without Martha's assistance.  If
she is within hailing distance, she comes to do the job for me.
Greed snares me when I try it, for I can never give up the final
layer, in the fond hope that it will prove edible.  A trace of
bitterness spoils the dish.  The tenderest core of the wax-white
cylinder may be sliced very thin, soaked in ice water, drained and
served as a salad with tart mayonnaise or French dressing.  It has
the crisp sweetness of chestnuts.  We usually parboil our swamp
cabbage in a very little water, then put it on to cook again in
still less water, with thin slices of white bacon.  It melts in
your mouth when cooked with butter until tender and dry, then
moistened and heated with heavy cream.  Its flavor is a cross
between oyster plant and boiled French chestnuts, but as superior
to either as angel food to hard tack.

We raise here successfully an ethereal relation of the squash
family, the choyote.  The fruitlike vegetable grows on a luxurious
vine that has been known to cover an acre.  I used it through a hot
summer for shade over my Mallard duck pen.  The choyote is the
shape of a blunt, enormous pear, pale jade-green in color.  Peeled,
sliced, parboiled and tapered off au gratin in the oven with a
dense cream sauce and a nicely calculated quantity of grated
cheese, it provides so delicate a dish that I should consider it
suitable only for Boston Brahmins, if it were not that Boston
Brahmins have a rank and plebeian taste for baked beans, coarse
brown bread and odorous fish cakes.

I am reminded of the fabled Britisher who ate a breakfast, which
included codfish cakes, at the old Parker House in Boston.

"All the dishes served me," he said to the waiter, "have been
exceptionally palatable.  But will you kindly remove these little
patties?  Something seems to have died in them."

Perhaps the delicacy of the choyote is after all most suited to the
sub-tropics, where we do everything in so leisurely a manner that
we roll a taste on our tongues and savor any subtle flavor with the
long view of time.

Here at the Creek we do not have our full quota of Florida fruits,
for we are above the frost line, as far north, actually, as citrus
may be raised commercially.  The two large lakes, Orange and
Lochloosa, between which our lands lie, protect us from a greater
cold damage.  We cannot raise here the avocado, the papaya or the
mango, and when I buy them in market I must pay almost as much as
in New York City.  A hundred miles south all three are raised,
though for the fine big Haydn mango one must go south of Miami and
to the Florida Keys.  I once planted three avocados, or alligator
pears, as the Chamber of Commerce wishes us to call them, in pots.
They grew into handsome seedlings with large bronzed leaves and I
set them out between the pump stand and the pantry window, where
the southern exposure would protect them.  They grew higher than
the house and just as I had dreams of grafting them with cuttings
of the edible avocado, a freeze cut them to the ground.  They put
out hopeful shoots for the next two years, but last winter's cold
finished them and there are three black stumps to mark the site of
my hopes for my own salads.

The papaya is not properly appreciated away from home, for the
reason that it is seldom served ripe enough.  It must look
completely rotten, black and yellow, with the skin peeling from it
in apparent decay, before it is sweet and mellow and ready, and it
would not occur to any one out of the tropics to wait for such
disintegration.  There should also be a minor law compelling its
dressing with lime juice.  The fruit alone is on the insipid side.
The only recommendation for the over-sweetened canned papaya juices
is their vitamins and their digestive action on proteins.

Better men than I have written lyrically about the mango.  They
have also written, to my notion, abusively, for they insist that
the only way to eat a mango is in a bathing suit by the side of the
ocean or in the bathtub.  This maligns the mango.  It is necessary
only to tie a towel around one's neck and lean far forward.  If it
could be had in no other way, it would be worth while to stand on
one's head to eat it or to hang from the limb of a tree.  I have
known the best of northern apples in my grandfather's orchard, the
Ben Davis, the sheep's nose, the banana apple, the little pink-
stained snow apple, sweet as honey.  I have known the New York
State Elberta peach and the Georgia peach, the West Virginia sickle
pear and the Wisconsin Bartlett.  I know the Indian River orange
and its close rival, the pineapple orange of my own section; our
choice grapefruit and tangerines.  I would swap them all for the
season's Haydn mangoes.  There is a smaller mango, fibrous and
acrid, that we call the turpentine mango from its strange flavor.
This should be avoided unless one is desperate for any taste of
mango.  The Haydn is born generously with several different
flavors, and we choose from the strawberry mango, the pineapple
mango and the peach mango.

Tastes and odors can never be described unless they are comparable
with known tastes and odors and the mango is unique and completely
superior.  It may be peeled and eaten out of hand, gnawing at last
on the great pit; it may be cut daintily and served just so, or
with sugar and cream; or it may be made, with the help of a Jersey
cow, into ice cream fit for the gods.  Do not desecrate it, do not
commit sacrilege, by making ice cream of the mango with ordinary
city cream, not even the double whip.  If you do not own a Jersey
cow or have no friend who owns a Jersey cow, eat your mango plain
and forget the Olympus beyond your reach.  But if you can lay hold
of cream as yellow as June butter, so thick you must dip it from
bowl or pitcher with a spoon, then crush your mangoes, add a little
lemon juice and a little sugar, stir in the cream, freeze it, not
in the electric icebox but in a hand churn, and be prepared to have
life afterward, without mango ice cream, a trifle dull.

I recall the time when I was in the hospital on a bland, or non-
fibrous, diet.  My own doctor, who had committed me to the diet,
knew that I shared his passion for mangoes.  About eight o'clock at
night, when the day nurses had gone and the night nurses were busy,
he would slip into my room with a sack of mangoes.  He would close
the door stealthily, bring me a towel and basin, and peel a mango
for me, then peel one for himself over the lavatory.  We ate mango
for mango, and if there was an odd number, he divided the extra one
mathematically between us.  I would try to sift out between my
teeth as much of the fiber as possible.

"Anything this good," he would whisper over his shoulder, fearful
of the nurses whom he had impressed with the exigencies of my diet,
"couldn't possibly hurt any one."

To compensate a little for not being able to raise our own mangoes
at the Creek, we have guava bushes along almost every fence row.
Guavas have the rankness of odor of the tropics, deathly sweet and
pungent, and the uncouth say that a self-respecting cat will bury a
guava.  The flavor, however, like that of many malodorous cheeses,
is delicate.  The bushes grow sometimes as high as a one-storied
house and the fruit is borne in round golden balls the size of
small peaches.  There are two layers of solid meat, interspersed
with countless small, hard, yellow seeds like bleached buckshot.
True guava addicts eat seeds and all, and the sound of two or three
of them at it is like the clashing of worn gears.  The Florida
stores carry Florida-canned guavas, but these have the seeds left
in.  The Cubans can the seeded layers of large choice guavas in a
heavy syrup, so whenever I am in Tampa I go down into the crowded
Cuban quarter, redolent of scorching coffee beans and the long
sweet sticks of Cuban bread, and buy canned guavas there.  I serve
them with cream, or with crackers and cream cheese.  For making
guava jelly, I have a line of Cattley guava bushes along the edge
of my back porch.  The bushes are as ornamental as ligustrum and
the tiny red fruits, as inedible as wild crabapples, as full of
pectin and tartness, make a ruby-red jelly much superior in taste
and texture to the commercial guava jelly.  A glass of Cattley
guava jelly works miracles in a wine and raisin sauce for baked
ham, in a mince pie, and in a certain rum and brandy Christmas

I tried futilely to make jelly of our passion fruit, which sprawls
its exquisite lacy vines all over the east grove through the late
summer.  Among the truncated leaves the passion flower opens pale
lavender rosettes, fringed and marked at the center with the
stigmata, and with stamens indicating the number of the apostles.
There is even visible the crown of thorns.  The fruit resembles a
little the May apple, but is of an open, fibrous texture.  There is
a passion fruit liqueur that is the primary ingredient, after the
varied rums, of that marvelous and deadly drink, the Zombie, and I
was sure I had heard of passion fruit jelly.  My own vines in the
grove had been destroyed by the last mowing, and I walked two miles
to Big Hammock where the vines grew along the roadside.  I gathered
a skirtfull of the fruit and went home to my experiment.  Perhaps I
should have eliminated the skin or the seeds, but at any rate the
exotic jelly on which I had set my heart did not materialize.  The
mixture jellied, but it tasted like a medival poison, acrid and
strange, and I threw it out with horror.  There are several
tropical edibles that are poisonous when improperly treated,
notably the coontie palm root and the cassava.  Both must be soaked
and pounded to get rid of the poisonous element.  The coontie palm
root when treated makes a starchy flour for bread, and the reason
the Seminole Indians were able to hold out against us, was their
use of the root.  The treated cassava root makes a delicious
pudding, amber in color, translucent, delicately sweet.

There are two jellies here, however, rare and ethereal, that, like
the wines of some provinces, may be found only in their own habitat
and are not on any market.  One is the roselle, rosy-pink, tasting
like candied rose petals.  The roselle belongs to the okra and
cotton and hollyhock family, and when the flowers, which we raise
for ornaments, are just past full bloom, we make the jelly of the
seed pods that have begun to form, seed pods that resemble rose
hips.  The other is may-haw or hawthorn jelly, as delicate as its
name.  I first tasted it, incongruously, on a bear hunt near the
St. John's River.  Marsh Harper brought it, of his wife's making,
as part of his contribution to the hunt's food supplies.  It is
necessary to pick the may-haws at the immediate moment of proper
ripeness, for if unripe they are bitter, and if over-ripe they will
not "jell."

Of the wild fruits, the large single wild Florida grape and the
wild plum, or hog plum, make the finest of tart jellies, and I make
these to serve through the winter with game.  But I am obliged to
watch the development of the fruits closely and pick them a trifle
green, for the 'coons and 'possums and jay-birds are likely to be
ahead of me.  I feel sometimes in gathering them that I am stealing
from the needy, for the jelly is a luxury for me and the fruit a
necessity for the small animals.  I take no more than I am sure I
shall use.  As for the pawpaws, which bloom like miniature white
orchids late in February, the banana-like fruit is gone down the
gullets of the varmints long before I have had a chance at it, and
with pawpaws covering our woods, I have never tasted one.

Martha said to me, "Only a nigger young un kin beat the varmints to
the pawpaws."

Thinking of the small hungry creature faces, prowling for food of
nights, I have never picked a spray of pawpaw bloom, for all its
loveliness, but once, and that was to take to my artist friend
Robert for his enchantment.  I wrote this verse once, after I had
held my hand:

      I did not break the may-haw bough,
      Nor pull the flowering plum,
      For ripe fruit follows April's plow
      And falls when locusts drum,
      And windy summer nights I know
      New-weaned raccoons will come.
      I left the fox the pawpaw bud
      To ripen near his lair--
      But brambleberries strewed the wood,
      And they had bloom to spare.
      I picked a thorny spray and stood
      And tucked it in my hair.

I am the sole admirer of my verse, but I felt a great nobility
during its composition.

The Scuppernong grape is not a Florida native, but cuttings from
old Carolina and Georgia vines have been brought in with many a
covered wagon and on many an ox-cart.  The vine thrives here in the
dry sandy soil, and on many abandoned clearings, where even the
brick chimneys have fallen into dust, a huge Scuppernong will
stand, seeming to support the rotten lattice work rather than to be
sustained by it, an echo of some dead and gone family struggle for
existence.  The purple Scuppernong is rich and fat and unexceptional,
but the white Scuppernong, in the hands of loving and expert care,
makes a vintage white wine that can stand with the best Sauterne.

When Zelma and I were taking the census, we came on an old man far
off in the piney-woods who gave us cups of white Scuppernong wine
so dry, so fine, that I could not believe my palate.  He gave us
the recipe, and I took it down as he dictated:

"Now don't look to this not to fail you if you don't do like I tell
you.  And when I've done told you all I know, then you still got to
have a sort o' feelin' about it, and if you ain't got that feelin',
you just as good go buy your wine some'eres, for you cain't make

"Now you mash your Scuppernongs the very same day you pick 'em.
Don't you go pickin' 'em of an evenin' when the sun's low and the
day's coolin', and then you go traipsin' off some'eres, sayin',
'I'll start my wine come mornin'.'  You pick 'em fust off in the
mornin', with the dew on 'em, and you mash 'em with a bread roller.
Put 'em in a deep crock.  A keg?  Well, yes, I've used a keg, but a
crock's better.  Now you sprinkle sugar or honey over 'em.  How
much?  Now I cain't no more tell you that than why a bird sings.
Just sort of kiver 'em light-like, and honey's the best.  I'd say
flat-woods honey.  Palmeeter honey is a mite too dark.  Now you let
'em stand three to seven days.  I cain't tell you which, nor what
day in betweenst.  They git a certain look.

"Now some folks, when that time comes, skim off the pummies.  That
ain't my way, and you kin do as you please.  When that time comes,
I put 'em in a flour sack and I squeezes hell outen 'em.  Then I
put the juice back in the crock and I add sugar slow, powerful
slow, stirrin' all the time.  How much sugar?  Now if you like your
wine sweet, you put the sugar to the juice until a egg'll float.  I
don't fancy it that sweet.  I like wine to lay cool and not sickly
on my tongue.  I put in sugar to where a egg don't quite float, to
where it sort o' bobbles around, and mebbe just raises itself oncet
almost to the top.

"Now some folks leaves it lay in the crock.  I don't.  I put it
right now in the bottles, without no tops on.  I keep some back in
the crock.  I kiver the bottles with a cloth.  The wine'll work,
and it'll shrink down, and ever' mornin' come sun-up I'll add some
from what I've helt back in the crock.  I do this until it quits
workin'.  Then I cork it tight and lay it down on its side in a
dark place.  Now that ain't the way of a heap o' folks, but it's my

I have never tried his recipe, because I have never had enough
white Scuppernongs at any one time to work with.

When the winter at the Creek has not been too cold, we have our own
bananas.  Martha fries the coarse horse-banana and calls it edible,
but it has singularly little flavor.  The tiny lady-finger bananas
are almost as sweet as the commercial sort and in the rare years
when a banana blossom appears, I nurse and watch it through the
summer.  My plants make a man-high cluster beside the wash-bench
and the black women are grateful for the shade of the broad leaves.
The blossom is exotic past description, so that only Georgia
O'Keefe could do it justice with her brush and palette.  It is a
ruddy maroon in color, yellow-tipped, and a hundred fingerlike
flowerets are the forerunners of the long upside-down bunch of
fruit.  It is necessary to cut the spray before the bananas are
quite mature and to hang it in a dark place.  The fruit ripens and
yellows slowly in the store-room back of my kitchen.

It grieves me that we are too far north to raise the truly tropical
plantain, blood-brother to the banana.  In late summer I haunt the
fruit stores, watching for the stalks of fruit that must be as
black as a bat before it is ready to use.  The plantain is peeled
like a banana, sliced lengthwise very thinly, and fried in butter,
sugar being sprinkled over the slices as they are turned in the
skillet.  It is suitably served with, say, fried chicken, or alone
as a dessert.

All my life the pomegranate has held for me a magical connotation,
for the story of Proserpine, daughter of Ceres, had enchanted me as
a child.  No explanation of the seasons has since seemed as
plausible as the tale that told of the swallowing of the forbidden
pomegranate seeds by the child of Mother Earth, condemned to spend,
for every seed, a month in the underworld while the earth sorrowed.
When a neighbor gave me a thin rooted twig of the bush, it was as
though an ancient wand had been put in my hand.  I nursed the small
thing until it grew lean and feathery and as tall as the sloping
roof by the kitchen door.  In its fourth spring it blossomed.  The
flowers are carved jewels, strangely solid of calyx, made of
polished carnelian that opens out, not into petals, but a bright
fluted mouth.  The fruits are ripe in September and vary in size
from an orange to a small grapefruit.  This year they are so heavy
that the roof-high slender boughs are bent to the ground.  Set in
the fibrous, acrid pulp is a nest of rubies, blood-red and
transparent.  These are the seeds and it is their crisp casing that
is edible.  One's teeth crack into it and it seems to splinter and
melt away on the tongue in a brief acid coolness.  I scatter the
bright shining things across a pale fruit salad.  I should not care
to run the risk of swallowing one, though probably the gods pay no
attention to us modern mortals and I could do so with impunity.

It is the meats that I prepare at the Creek that are the most
exotic of my dishes.  I take no credit for some of them, for they
are old in local culinary lore.  Alligator steaks, for instance.
It is no doubt absurd to balk at rattlesnake steaks and enthuse
over alligator, for the saurians are not much removed from the
reptiles.  Drawing a line between dangerous rattlers and harmless
alligators is as though a cannibal said he would eat a friend but
would not eat an enemy.  But surely we may all be allowed our
prejudices, and I have none against steaks from the tail of an
alligator.  I can say dispassionately that properly cooked it is a
great delicacy.  The meat is pink and clean, like veal, and is
similar in flavor.  The first time I cooked it, I fried it too
long, and it was tough and dry.  I discovered that it is like veal
cutlets or liver, in that it must be fried quickly, or simmered a
long time.  It is best, pounded, drenched with flour and fried
rapidly in butter.  Otherwise, it may be smother-fried, browned in
the fat, hot water and lemon juice added, covered, and allowed to
simmer until tender.

I am especially enthusiastic about our turtles, especially the soft-
shell cooter.  We have four turtles, the gopher, or land tortoise,
which the Minorcans hunted for some unknown purpose, perhaps
medicinal; the hard-shell cooter; the soft-shell; and the alligator
cooter.  At the Creek we have nothing to do with the gopher, a hole-
digger, an underminer of land, a provider of refuge to the
rattlesnake.  As far as we know, he is not edible.  We are partial
to the hard-shell cooter and I can never be in too big a hurry on
my way to town to stop the car and get out and capture one to take
home to Martha, with the proviso that she save me some of the eggs,
if it is a female, and a portion of the meat.  I learned to love
the soft-shell cooter from Ed Hopkins.  Ed is gone from the earth
he loved so well, but in his life he was a country gentleman with
the tastes and instincts of an Indian.  He announced that he would
gather us a dinner directly from the land, and we set out from the
Creek one Sunday morning in early summer.

"The Lord will provide," he said.

Rain threatened, and the turtles were crawling.  They lay their
eggs ahead of a rain, so that no trace will be left to catch the
bright eyes of skunk or raccoon.  We followed fresh trails and came
on our cooters in the act of laying.  We took two sizeable ones and
part of the eggs, leaving the rest buried for seed.  Our entree
then was to be turtle eggs, the turtle itself our meat course.  We
cut a swamp cabbage, or palmetto, for one vegetable and wild
mustard greens for another.  We gathered poke leaves for a salad,
to be dressed with the juice of wild oranges.  We roamed across a
gallberry flat and found blueberry bushes waist high, and picked
our dessert into our hats.

"The Lord will provide," Ed repeated.

We made cornpone of our own meal, ground at the old water-mill at
Hawthorn.  Dinner was cooked outdoors over the open fire.  It was a
feast.  For drink we had a pale dry yellow wine made of wild
elderberry blossoms.

The soft-shell cooter is cooked in the same manner as the hard-
shell, but more of it is edible.  The preparation is the most
difficult part, as the separating of the meat from the shell
requires strength, patience and several implements.  The meat is
then cut in small pieces, parboiled in salted water until tender,
then dipped in an egg batter and fried in deep sizzling fat.  I
prefer it to fried chicken.  The soft-shell cooter is a flat
fellow, like a flounder, an enormous brown pancake.  The outer rim
of his shell is a soft gristle, and when prepared like the meat
itself, cooks to the texture of gum drops, and is of a flavor to
make you eat until you are weak and faint from surfeit.

The alligator cooter is the most highly prized of all inland turtle
meats.  He is very dangerous, a virulent fighter encased in a
ridged, scaly shell from which he takes his name, with a fierce
hooked beak at the end of his head and long neck that can make
mincemeat of an enemy.  While other turtles attempt to scramble
away, the alligator cooter lunges at you with incredible swiftness,
and when you have finally taken one, you have won a small battle.
The meat is whiter than that of the other turtles, perhaps because
of a difference in feeding habits, and is of a less gamey taste and
an even greater sweetness.

Turtle eggs, like chitlings, divide friend from friend, but to my
notion they are a major delicacy.  Ed Hopkins proposed the riddle,
"Why does a hard-shelled cooter lay a soft-shelled egg, and a soft-
shelled cooter lay a hard-shelled egg?"  I do not know the answer,
but the fact is there.  The eggs taste exactly the same, and also
exactly like the larger eggs of the huge sea-turtles that come to
lay in summer on the Florida beaches.  I watched one of these
monsters lay one night in front of my beach cottage.  She had
already dug her deep, incurving nest and had begun to lay when
Norton and I discovered her.  She heaved up and down rhythmically.
After an hour or more she was done, and packed the sand hard with
her back flippers.  She turned her great body laboriously and began
a slow trek back to the ocean.  She seemed in no fear of us, and in
the glow of our flashlight, looked at us sadly, as though for
sympathy, tears rolling from her eyes.  I am certain that they
expressed no emotion, but only exhaustion.  We took turns riding
her down to the water, then for all her bulk, at least four feet
each way, and weighing several hundred pounds, felt that she must
be too tired to carry any burden.  We lifted her hind legs and
walked her wheelbarrow fashion, and she seemed grateful for the
assistance and took on a little burst of speed.  She lay for some
minutes in the shallow water, recuperating; then we saw the great
dark form lift in the surf and head for the open seas.

There were a hundred and thirty-five eggs in the nest, the size of
golf balls.  The custom here also is to leave half of them buried.
In all three types of turtle eggs, the yolk is the delicacy, the
white being of a consistency that never hardens, no matter how long
the eggs are boiled in salted water.  There is one set way of
eating turtle eggs, Ed Hopkins said, and an important rite is
connected with it.  First you tear or break off the top of the egg,
holding it in your left hand as you operate with the right.  You
add salt, pepper and a lump of butter.  You pop the yolk of the egg
inside your mouth, and as you pop it is required that you say
solemnly, like a grace, "This is the most delicious morsel God ever
gave to man."

It was Ed too who taught me to make a fish chowder that makes a
poor thing of any New England chowder.  Ed's was a virginal
chowder, uncorrupted by such alien elements as peas, corn and
tomatoes.  I weaken now and then and serve large baked sea-bass or
red snapper with a Spanish sauce, but for fish chowder of a
pristine quality, I follow Ed's recipe.  The fish of course may be
bought, but is immensely better when you have caught it yourself.
Any fish will do that is large enough to be boned and filleted.  Ed
and I always preferred the big-mouthed bass of local waters.  In a
Dutch oven by preference, or a deep iron skillet by second choice,
place a layer of finely cut white bacon or breakfast bacon.  On top
of that lay gently a layer of boned fish.  Place above that a layer
of thinly sliced raw peeled Irish potatoes and a layer of thinly
sliced raw white onion, and lastly, a layer of soda crackers.  Dot
with butter and salt and pepper.  Repeat the layers in the same
order until the cooking pot is filled.  Add water halfway to the
height of the vessel, cover, and simmer slowly until fish, onions
and potatoes are tender.  The liquid must cook entirely away, so
that the bottom layer of bacon bits and fish is well browned.  Add
cream to cover, heat to boiling, and serve immediately.  You are
not quite certain of what the dish consists, for fish, onion and
buttered cream are lost in a cosmic delicacy.  You know only that
something almost too good for common man is before you.  And that
reminds me of Ed's experience with lump sugar when he was a little
boy.  Among the grocery stores patronized by his family was one run
by a Negro.  Little Ed was prowling about among the barrels of
crackers, the cheeses, the strings of smoked mullet, the hams, and
came across a sack of lump sugar.

He asked, "What's this, Uncle Ben?"

The Negro adjusted his spectacles.

"That, son," he said, "is a kind of sugar, used by a few white
folks and no niggers a-tall."

The expression has become a shibboleth among Ed's friends, and we
say of something special, like the chowder, "That's used by a few
white folks, and no niggers a-tall."

Under this classification comes one of our food items, so choice
that it should have straws drawn for it by the gourmet elite of a
very few white folks.  Off in the scrub country there appears from
nowhere a clear, bubbling, underground spring.  The spring pours
forth such a flood of water as to make a stream, or run, that flows
into the St. John's River.  In this spring and down this run are
found enormous blue crabs.  They are of the ocean variety, but I
have never known any salt water crabs to equal them in size or

Robert and Cecil and Norton and I go crabbing of a dark night.  We
drift down the run in a small boat after night has fallen.  The
experts wear focussing flashlights on their foreheads, or have a
passenger focus an ordinary flashlight over the side of the boat.
The light shines through the dark water and picks out the great
crabs, feeding on the bottom.  The expert lowers cautiously a pair
of crab-claws--open-springed iron jaws at the end of a twelve-foot
pole--and strikes the crab dexterously.  The iron jaws snap shut
and the live crab is hauled aboard and dropped in the fish-box in
the boat.  As with all hunting, the surroundings are a great part
of the delight.  The moving flashlight picks out a moss-hung
cypress there, a swamp maple here, and hoot-owls as big as eagles
sit on low boughs, blinded by the light, and shift their feet and
stare big-eyed at us.  Fireflies flicker along the banks and mullet
leap in the darkness.  We prefer to crab-hunt on a night when the
moon rises late.  We work in darkness down to the mouth of the run,
where the water hyacinths mass against the current, then paddle
upstream with our catch in the moonlight.

We boil the crabs immediately, twenty minutes in salted water.  We
like best to eat them just-so, with homemade mayonnaise and Cuban
bread and cold bitter ale.  The meat comes from the shells in
enormous flakes, snow-white and incredibly sweet and flavorsome.
There are two schools of crab-eaters.  Some like to eat as fast as
they pick.  I find this an infuriating process, for one works for
an hour or more, getting a small mouthful at a time, and is never
satisfied.  I take the long view and patiently pick out the meat
from my share of the crabs until I have built up a fine mound to be
eaten in luxury.  There is considerable risk in this procedure, for
the still famished piecemeal pickers eye my luscious pile greedily
and have been known to saunter past my place at table and one by
one snatch a forkful from my plate in selfish jealousy, all because
of their own improvidence.

When we have crab meat to spare, I make a crab Newburg so
superlative that I myself taste it in wonder, thinking, "Can it be
I who has brought this noble thing into the world?"

It is impossible to give proportions, for I never twice have the
same amount of crab meat to work with, and here indeed I have no
mother, but only instinct, to guide me.  In an iron skillet over a
low fire I place a certain amount of Dora's butter.  As it melts, I
stir in the flaked crab meat, lightly, tenderly.  The flakes must
not become disintegrated; they must not brown.  I add lemon juice,
possibly a tablespoonful for each cup of crab meat.  I add salt and
pepper frugally, paprika more generously, and a dash of powdered
clove so temporal that the flavor in the finished Newburg is only
as though the mixture had been whisked through a spice grove.  I
add Dora's golden cream.  I do not know the exact quantity.  It
must be generous, but the delicate crab meat must never become
deluged with any other element.  The mixture bubbles for a few
moments.  I stir in dry sherry, the quantity again unestimable.
Something must be left to genius.  I stir in well beaten eggs,
perhaps an egg, perhaps two, for every cup of flakes.  The mixture
must now no more than be turned over on itself and removed in a
great sweep from the fire.  I stir in a tablespoonful, or two, of
the finest brandy, and turn the Newburg into a piping hot covered
serving dish.  I serve it on toast points and garnish superfluously
with parsley, and a Chablis or white Rhine wine is recommended as
an accompaniment.  Angels sing softly in the distance.

We do not desecrate the dish by serving any other, neither salad
nor dessert.  We just eat crab Newburg.  My friends rise from the
table, wring my hand with deep feeling, and slip quietly and
reverently away.  I sit alone and weep for the misery of a world
that does not have blue crabs and a Jersey cow.

I speak with some trepidation of my blackbird pie, for it might
have brought down on me Federal dishonor, or roughly speaking,
jail.  I began the shooting of the blackbirds and the making of the
pies in a spirit of innocent experimentalism.  I sat in a blind on
Orange Lake on my first duck hunt.  Around and beyond me the good
shots were bringing down their ducks.  I had not touched a feather.
Nearby, hundreds of red-winged blackbirds were stirring in the
tussocks.  I thought of the four and twenty blackbirds baked in a
pie and wondered if these grain and seed eating birds might not be
the edible ones of the rhymed fable.  I slipped No. 10 shells into
my shotgun, and two shots brought down a dozen birds.  I made the
dozen very secretly into a pie.  It was utterly delicious.  For the
next few years, when game was scarce, or I had not been to market
for meats, I relied on blackbirds to make a tasty dish.  I dressed
the birds whole, but skinned, dipped them in flour and browned them
in butter, along with tiny whole onions and tiny whole carrots.  I
covered them with hot water, seasoned them with salt, pepper, a bay
leaf or two, sometimes a little of the Greek herb originon, and
simmered until tender.  I added small whole new potatoes, chopped
parsley and sherry, placed them in a baking dish and covered them
with a thick rich pastry crust, and finished the dish in the oven.
The blackbirds were exquisite morsels of sweet and tender dark
meat.  Then I began to be ashamed of shooting the cheerful
chirruping things that were so ornamental in the marshes.  I
decided I would do no more of it.  And then I discovered that they
were listed on my hunting license, by a name I had not recognized,
among the birds protected by Federal game laws and forbidden to the
hunter.  I wondered what I should have done if the game warden had
walked in on one of my blackbird pies.  I decided that there would
have been nothing to do but follow in Fred Tompkins' ways.  He and
his wife, the Old Hen, and I were dining at his house one day.  She
went to the door and returned nervously.

"Honey," she said to him, "there's a carful of law at the gate."

"Why, if it's the law," he said, "invite 'em in and give 'em a

It was in the Big Scrub that I had roasted limpkin.  The Ocklawaha
River is one of the two or three remaining haunts of the strange
brown crane who cries before a rain.  I lived above the river with
my friend Leonard and his mother Piety, and often slipped down the
high bluff to the swamp along the river, to see what I might see.
I walked there one summer day and beyond me saw a slow, long-legged
bird with a mottled breast and long bill, feeding on crayfish.  It
could only be a limpkin, the old timers had spoken of its flavor,
and Piety's kitchen would welcome it.  I crept closer in the swamp,
among the cypress knees, and shot with my .22 rifle.  The bird
dropped in the water, and only then I realized that it was out of
reach.  I believe in killing game only for one's needs and it
distresses me to leave dead or wounded game unfound.  I waded
toward the floating limpkin, above my ankles, above my knees, at
last waist-deep.  A moccasin swam in spirals in front of me.  I
found myself at the edge of a deep slough.  I reached forward with
the rifle and drew the limpkin in to me.  Leonard and his mother
rejoiced, and we parboiled the bird and stuffed it and roasted it
in the wood range, and I have never eaten a more delectable fowl.
I shot another while I was there, and then I heard of their
vanishing history, and would not shoot another.

Mistress Piety would have cooked anything I suggested.  Leonard
caught a raccoon in a trap, and though I had heard that "'coon has
a foolish kind of taste," I knew that it was eaten and set to work.
I parboiled it, as I had done the limpkin, then roasted it, and it
was so inedible that one by one the three of us were obliged to
head for the open door.  I found later that the raccoon has a musk-
sack that must be removed before cooking.

Leonard said, "We hadn't never been hard put to it enough to try to
put down one of them jessies, but we wouldn't leave you to try it

I am of a divided mind about 'possums.  Zelma's mother had one
waiting for our supper when we came in one night from the census
taking.  It was roasted with sage stuffing, with sweet potatoes
roasted around it, and it was more delicious than any roast pork.
Then I baked one myself at the Creek, and it was completely
inedible.  I found, again too late, that 'possums are scavengers
and must be penned and fed clean food for a week or two before they
are fit to eat.  It explained why Martha rejoiced whenever I
captured a 'possum alive on the road at night, but silently buried
it when my car had hit and killed it.

Bear meat is good according to the condition of the bear and the
manner in which it is cooked.  A male in the mating season is
almost inedible, like a boar hog.  If mast has been scarce and the
late fall and winter have offered poor forage, bear meat is lean
and inclined to stringiness in the early spring.  But under proper
conditions, a Florida bear may be fat and sweet at the end of
winter.  The Florida bear goes very late into hibernation, emerges
early and the hibernation is never absolute.  If acorn mast and
palmetto berries have been plentiful and he has fed late, piling on
layer after layer of fat; if the winter is warm and feed still
abundant, he comes out often, lazily, feeds close to his den,
sleeps again, rouses to stuff in a few mouthfuls of feed, and goes
back to sleep.  Under these already favorable conditions of
established avoirdupois, sleep, continued feeding and no ranging,
early spring may turn him out in plump condition.

The finest bear meat I have eaten was at a church meeting at
Eureka.  One of the village inhabitants had shot a bear along the
Ocklawaha River a few days before and an enormous roast had been
hung in the smokehouse just long enough to be tendered and aged in
time for the church dinner.  It had been cooked as a pot roast,
browned in its own fat, simmered half a day in an iron pot on a
wood range.  It was served in cold slices and was the first dish on
the long loaded plank tables to melt away.  The flavor was that of
the choicest prime beef, with an added rich gaminess.  I gave
thought to a second slice, but so many little Eurekans were holding
up their plates for it that I retired.

I heard a mother say to a small overalled boy, "Now son, you savor
this good.  This here's bear meat, and what with things changin'
outen the old ways, and the bears goin', you're like not to never
get to taste it again."

Leonard's mother cooked it equally well.  She also sometimes cut
very thin slices from the rib steaks, dipped them in flour and
fried them in deep hot bear fat.  They were crisp and brown and
tender.  The steaks I ate came from a very large fat bear that
Leonard's bride noticed lumbering down the scrub road.  She called
him casually to its despatching.  The meat, some fried and put down
in its own fat, some smoked lightly, lasted the family for many
weeks.  The golden liquid fat filled two lard tubs and provided a
sweet nutty cooking fat for the whole summer.  The bear was the one
creature for which Bartram did not have a kind word.  Although he
developed "gratitude and mercy" toward the rattlesnake, and
regretted the killing of a young wolf, he protested in 1773 that
there were "still far too many bears in Florida."  He would find
them very nearly gone today.

My elderly friend Cal Long, a famous hunter, told me that wild-cat
liver was a tasty dish, especially in lieu of anything better by
the campfire.

But Leonard said, "I don't want anything to eat my old hound won't
eat.  I tried him on a piece of wild-cat liver once, and he spit it
out and just looked at me."

But Cal had old-fashioned tastes in general, and had even given up
hope of curing his rheumatism, since panther oil was no longer
available.  All his way of life in the last of his nearly eighty
years irked him.  This was especially because a Federal game refuge
had been established in the scrub, taking in his clearing.  He was
no longer allowed--he was no longer ostensibly allowed--to kill
deer on his own land.  But I noticed that venison continued a
staple meat on his table.

"The law says I cain't shoot a buck in my own potato patch!" he
raged.  "The law says I cain't kill me a wild turkey scratchin' up
my cowpeas.  The law this, the law that!  Why," he snorted, "I'm
too old a man to begin obeyin' the law!"

I have a glass jar of venison in my icebox, of Cal Long's killing.
After it is gone, I think I shall eat no more of it, for I have
lost stomach for the meat of animals that I once studied, to use
for an emotional purpose in a book.  I have never killed a deer,
holding my shot several times in wonder at their beauty and fluid
grace of movement.  Long ago Leonard and I hunted deer together in
the swamp below his clearing on the Ocklawaha.  He put me on a
stand on a narrow island, to which the deer came, sometimes to
feed, sometimes to rest before crossing the river when pursued.

I stood shielded behind a clump of ash trees, where I might watch
and cover the crossing.  Leonard's Indian-soft steps faded and I
strained my hearing for other steps.  There was no sound for a long
time but the wind in the cypresses and the rushing of river current
on both sides of the island.  In the distance I heard a light
pounding, then running steps so rapid that the two creatures were
breaking cover in front of me before I understood that they were
deer.  They hesitated on the bank for an instant that was only a
break in a musical rhythm, a change of beat, then plunged smoothly
into the swift arm of river between mainland and island.  They
passed so close to me that I might have tossed the pointed ash
leaves on the beautiful tawny bodies.  I do not know whether they
saw or scented me.  The great liquid brown eyes turned anxiously,
for the fear of man, the great killer of all killer animals, is
always on them in the hunting season.  They emerged from the water,
bounded up the bank of the island, lifted their white scuts and
were gone like ghosts of deer into the cypresses.  As they went, I
remembered Piety's waiting cook-pot and the empty smokehouse.  I
lifted my gun and fired half-heartedly far behind the deer, afraid
on the instant that by an accident I might not have missed them.
In a few minutes Leonard crashed through the bushes and jumped to
the island.

"I missed," I said, and did not tell my story.

He bent down to examine the tracks.

"Just as good you did, I reckon," he said.  "They was an old doe
and a maiden doe."

He led the way back soberly.

"We'll cut us a swamp cabbage up the trail a ways," he said, "so's
not to go home to Ma empty-handed."

Many a hardened hunter has told me that he is done with his deer
killing.  When a clean kill is made, he takes pleasure in the
sport, but when the fallen deer is yet alive when he comes up to
it, and he must cut its throat, he cannot face the big eyes turned
on him with a stricken wonder.  Such use as Leonard and Piety make
of game is an ancient and honorable and necessary thing.  The meat
is needed and none of it is wasted.  It is eaten gratefully.  The
sportsman often comes to feel that he might better buy a roast of
beef at the butcher's.  Venison is seldom as good as beef.

I am still torn on the matter of bird-shooting.  I dread the day
when conscience shall triumph over palate.  There is no more
delicious food than quail or dove, the one meat white, the other
dark.  I dress them whole, and they must be picked, never skinned.
I stuff them with buttered crumbs and pecans, dip them in flour and
brown them in butter.  I place them then in a casserole, pour over
them the browned butter to which a little hot water has been added,
add an eighth of a cup of sherry for every bird, cover and bake
slowly until meltingly tender.  I prefer as accompaniments a
Chablis or even a Sauterne for quail, and Burgundy for doves.  I
like to serve with them soft-cooked grits, small crisp biscuits,
wild grape or wild plum jelly, whole baby beets warmed in orange
juice and butter with grated orange peel, carrot souffl, a tomato
aspic salad, and tangerine sherbet for a dessert.  I make the
tangerine sherbet by any good orange sherbet recipe, substituting
tangerine juice for orange juice, and using more lemon juice and
less sugar syrup.  I cannot recommend the dessert, delicate as it
is, unless one has one's own tangerine trees.  It takes two large
water buckets of tangerines to make sherbet for eight.

In the matter of cooking ducks, I am in violent opposition to the
pretendedly Epicurean school of raw bloody duck whisked through a
duck press.  The advice to "run your duck through a very hot oven"
leaves me shuddering.  I prefer my thoroughly done, moist,
crumbling duck to any dripping, rubbery slices, fit only for the
jaws of a dinosaur.  When my flock of Mallards has an unusually
successful season, so that I am fairly over-run with ducks, and the
feed-bill equals that of four mules, I am sometimes obliged to
decimate their numbers.  My friends hint the year around that I
have too many ducks.  When I give in to them and announce a duck
dinner, I find myself unable to eat, and must have a poached egg on
the side.  But on these sad occasions, I am certain of the age of
the ducks, and I roast the young ones quickly.  When I am
uncertain, as one must be, with wild killed ducks, I take no
chances, and steam them until tender, then proceed with the
roasting, basting often with butter if the wild ducks have little
or no fat.  The rest of the menu is: claret; fried finger-strips of
grits; sweet potato orange baskets; small whole white onions,
braised; hot sherried grapefruit; tiny hot cornmeal muffins; a
tossed salad of endive dressed with finely chopped chives,
marjoram, basil, thyme and French dressing made with tarragon
vinegar; for dessert, grape-juice ice cream.

To make the sweet potato orange baskets, I mash peeled boiled sweet
potatoes, add beaten eggs, butter, cream, salt, a few spoonfuls of
orange blossom honey and a little grated orange peel.  I cut
oranges in half, scoop out the contents, serrate the edges so that
the half-shells look as though a large and accurate fox had bitten
them; fill the shells with the potato mixture, dot with butter, and
place in a hot oven to brown.  A handle of orange peel may be
added, but this is only elegance and gets in the way.  The hot
sherried grapefruit that I serve with the duck makes also an
excellent first course on a cold night, or a dessert when something
light is needed.  I prepare grapefruit halves as for breakfast
serving, turning them upside down to drain off the excess juice.  I
sprinkle the fleshy part with brown sugar, powdered clove and dots
of butter, and fill the centers with sherry.  I brown them in the
oven or under the broiler and serve them piping hot.  The grape-
juice ice cream is pleasantly acid after the rich duck.  To a pint
of grape-juice I add the juice of one lemon, half a cup to a cup of
sugar, and a pint or so of heavy cream, and freeze.  This meal
sounds simple and well-balanced, but somehow it is deadly.  I have
very nearly killed people with it.  I keep hoping that it will
teach them not to hint for my ducks.

The pilau is almost a sacred Florida dish, and for making a small
amount of meat feed a large number, it has no equal.  A Florida
church supper is unheard of without it.  Bartram found the dish
here those many years ago, and called it "pillo," and once,
"pilloe."  We pronounce the word purr-loo.  Almost any meat, but
preferably chicken or fresh pork, is cut in pieces and simmered in
a generous amount of water until tender.  When it falls from the
bones, as much rice is added as is needed for the number to be fed,
and cooked to a moist flakiness.  The flavor of meat and gravy
permeates the last grain of rice.  Fred Tompkins once cooked a coot
liver and gizzard pilau at the Creek.  It was very good, and the
only time I have been able to down coot in any form.  The rest of
the Creek considers coots almost as edible as ducks.  I have
followed Martha's directions faithfully, soaking the coots
overnight in vinegar-water and parboiling with soda before
roasting, but they still taste rankly of the marsh mud on which
they have fed.

We are all in complete agreement on squirrel meat.  Fried, smother-
fried with a rich gravy, or made into a pilau, we esteem it highly.
There are, however, strong differences of opinion on the edibility
of the head.  I saw this disagreement flare up violently at the
doings at Anthony.

Word came that Fatty Blake, a snuff and tobacco salesman, and
Anthony's richest citizen--wealth at Anthony, as elsewhere, is
relative--was having a big doings on a certain Thursday night.  The
world was invited.  Fatty himself stopped at the village store to
verify the invitation.  He was inviting two counties to his doings,
and all was free.  There would be squirrel pilau and Brunswick
stew.  Fatty couldn't likker folks, as he would like to do, but if
you brought your own 'shine and were quiet about it, why, he'd meet
you at the gate for a drink, and God bless you.

"I got boys in the woods from can't-see to can't-see," he said,
"getting me squirrels for that pilau.  I got a nigger coming to
stir that pot of rice all day long.  And my wife, God bless her, is
walking the county, getting what she needs for Brunswick stew, the
kind her mammy made ahead of her in Brunswick, Georgia."

Cars and wagons and lone horses and mules began coming in to
Anthony long before dark.  They brought women in homemade silks and
in ginghams, men in mail-order store clothes with stiff collars and
men in the blue pin-checks of the day's work.  Children screamed
and played all over the swept sand about Fatty's two-story house.
The wives of Anthony bustled up and down a forty-foot pine-board
table.  Each had brought her contribution, of potato salad made by
stirring cut onion and hard-boiled eggs into cold mashed potatoes,
of soda biscuits and pepper relish, of pound cake and blueberry
pie.  Back of the house a Negro stirred rice in a forty-gallon iron
kettle with a paddle as big as an oar.  It grew dark and the crowd
was hungry.

At seven o'clock Mrs. Jim Butler played three solo hymns on the
Blakes' parlor organ, moved out to the front porch for the
occasion.  Then she lifted her shrill soprano voice in the opening
strains of "I know Salvation's free," and the crowd joined in with
quavering pleasure.  At seven-thirty the Methodist preacher rose to
his feet beside the organ.  He lauded Fatty Blake as a Christian
citizen.  He prayed.  Here and there a devout old woman cried
"Amen!"  And then the parson asked that any one so minded
contribute his mite to help Brother Blake defray the expense of
this great free feast.

"Will Brother Buxton pass the hat?"

The hat was passed, and as the pennies and nickels clinked into it,
Fatty Blake made his address of welcome.

"I've done brought all you folks together," he shouted, "in the
name of brotherly love.  I want to tell you, all at one great free
table, to love one another.

"Don't just stick to your own church," he pleaded.  "If you're a
Baptist, go to the Methodist church when the Methodists have
preaching Sunday.  If you're a Methodist, go help the Baptists when
their preacher comes to town.

"Now I want to tell you this meal is free and I had no idea of
getting my money back, but as long as our good parson here has
mentioned it, I'll say just do what your pocket and your feelings
tell you to, and if you feel you want to do your share in this big
community feed, why, God bless you.

"Now, folks, we've all enjoyed the entertainment, and I know you're
going to enjoy the rations just as much.  There's all you can eat
and eat your fill.  Don't hold back for nobody.  Get your share of
everything.  I've had a nigger stirring the pilau since sun-up and
it smells the best of any pilau I've ever smelt.  It's got forty
squirrels in it, folks, forty squirrels and a big fat hen.  And my
wife herself made that Brunswick stew, just like she learned it at
her mother's knee in Brunswick, Georgia.  Now go to it, folks, but
don't rush!"

The crowd packed tight around the table, weaving and milling.  The
pilau and stew were passed around in paper dishes.  The passing hat
reached a lean, venerable farmer just as he had completed a tour of
exploration through his pilau.

"No!" he shrilled, with the lustiness of an old man with a

"No, I ain't goin' to give him nothin'!  This here was advertised
as a free meal and 'tain't nothin' but a dogged Georgia prayer-
meetin'.  Get a man here on promises and then go to pickin' his
pocket.  This food ain't fitten to eat, dogged Georgia rations,
Brunswick stew and all.  And he's done cooked the squirrel heads in
the pilau, and that suits a damned Georgia Cracker but it don't
suit me.

"I was born and raised in Floridy, and I'm pertickler.  I don't
want no squirrel eyes lookin' at me out o' my rations!"

18.  Spring at the Creek

Here in Florida the seasons move in and out like nuns in soft
clothing, making no rustle in their passing.  It is common for me
at least to fall on a certain kind of sunny day into a sort of
amnesia.  I think with a start, "What is the time of year?  Where
was I yesterday?  And is this May or October?"

Because time frightens me, and I seek, like a lonely child, the
maternal solace of timelessness, I plant only the evergreen shrubs
and have no more than can be helped of the deciduous trees around
me.  All year the orange grove is luminous.  The oleanders glisten.
The palm trees shed the cold as blandly as the rain.  Unless severe
frost has struck them, the Turk's-cap and hibiscus bear red
lanterns day in, day out, to light the timid before the dark face
of time.  Only the pecan trees scattered through the grove shed
their leaves in November and stand stripped and shivering until
April.  Strangers ask in winter, "What are the dead trees in the
orange grove?"  I bear with the sight of them for the sake of the
harvest.  When in spring the first feathery leaves appear and the
gaunt grayness is misted with green, I draw a secret breath of
relief, as though a danger were now over.

Yesterday when I stood under the large pecan tree by the barn gate,
the amnesia came over me.  I had not expected a crop this year, for
the trees bore heavily last season, and are almost completely
biennial in their bearing.  But as I reached absently to pull down
a bough, I saw that slender green nuts were forming at the growth-
ends of all the branches.  The sight was unexpected, and I was
suddenly lost in a wave of timelessness.  I thought for an instant
that I was back in the May of a year ago.  Then it seemed to me
that I had skipped this present season and had been precipitated
into the coming year.  The pecan tree was bearing again, and where
was I in time and space?  And the old comfort came, in the
recurrence, and on the heels of the comfort, despair, that there
was no end to seasons, but an end to me.

A knowledge brushed me as briefly as though a bird had flown past
me from the tree.  Lives are only one with living.  How dare we, in
our egos, claim catastrophe in the rise and fall of the individual
entity?  There is only Life, and we are beads strung on its strong
and endless thread.

The bird was gone.  I remembered that the rationalists call this
consciousness mysticism.  I did not think that by any name it was
shameful.  The season was May of this year.  I withdrew into the
turtle shell of my mortality.  It was good to know there would be
pecans, unexpectedly, this November.  I turned away and left them
to their maturing.

There is a beauty of the strange and a beauty of the familiar.  The
traveller to far places is enchanted because what he sees is new.
If he found himself obliged to live forever in some quaint hamlet,
the picturesqueness that intrigued him with its novelty would be
likely to become his prison.  The test of beauty is whether it can
survive close knowledge.  This is as true of persons as of places.
The dancer, dazzling behind the footlights, may in ordinary living
be so dull, so unkind, so fractious, that her smooth limbs and
lovely face are lost in the immediacy of her spiritual unloveliness.
On the other hand, a very plain woman or an ugly man may receive a
deep devotion, because the known qualities of mind and spirit are
beautiful, and this familiar beauty lies like a soft veil over any
physical inadequacies.

I wonder what spring would mean to one who was encountering it, if
such a thing were conceivable, for the first time.  My notion is
that it would mean nothing.  Spring is beautiful because it is
familiar.  Its implications are stirring because we understand
them.  We know the cold that precedes it and the hot sun that will
follow it.  It is generally believed that the northern spring is
more portentous than the tropical or sub-tropical spring, because
the contrast between cold and warmth, between frozen sterility and
hot fertility is more apparent.  This is not true when, as in the
sub-tropics at Cross Creek, spring is so well known that its coming
is as important as a smile across a beloved face.  A very clever
poet, Wallace Stevens, ended a poem with saying, "But there is no
spring in Florida."  He did not know Florida.  He came as a
stranger, a traveller, to Florida, and the lushness of spring was
to him only lushness.  He could not differentiate among the shades
of green, which at Cross Creek tell us when to plant and when to
fertilize and when to cultivate.  He did not know when the red-bird
begins to sing again, and when the cypress bursts from gray
bareness into a dress of soft needles and the swamp maple puts out
young passionate red leaves.

At the Creek, spring is as definite and as exciting as in
Greenland.  We have not had snow behind us, but we have had an
ungrowing period, as have they, and life now stirs and sap rises
and the creatures mate and the snakes come out of their winter's
lethargy.  Because it is familiar and beloved, we watch every
gradation.  It is dear to us because knowledge of it is necessary
to recognize its variations.  There is no one sign of spring, but
several spontaneous burstings.  At the moment of the cypresses'
needled sprouting and the swamp maples' glory of color, there bloom
the yellow jessamine and the red-bud.  If anything comes first, it
is the jessamine.  Along the fence rows, through the hammocks, slim
dry vines are suddenly a mass of golden bloom, so fragrant that the
initiate all but swoons.  Like many tropical flowers, the jessamine
is most potent in the night time.  I have been on Orange Lake by
night and had the scent of the jessamine come so strongly from the
far shores that it seemed an immense perfume flask had been spilled
from the stars.  There is a cousin of the yellow jessamine, the
night-blooming jasmine, whose odor is so sweet and strong that
invalids cannot endure it in their rooms or outside their windows.

Martha says, "It really tears loose after nightfall."

The jessamine is at its height, spilling waterfalls of gold from
high in the tallest trees, when the major miracle occurs.  One
evening there is the jessamine in the sunset, alone in a world of
arrested color.  The next morning there is a tinge of green across
the gray Spanish moss, and infinitesimal rosy blossoms may be
discovered along its strands, the distant hammock is emerald, and
on the soft air floats a fragrance for which we have hungered the
whole year through.  The first orange blossoms have opened.  For a
month or six weeks we shall be giddy by day with them and at night
drown in a sea of perfume.  When the orange blossoms are almost
done, the grapefruit blooms and then the tangerines, and these have
a sharp spiciness of odor, so that after having lived with them for
a few years, one knows blindfolded which citrus fruit is flowering
and what month it is.  For the seasons at the Creek are marked, not
by the calendar, but by fruits and flowers and birds.

When the oranges bloom, it is time for the spring fertilizing and
the first spring cultivating.  After a warm winter, the jessamine
blooms in late January and the orange trees in early February.
After an average winter, the jessamine blooms in early February and
the oranges in the middle of the month.  After a long winter with
protracted cold, as this year, the jessamine waits wisely until the
frost is over.  While the orange trees are more injudicious and
come into bud at what should be the proper time, regardless of
temperature, they too understand that they have thrust their small
white noses into an unfriendly world, and hold up the full
blossoming until the atmosphere is propitious.

The wild iris is as stubborn as the orange bloom is impatient.
Norton and I make useless trips every spring to the River Styx, to
find the buds ready but tight-shut week after week.  The iris knows
what it wants in the way of April weather and waits for precisely
the acceptable conjunction of rain and warmth.  Then acre on acre
bursts open on the same sunny morning, and the swamp bordering the
Styx is blue from the edge of the narrow sand road to the farthest
rim of cypresses.  We must wade knee-deep to gather the flowers,
going cautiously through the leaf-brown water for fear of roots or
sharp cypress knees or moccasins.  The egrets are nesting when the
iris blooms and fly up from their feeding like bursts of white
spray as our splashing disturbs them.  They light close by their
nests in the cypresses and wait, preening the lacy tail feathers of
the mating and nesting season, for us to finish our swamp business.
The wild iris does not have the fragrance of the fleur-de-lis of
cultivated gardens, but its color is a more exquisite and a lighter
blue.  And where the gardener's iris may be only politely looked
at, the wild iris grows in such a wanton profusion that our
armfuls, taken home to the house, leave no break in the blue sheet
beside the Styx.

We say at the Creek, "When the first whippoorwill calls it's time
for the corn to be in the ground."

The first whippoorwill may call in late February or in March.  I
cannot guarantee his accuracy as a weather prophet, but I have
never known frost to come after that first plaintive, heart-tearing
cry.  If the corn is not already planted, we hurry to get it in.
Our Florida whippoorwill is not the same bird that stirred me as a
child on my father's Maryland farm.  The bird here is the chuck-
will's-widow and the call is not so melodious as that of the more
northern bird.  It is as though the northern call were harshened
and syncopated, like the modern swing versions of Mozart and Bach.
Martha told me that the bird is crying, "Chip hell out of the red
oak!  Chip hell out of the red oak!"  The phonetics are accurate.
Martha spoiled the romance of the whippoorwill's call for me, for
now I cannot hear it without repeating her belligerent and
unbeautiful words.

But there was a spring night, before I knew that the whippoorwill
was actually the chuck-will's widow and that it was insisting,
"Chip hell out of the red oak!" when the spell of the cry brought
me from my bed.  There was a full moon and the scent of orange
blossoms was heavy across the night, and a whippoorwill was
calling, only a little distance away.  I went out into the grove
and my dog went with me, and we played and danced in the moonlight
under the flowering orange trees.  Old Jib came wobbling to join us
and the dog and cat and I romped together until nearly dawn.  The
whippoorwill came closer and closer until he was sitting within
sight of us on the fence, as though he were pleased to have dancers
for his music.  It is as well that no late frog-hunter passed by
while we were at our frolic, or it would surely have been told as
proved fact that those who live at the Creek are fey.

The robins, who bring spring to the north, have for us here no
connection with the season.  They come to my grove in vast flocks
to feed and wait for the mysterious signal that sends them on.  But
they are tourists, interested in passing matters, and they stop
with us only long enough to rest and feed and go on again.  Before
they reach their nesting places in the north they have made half a
dozen such stops of varying duration and it is impossible to
estimate their arrival in New York, for instance, by the date of
their dallying at the Creek.  I do not know what feed it is they
find, but they go to the same grounds used by the turtle doves and
I suppose the same seed-pods appeal to both.  The robins darken the
pecan trees across the road, they cover my yard, not singing the
song that I used to know, but emitting meaningless chirps.  Their
breasts at this time are not ruddy.  They are restless, and feed
with their usual bobbing run, then for no reason all fly at once.
On windy mornings I hear, not a casual flying, but a storm of
wings.  They are here in such numbers that I am sometimes tempted
to try them out in a robin pot-pie, but I recall my own days in the
north and cannot annihilate any symbol of spring for folk in a more
unfortunate clime.

Our bird-hunting season ends toward the end of February, when
mating begins, and the quail and doves have their mystic calendar
marked with the date as plainly as our own.  During the hunting
season they are wise and wary.  Within a few days after the guns
have stopped firing, the quail feed in plain sight along the
roadways and the doves, the wildest of all birds, I think, except
the wild turkey, fly into my yard.  This spring one dove came ahead
of time and flew inside my gate before the season ended.  The laws
of hospitality and refuge forbade my disturbing him and he took the
overflow from the red-birds' feed basket unmolested.  I am
hypocrite enough in any case not to shoot at birds who live on my
place.  A covey of quail lives the year around in my grove and I
think of them as co-inhabitants.  The human ego is a fearful thing
and we consider those things, friends, relatives, stock, that touch
our lives, to be somehow different because they are close to us.

The mating season is not at the Creek quite as markedly a thing of
spring as farther north.  My wild Mallard ducks breed all winter
and calves and pigs may be born at any time.  Yet there is a
resurgence of the life sap, no matter how subtle, for the creatures
and birds as well as for the trees.  The red-birds sing all through
the winter and I have awakened to delirious duets on a morning when
icicles hung from the water-tower and the oranges were frozen
solid.  The red-birds' song has to do with their mating, for it is
the males who proclaim in season the delights of love and the glory
of the world.  Yet the first of the year's two hatchings of young
arrives in our spring.

In late February or early March I hear pitiful cries about the feed
basket in the crepe myrtle, and the two pairs of red-birds who have
shared my life at the Creek as long as I have been here, are
introducing their young to cracked corn and grains of wheat.  The
young are almost as large as the parents at this time, and while
they can fly quite well and are entirely capable of picking up the
feed for themselves, they flutter with a false helplessness, sit in
the very middle of the feed basket, and allow the devoted father
and mother to pick up the grains and drop them in their perfectly
able maws.  I once saw a mocking-bird mother go into a rage at her
offspring's insistence on a prolonged adolescence.  Food was at the
young bird's feet, but he cried lamentably and ruffled his feathers
and opened his mouth for the manna to be dropped into it.  The
mother patiently picked up the feed and dropped it and picked it up
again, to show her child the manner in which it was done.  He
opened his bill the wider.  Suddenly she flew at him in a fury,
pecked him several times, and flew away.  He must shift for
himself.  He looked over his shoulder disconsolately, then went to
work and fed himself with complete efficiency.

My Mallards theoretically should show signs of restlessness in the
spring, even though they are not penned.  All their kind are flying
north.  Night and day the V-formations pass over the grove.  But my
ducks are as enthusiastic about our mutual life as I, have no
intention of changing its security for the unknown, and the wild
instinct seems in them completely stultified.  It is altogether too
easy to attribute human characteristics to animals.  It is perhaps
logical, if unfortunate, for man to create God in his own image,
but it is taking advantage of the creatures' dumbness to assign our
complicated emotions to their simpler natures.  Nature writers who
turn foxes into little men and women are somehow embarrassing.  Yet
in the face of my own prejudice, I am obliged to insist that my
domesticated wild Mallards possess to the highest degree of any
creatures I know, animal or human, an acutely conscious joie de
vivre.  A dog knows when he is having a good time.  But his fun
derives from a definite objective, a walk, a ride, a hunt, a swim.
The Mallards awaken with the first tinge of light, shake their
wings, and give voice to their delight as plainly as though they
shouted, "Hah!  Another day of good living!"

It was when I began to understand their capacity for enjoyment that
I turned my first flock loose from their pen.  A gift of a dozen
eggs from a Carolina marsh had been set under a hen.  Eight of the
eggs hatched into golden ducklings, self-sufficient from the first
breath.  I allowed them to wean themselves from the puzzled foster
mother as soon as they were ready, and put them to live in a
generous enclosure, screened overhead as well as on all sides.

I was told by every one, "Once they are out of the pen, you have
seen the last of your ducks."

We watched the gate carefully, going in and out to feed them, to
change the water in the syrup kettle I had sunk in the ground for a
swimming pool.  We pictured them slipping past us to escape at the
first opportunity.  They grew, thrived and lived, a year and a
half, as wild as birds could possibly be.  When any of us entered
the pen, they shrieked and huddled at the farthest corner.  They
could not be starved into coming to any one to take feed.  They
seemed to live in suspended animation--waiting.  Yet I began to be
aware of the delight with which they greeted the day, the
conversations they had among themselves, the sudden bursts of
playfulness in which they flew back and forth in the pen.  One day
I could not endure it any longer.  I opened the pen door and went

"Your freedom," I said over my shoulder, "with my compliments and

I expected them to rise in a great sweep and take off for the
adjacent marsh.  I hoped only that they would migrate out of reach
of the hunters' guns before the season should open.  An hour later
I saw them investigating the barn.  When the chickens were fed that
evening, the Mallards joined them.  At sundown they walked in
single file into their pen.  I heard them talking amiably all
night.  In the morning they filed out again.  They took possession
of the grove as of a rightful heritage.  In the four years since
then they have never once gone out of sight of it.  For sport, they
fly back and forth through the grove and sometimes over the house.
Their wings are unclipped, they are strong and able, Orange Lake is
within a few seconds' flight.  Yet the grove holds all they ask.
Freedom, it would seem, can lie in the smallest area.  It is
necessary only to know that there are no bars.  I rejoice in the
day when I set them free, and watch them for hours at a time,
almost, sometimes, in envy of their patent excitement in living.

Food is a constant adventure.  They clamor for the morning
scattering of the scratch feed.  Then, stuffed, they waddle about
in search of choice items for dessert; grasshoppers, small insects
and worms, and something they find, or perpetually hope to find,
under grass roots.  When one comes on that rare delicacy, a small
green tree frog, there is a commotion and a chase of the flock
after the finder that seems more of a game than a threat, for
finders seem to be keepers, and I have never seen the prey snatched
away.  The lucky duck stands and swallows his frog and the others
stand in a circle and admire his cleverness.  They cock their
heads, their bright beady eyes shine in the sun.  Then the whole
flock suddenly flies across the yard in a burst of enthusiasm.
Their landings always alarm me.  I am forever expecting them to
break a leg.  Accustomed in a wild state to landing on water, they
soar down on the hard sand with apparently no attempt to soften the
bump.  Their expressions show a mild surprise each time, as though
the pitch forward, on landing, were something on which they had not
calculated.  In the late morning and again in mid-afternoon they
take a siesta.  They cluster in the shade of an orange tree in the
front yard, or under the tangerine tree in the side yard where the
old cat lies already in the coolest spot, tuck their heads under
their wings and drowse.  Then the game is on again, and there is a
swim in the syrup kettle, with a terrific splashing and a standing
on heads after the under-water growth that should be at the bottom
of the kettle if the place were a proper pond.  At evening, they
shriek again for scratch feed.  They eat quickly but sparingly,
merely making sure that the game chickens have not been given a
superior feed to theirs, then waddle single file into their pen
where they eat again at their leisure.  They prefer to be shut up
at night.  It is amazing to find so strong a home instinct in wild
and migratory birds.  Most of them were born in the pen, and when
the sun goes down, the pen is where they choose to be.  If there is
a delay in the farce of driving them in and closing the door, they
stand inside near the entrance and demand the service.  Until dark
they make a pleased and pleasant clacking.  Now and then in the
night they burst into an uproar and I know that some small animal
trespasser is going by.  Sometimes the commotion, I know, comes
when one of the drakes is having a nocturnal amorous moment.

It is the ducks, the females, who have the loud voices.  It is an
astonishing contrast to their sprightly gentleness.  The drakes,
shameless and brutal and lusty fellows, are doomed to the faintest
of sibilant whispers.  There must have been a prehistoric mix-up in
assigning voices to ducks and drakes.  In the breeding season, from
late fall through winter and spring, until June or July, the drakes
infuriate me so that I swear I shall eat them all.  Their love life
is merciless, public and continuous.  The chickens mate so
casually, a mere duty to be done, that the onlooker thinks nothing
of it.  The drakes are Rabelaisian, they are Turks, they are Huns.
The ducks go for months with pecked heads and lamed legs.  They
must feed surreptitiously by night, for it does not seem as though
the drakes give them time by day.  In odd moments the drakes fight
one another.  There is always one outcast drake among them whom
they have evidently agreed shall not have a chance to produce his
pariah's progeny.  Such a one comes as close as a drake can to
unhappiness, lean for lack of love, his neck picked clean of
feathers.  He lives slyly and shrewdly, appealing, I believe, to
the ducks' maternal instinct, for I sometimes see things made easy
for him when the head men are busy chasing a butterfly.

Yet during the months when Mars and Venus are rampant, the drakes
are so handsome that it is a joy to see them.  They are jet-black
and purple, with doeskin-colored wing patches, and iridescent as
opals in the sunlight.  I let the fall go by, and the winter,
furious at them and doting on them.  Then the new clutches are
safely raised and join the parent flock and one day in summer it is
suddenly almost impossible to tell the drakes from the hens.  They
have lost all their fine color, and with it, their arrogance.  They
live decently and amiably, are thoroughly charming and ingratiating,
and I am glad that I spared them.

Raising the young each year is a difficult business.  The first
season was good.  The original eight became forty, and ate more
scratch feed than at the time I could afford.  Visualizing the same
rate of increase each year, that winter I let my friends devour
half of them.  Then lean times came for ducklings, for I think word
spread through the hammock that there were new delicacies in the
orange grove.  Chicken snakes, rats, skunks and 'possums made
nightly calls.  The older ducks still choose to lay their eggs and
brood their nests inside the family pen, which is reasonably safe,
but the young matrons, who will not, I suppose, listen to what
their elders tell them, have a trick of stealing their nests under
my ornamental shrubbery and along the fence-rows, where the first
prowling varmint or snake cleans them out.

The birth of a fresh clutch is a grand moment.  From under the dark
patient wings of the mother pops a small fluffy yellow head with a
pair of black shoe buttons set in it.  If the event takes place in
the pen, the other ducks announce it.  The drakes are displeased
and suspicious.  The childless ducks make a great to-do, much upset
that they themselves have nothing.  We drive the adults, male and
female, from the pen, and shut the door against them.  They file
around and around, raucous with interest.  The first duckling slips
out and darts around like a wind-blown shuttlecock.  Another
follows.  Then, terrified, they rush back to their mother and climb
on her back to wait for what is now to them the tedious business of
the rest of the hatching.  Sundown usually sees the last out of the
shell, and duck and ducklings are moved to the safe small pen where
they will live until the young get their tail feathers.  At this
time they develop as well the oil sack with which they protect
themselves against a rain.  Before, they cannot survive a thorough
drenching.  Casualties, too, were high in the big syrup kettle
until I found what was wrong.  They could swim, of course, from the
moment they broke the shell.  But they swam themselves literally to
death, for if the kettle was not filled to the brim, they could not
climb out again.

Now life is as safe as I can make it until they are ready to shift
for themselves.  The last batch has been given its freedom.  I went
to the small pen door and threw it open.

"Come out," I said, "and see the world."

Snow stood behind me.

"It ain't much of a world to come out to right now," he said, "but
I reckon a duck's one thing that won't know the difference."

The blue-jays bring their young to the feed-basket and the bird-
bath for a week or two in the spring.  Ordinarily the jays are
almost as sociable as the mocking-birds and like to live near
people and houses.  They drive off other birds and many bird-lovers
have difficulty in keeping them away in order to have the song-
birds about.  My blue-jays live most of the year in the hammock.  I
believe they are kept away by one most belligerent male red-bird,
who has set up an arbitrary order of feeding for all other birds
who come to what he considers his own boarding house.  He stands
guard while his lady feeds and if there are young he feeds them
tenderly.  He drives off any other birds fiercely until he and his
family are replete and bathed.  The quarrelsome jays retreat before
the small ruffled bunch of red feathers, and I am constantly amazed
at the potency of a bluff.

He is more tolerant of the tiny West Indian ground doves who nest
in the orange trees, perhaps because of their size.  He allows them
to bathe with him, but if one takes up the desirable center of the
bath, he drives it to one side.  He is recognizable among the other
red-birds, being a trifle larger, quite the reddest of them all,
and with a crest that seems higher, perhaps only because it is
constantly erected, thanks to his choleric nature.  He likes to
sing loudly from the pecan tree by the kitchen, and continues his
singing when I walk directly under the tree.  I call up to him to
thank him, and he pauses, cocks his head at me, flicks his tail,
and breaks into a fresh tune.  He is a devoted husband and last
summer I saw him make patient efforts to induce his lady to share
with him a sunflower.  It grew by accident outside the kitchen
window and came early into seed.  I saw him come again and again,
peck out one or two seeds, then fly away.  He had gone to tell his
mate of the feast he had found.  At last he persuaded her to follow
him.  She sat in the tangerine tree a few feet away and was plainly
bored and unconvinced.  He perched on the sunflower, pecked and
lifted his bill with a recognizable delight.  He chirped to her,
and when she turned indifferently to preening her feathers, he flew
to her with a sunflower seed in his beak and fed it to her
lovingly.  She followed him then to the sunflower, took another
seed, but still was not impressed.  She flew away and I never saw
him make another attempt to share the flower with her.  He came
every day and finished it alone.

The little West Indian ground doves are enchanting.  They are of
the softest gray, with ashes of roses breasts, rosy beaks and tiny
pink feet that make a lacy pattern in the sand.  They walk rapidly
with a bobbing motion, and fly in small explosive bursts, like a
milkweed pod popping open.  They are amorous, as doves should be,
and mate several times a year.  I once saw a pair consummate their
union on the tip of a crepe myrtle bough, most precariously, and
other pairs have mated at the edge of the bird-bath.  The male
makes a pretence of ferocity, and after having crooned softly for
hours to his mate, suddenly ruffles his feathers and pursues her
with what would pass for viciousness if she were not so easily and
happily caught.  I think of them as giving their throbbing call the
year around, but I am sure it is a concomitant of the mating, and
since the breeding is so frequent, it is only now and then that I
realize I have not been hearing the sweet sad cry from the roof-

One spring in the mating season two pairs were fluttering in the
palm tree by my gate.  The long grooved stems of the large palm
fronds leave the trunk at a downward sloping angle.  I saw first
one dove and then another bob to the top of a stem and slide down
it, sailing off into the air at the tip of the frond like ski-
jumpers.  A few minutes later either the same pair or the other
pair, I could not tell which, slid down the same palm stem and
across the frond.  This could easily have been a coincidence and an
accident, yet it had every appearance of a blithe game, as though
the doves were honeymooners at their palm tree Coney Island.

I have difficulty in distinguishing the cry of the ground dove from
that of the mourning, or turtle dove.  It is only when both
varieties are calling that the difference is clear.  The cry of the
ground dove is softer and sweeter.  That of the larger mourning
dove is fuller and richer and infinitely more sad, a lament rather
than a croon.  The cry of the mourning dove comes also in their
mating season in late February and early March, but to the Negroes
it is the cry of death and they shudder when they hear it.  Martha
told me that the mourning dove is the Biblical dove, the turtle
dove whose cry is heard in the land, and the dove liberated by Noah
in search of signs of land.  Noah, Martha says, promised the dove
to pay him if he would bring a tangible portent.  The dove believed
him, flew far and wide, found land emerging from the flood waters,
plucked an olive branch with great difficulty and flew back with
it, exhausted, to Noah.  The patriarch refused to pay him.

And since then, Martha says, the words the sad dove cries are,
"No-ah, PAY me!  PAY me!"

I am familiar only with the lives of the birds who live close
around me at the Creek and come to the grove.  There has been so
much to do, so many creatures to watch and study, that I do not
know the ways of the Louisiana heron, the great white heron, the
small white heron, or egret, the cranes and all the other birds who
fly over and are gone to their secret haunts.  I see them pass, I
hear the calls of those that are articulate, such as the great
bittern and the curlew, but I know from books only a few details of
their living.  When my own life shall not be so crowded, when Cross
Creek itself quiets down, if that is possible, and things stop
happening, I mean to learn more of these other neighbors.  I know
that the eagles nest in spring, for a vast ragged nest stood until
a few years ago high in a cypress across the Creek, and I saw the
pair at the nest, and then awkward young sitting on adjacent limbs,
and have had the female sweep low over me as I stood, damning with
harsh scoldings my busybody staring.  The tree blew down in a great
storm and the pair moved several miles away, between the Creek and
the village.  My friend Moe said that the ruined nest had stood
across the Creek for forty years, to his knowledge.  These are the
bald-headed eagles, the true American eagle.

The egrets are coming back into their proper numbers, thanks to
Federal protection and to women's vanity taking another turn than
the wearing of their feathers.  They nest and feed around little
lily-filled ponds all along the Creek road.  The great American
heron is here in smaller numbers.  This is a solitary bird and he
lives usually alone except in the mating season.  One year we had
only one of the birds with us.  He seemed to begin to feel his
loneliness and took to wandering from across the Creek and coming
to our gates.  He made the rounds of each house and bent his
beautiful white head on its long neck to pick up the crumbs we put
out for him.  He was so tame that one day he flew into my yard and
walked nobly and unafraid under the orange trees.  We all tried to
approach him, but the only human he would allow to come quite close
was Sissie's little black boy.  The great white heron would take
food from the black child's hand, and the two stood looking at each
other in a strange primitive communion.

I wrote Doctor Gilbert Pearson of the Audubon Society that I had
heard a pair of whooping cranes on the Lochloosa side of my grove.
He wrote me that unfortunately that was impossible, as the whooping
crane was almost extinct and certainly would not now be found in my
section.  The birds I had heard, whose harsh cries had sounded like
a rusty pump, were great American bitterns.  But later I did see a
pair of whooping cranes in the Everglades, and my hunting companion
the Major, a trustworthy ornithologist, is certain that he saw a
pair fly over Orange Lake.  The whooping crane was once shot for
food and very nearly annihilated, but he too is coming back again.
I wrote of their mysterious dance in a book, and while the account
came from hearsay, it was reliable, the witnesses being two old men
who had known the birds in their youth.

An exotic visitor came several years in June to my grove, and I was
mad with excitement.  I believed it to be an ivory-billed
woodpecker, considered probably extinct, or very nearly so.  The
woodpecker was enormous.  Swooping from trunk to trunk of the
orange trees, he appeared the size of a half-grown turkey.  He was
brilliant in black and red and white, and gave a loud clapper-like
cry.  I discovered that he was almost certain to be, not the ivory-
billed, but the large pileated woodpecker.  There is one
distinguishing mark between the two, and for two Junes I have had
my Audubon bird book ready to open to the two portraits, to
identify definitely my visitor, but he has never come again.  At
the Creek the pileated woodpecker is known as the Lord-God.

Of the small animals that frequent the Creek, the skunks, 'coons,
'possums and an occasional wild-cat, I also know too little.  I
shall know them better some day.  But the habits of the domestic
animals are there for all to see, and spring brings us an ever-
fresh crop of such things as biddies and calves.  I keep game
chickens and the hens are half-wild and steal their nests.  They
come in from their hidden settings in the grove or fly down from
the hayloft, proud and maternal, trailed by enormous hatchings of
fluffy yellow and black balls.

I keep cows through no love of having them about, but for frank
culinary purposes.  A country kitchen has no excuse for existence
without pans of yellow milk, inch deep in cream, pounds of fresh-
churned butter and foaming buttermilk.  But calves are charming and
their birth is a part of the spring quickening of life.  I remember
the early April when Dora had her first baby.  I had no man on the
place, but my friend Ivey had come out from the village to give me
a hand with some odd jobs.  I had known Ivey as a great dancer and
the best caller for square dances in three counties.  He is tall
and lean and kicks up his heels in the figures like a young colt.
He makes excuses to do work for me, for he is enamored of the Creek
and hopes some day to have his own farm here.  Meantime, the next
best thing is pruning in my grove, or setting out bougainvillea
vines and hibiscus bushes.  He begs cuttings from his mother to
plant at my place.  He came to me with big eyes from his work in a
misty rain.

"Dora's just had her calf in the hammock," he said.  "It's going to
rain hard in a little bit.  Don't you think we ought to get them in
the barn?"

We went to the hammock among the blackberry vines in bloom and
found the new-born calf beside the mother.  Dora lowed to us in
greeting.  She licked the calf's small face, to call our attention
to its charm.  The birth-nest was nearby and she had tried to draw
the wobbly calf for shelter from the rain under a patch of
sparkleberry bushes.  She seemed to understand when Ivey picked up
the calf in his arms and she followed us lowing but without
anxiety.  Ivey's young face was luminous.  He carried the calf
tenderly and spoke reassuringly to the mother.  At the barn he
pitched down fresh hay and made a good thick bed for both of them.
He fed and watered Dora and stroked the calf.  His voice trembled.

"This is a wonderful experience," he whispered, "for all of us."

Unfortunately, the spring birthings also mean pigs.  Hordes of them
are born to torment me.  In a no-fence county, stock is free to
roam as it wills, and the landowner must fence against them if he
does not wish to be over-run.  My fences are good, but smart pigs
are better, and I have always an assortment of Creek hogs making
free of my pasture.  It is particularly easy for them to come in
when the pigs' owners slip in by night and cut my fences.  The
owners reason, I suppose, that I have acorn and pine mast going to
waste, but do not take into account that while their pigs would be
welcome to feed on the mast, it is not desirable from my point of
view that they also root up all the grass in my cows' pasture.

There are two sets of hogs in the pasture at the moment.  One set
belongs to Mr. Sam Turner, who lives fourteen miles away, and it
does not seem likely that he would travel so far to cut my fence.
The other set belongs to a neighbor.  Neither seems likely to have
appropriated my pasture.  An alternative suggested itself to me
lately.  I wished to go down to the lake edge and determine for
myself the fence cutting, reported by Little Will.  Martha
dissuaded me.  The lake was too high, the approach to the fence was
too boggy for me to attempt it.  I should put on boots and
breeches, then.  Martha drew a lurid picture of the pitfalls.  The
suspicion came to me that perhaps Little Will had an interest in
the invading stock; that the fences were not cut at all; that if
they were cut, perhaps a third party with whom the Mickens family
might not be on good terms, had done it, and the Mickenses knew
that on my arraignment of my neighbor and Mr. Sam Turner, the
guilty party would come to light, yet the Mickenses would not bear
the onus of having accused him.  It came to me, too, that we have
been peaceful at the Creek for an unnaturally long time.  The
Mickenses love nothing better than for me to take the war-path,
and, tired of the quiet, may have cooked up the whole story for the
fun of seeing me start a fight.

Even when the neighbors' hogs are not inducted into my pasture,
they disturb me.  Last year Bert Ergles turned a drove of them
loose at the Creek, on the strength of having rented one of Joe
Mackay's fields for raising squash.  Bert's hogs developed a
passion for my front yard fence line.  They dug nests under my
oleanders, they rooted under my spider lilies, they made a shambles
of my coral honeysuckle.  I decided this time to settle the matter
legally.  I bought all the hogs at above the market price, sold
them at a loss, and thought the matter ended.  This year, Bert has
hogs on the road again.  I feel a certain sympathy for them.  They
must feed wherever they are turned loose to feed, and if the
pickings are poor, they must make the best of it.  They breed,
produce young, and are lucky to survive.  This spring I looked out
from the veranda and saw an unhappy sight.  A lean sow was being
serviced by a boar.  The young of her previous litter seized the
moment of her immobility to nurse.  I spoke of it to Norton,
mentioning that the sow had a thoughtful aspect.

"Of course she was thoughtful," he said.  "She was thinking, 'This
is just a vicious circle.'"

With all the trees and fence-posts at the Creek to rub against, the
migrant hogs run squealing to use the rickety post that holds my
rural mail-box.  They take turns, crowding and pushing, and the
post teeters precariously.  I am the Miss Betsy Trotwood of Cross
Creek, and as the mail-box rocks and sways, I cry, "Pigs!  Pigs!
Pigs!"  My dog Pat leaps the cattle-gap to harry them, Little Will
comes running with his hoe, and sometimes Martha comes with great
dignity and waves her apron at them.

"Martha," I said, "why do they choose my mail-box post to rub
against?  Why must they root under my oleanders and lilies?  Why
are they so sure the rooting is better on the wrong side of the

"Sugar," she said, "that is a hog."

The rambling range cows on the road are intrusive, too, but only on
occasions, and these are invariably in the spring, when new grass
excites them more intensely, I think, than their mating.  Love
comes and goes, and a casual bull will appear at the proper moment,
but the first tender spring grass is a vital matter.  The cows,
thin from the winter's poor forage, eye my yard, bright green still
with its winter rye, gather together their clumsy bodies and sail
over my fence.  My own cattle have given me quite as much trouble
as those of the neighbors.  I have had a varying succession of
cows, calves and heifers and all have been troublesome.  I did not
help the situation when I accepted a male Jersey calf from a friend
who owns a dairy.  The calf was engaging when young, like all young
things.  His first solid food after he was weaned was a mouthful of
allamanda bloom, so of course I named him Ferdinand.  He came daily
to the kitchen door for a bit of brown sugar.  He was great friends
with Old Jib the cat, and washed the cat's enraptured face with his
rough tongue.  Then over-night, it seemed, the calf had disappeared
and Ferdinand was a very large bull of ferocious tendencies.  He
came of breeding age and I told Little Will that I wished the two
cows, Dora and Lady, to be bred at intervals, so that I should have
milk and cream and butter through the year, and not all at once in
a useless superfluity.  Will saw the wisdom of the arrangement.
When Dora and Lady came in season simultaneously, and it was time
for one to be bred and the other shut up, Little Will was beyond

Will and Dora and Lady had all chosen Saturday afternoon for their
respective flings.  Little Will was gone and out of reach.
Ferdinand and his amours were at my doorstep.  The first I knew of
it, Dora had coyly leaped the pasture fence and was eating
asparagus fern from in front of the veranda.  I went on with my
work, meaning to drive her back a little later.  I looked up from
the typewriter to see Ferdinand charging into the yard.  I was
appalled by his size.  I had not been close to him since he was a
yearling.  He had then taken grass as usual from my fingers, chewed
it a moment, rolled his eye, pawed the earth, given a low bellow,
and made for me.

"He don't like womens no more," Little Will said.  "Jes' cow-

I had left Ferdinand strictly alone, keeping up what I had hoped
were superficially friendly relations by speaking to him cordially
whenever I walked past his gate.  He had not reciprocated.  Now he
was a mammoth thing, peering at me from the veranda steps a foot
away.  I recalled that a sportsman's magazine had taken a poll on
the most dangerous animals in the country, and the Jersey bull was
at the head of the list.  I saw a cluster of Creek children coming
down the road with their buckets for milk.  I called to them that
Ferdinand was loose in the yard and to go home.  Martha came from
the back of the house to tell me that she was afraid we need not
look for Little Will back before morning.  I warned her to return
to the tenant house through the back of the grove.  Ferdinand
crashed through the blue plumbago along the front of the house and
chased Dora around the bird-bath.

"Ferdinand so mannish," Martha said proudly.

He seemed only to be doing his duty by Dora.  He was much more
interested in the coral honeysuckle and the orange blossoms.  He
fed greedily.  The honeysuckle vines would have no more bloom this
spring.  Suddenly he took care of Dora and marched away, bored both
with domesticity and the honeysuckle, toward the barn.  It occurred
to me that he was remembering his young days of being fed there.
It occurred to me too that if ever a bull was likely to be in a
quiet mood, it would be at this moment.  It was necessary that the
cows be milked.  Their calves were only two months old, and the
cows were in full milk, their bags bursting.  Lady saved me time by
coming through the gap Ferdinand had made in the fence, and joining
the family.  The two calves, Chrissy and Cissy, galloped after her
from the grove where they were allowed to run free.  I was tempted
to let the calves do the milking, but there were gallons more than
they could drain.  I opened the gate of the milking lot and
Ferdinand filed in haughtily, his harem trailing behind him.

I dashed to the feed barrels in the barn and brought out two
brimming bucketfuls.  Ferdinand took one as his mannish right and I
divided the other between Dora and Lady.  I tried to drive Chrissy
and Cissy into their own stall, but they were excited by the family
gathering and would not be driven.  I was working against time and
I dragged their trough into the lot and filled it.  They fed
happily side by side, their small tails twitching.  By the time I
had them settled, Ferdinand had finished his bucket and was pawing
a warning cloud of earth.  I brought him another.  Dora and Lady
had now finished theirs.

Martha and Idella came cautiously outside the lot and I
commissioned them to bring feed in relays and hand it over the
fence to me.  I milked literally in circles.  We milled about
together in the small lot, Ferdinand, Dora, Lady, the two calves,
the feed and I.  I milked first on one cow and then the other,
according to the convenience and practicability of their positions,
especially in relation to Ferdinand.  A quart was as much as I
could get at a time, when it was necessary to rush to the fence for
a bucket of feed.  I made no pretense of stripping them.  I decided
that if my getaway proved embarrassing, I should fling the milk
bucket over the fence and follow it.  I heard a groan behind me.
Ferdinand, his great belly bulging, had dropped to his knees to
rest.  I was able to make a dignified exit through the gate.  I
looked back to see Dora and Lady licking Ferdinand's face,
consoling him for the head-of-the-household efforts that had so
exhausted him.

Martha made fierce African threats against the missing Will.  If
only, I said, we did not have to go through the same thing again in
the morning.  The next morning the red-birds sang, the game cock
crew and the Mallards quacked cheerfully in the bright spring
sunshine.  There was no song in my heart and Martha muttered
direly.  We walked cautiously toward the lot.  It was plain that
Ferdinand was now past female handling.

Martha said, "Praise the Lord!"

I looked where she pointed.

Down the road came a figure.  Little Will was coming home.

"Sugar," Martha said, "if that was our President comin' down the
Creek road, he couldn't look no better."

19.  Summer

Folk who have never known a tropical summer have never luxuriated
in indolence, while the world around them burst out of its sheath
in a mad exuberance of growth.  It is at the Creek as though Nature
said to us, "You have toiled for me, now rest quietly in the shade,
and the sun and rain and I will do all that is needed."  The bees
have slowed from their orgy in the orange blossoms and the pale
gold honey is ready for gathering.  They work leisurely, dipping
into the long heavy sprays of the palmetto bloom, stabbing
carelessly the pink tarflowers, the gallberries, the andromeda, and
what may be left over of flowers in the garden.  They know there
will be long months of sweetness and there is no longer any hurry.
Once I cut a spray of late stock with a gold and black fellow so
lazy in it that he allowed himself to be brought into the house
with the bouquet.  The swarm of wild bees in a dead sweet gum at
the edge of the lakeside hammock flies slowly back and forth, for
their pantry is already full.  The crepe myrtle beside the bird-
bath explodes into Roman candles of bloom and showers of rosy
blossoms fall hour after hour into the water, so that the red-birds
and doves and mockingbirds emerge covered with flowers from their
bathing.  The scarlet hibiscus and the yellow allamanda bloom side
by side, gaudy but not dissonant, and butterflies of the same
colors flutter in to drink from them.  The yellow lotus blooms on
Micanopy marsh and a small black boy will wade out barelegged and
gather an armful for a dime.  I have lain on my veranda and asked
no more of the summer day than to watch, one by one, the lotus
petals falling.

The humming-birds come in, to stand on their heads in the red
hibiscus cups, to sit like minute bright twigs on the tips of
orange boughs, to poise, motionless except for the vibrating wings,
outside the screen and stare at me.  One day I selfishly picked all
the hibiscus blossoms and put them in a bowl on the veranda table.
A humming-bird tried to dart through the screen to come at them.
His needle-bill caught in the wire and I loosened it gently.  He
flew away and perched on the fence and shook himself and tried to
adjust his mind to invisible barriers.  Martha calls them the June
birds.  The baby lizards are born from the eggs under the steps and
emerge violently, one inch of body and one inch of tail, all
youthful energy, not having learned with their parents that there
is no hurry, and all things come to lizards who wait.

We have little advance news of summer.  One day it is spring, with
the air cool and the buds still opening.  The next, it is summer,
and the sun is very close to the earth, and the red-birds lift
their wings and open their bills to cool themselves.  They seem to
discover newly the bird-bath and instead of taking a casual
wetting, splash themselves all over for minutes at a time.  They
are angry when the water has not been changed and is too warm, and
fly back and forth across the yard, scolding human thoughtlessness.
When fresh cool water is put in the bath, the word goes out, and a
dozen are there, scattering the water for yards around.

I leave the oranges unpicked on the trees in the yard around the
house, to have them for ornaments through the summer.  They are
dead ripe and over-sweet and the woodpeckers come to them.  They
drill through the golden rinds and feed briefly on the nectar, then
fly a few feet away to puncture a fresh orange.  The bees and wasps
cluster at the neat small holes and in a day or two these oranges
drop to the ground.  They fall with a heavy thud, bursting open,
and the game rooster runs to the feast and calls his hens and the
hens in turn cluck to their biddies.  Nothing is left but the rind
and within a week it has been absorbed into the soil.  Nothing is

We do some work, for the ravens cannot be counted on to drop food
in our mouths.  But even the Negroes, who spend the summer hoeing
and pruning, work as slowly and rhythmically as the bees, pulling
the hoe toward them with an even, easy motion, cutting out the dead
orange wood with long-spaced snips of the pruning shears.  They
wear Prussian blue work shirts and the shirts are the same color as
the sky.  In other seasons they may buy ready-made cigarettes, but
in the summer they roll their own, for the rolling takes many
minutes, and while they are doing it they lean against the orange
trees and rest themselves with long breaths of the same cadence as
the breathing of the fertile earth.  They take a long siesta at
noon, and it would be a cruel white man who would rise from his own
to hurry them from where they lie in the shade, hats over their
eyes, immobile as only the primitive can be.

The corn is rank, the cowpeas are knee-high, the peanuts are
forming small nodules under the earth, and only a light working is
needed for all of these, the mule moving in a dream down the rows,
the Negro behind him guiding the plow deep in the same lethargy.
At night there is singing in the Mickens house, for the slow time
is the time for song, and Little Will's guitar is strummed softly,
the sound as soft as the summer air.  The whippoorwills go mad, and
in the moonlight, the mocking-bird, who has been silent all day in
the sun, tears his throat apart to make a melody.  One night he
imitates the red-bird, another he makes up a new tune all his own.
Edward Bok imported English nightingales for the bird sanctuary at
Bok Tower.  The caretaker told me that the nightingales died, for
lack of the proper food or perhaps for homesickness, but meantime
the mocking-birds had learned their song.  It was even lovelier, he
said, than that of the nightingales.

There is time in summer to lie idly on the veranda and observe a
thousand minute things that through the busier part of the year
have gone unnoticed.  There is time to study such things as the
motion of birds and I found that I could identify various birds at
a great height or distance by their flight alone.  The soaring of
the buzzard is unmistakable and the wheeling of an eagle is almost
identical.  Yet when a bald-headed eagle is so high in the sky that
the distinguishing mark of the white head is invisible, one who has
watched both birds can identify them each from the other.
Something about the eagle's circling is more purposeful than that
of the buzzard.  The great wings lie in a straighter line on the
air, without so much of uptilted curve.  He is no more graceful
than the buzzard but the hallmark of the fighting aristocrat is on
the flight of one and that of the lazy scavenger on the other.

Too far down the fence row of coral honeysuckle to distinguish
whether I am seeing a bird or a dragon-fly, the humming-bird
reveals himself by his swinging arcs.  It is as though he were
suspended on an invisible wire and swung only to its limits.  The
woodpeckers, too, seem to be motivated by puppets' strings and drop
jerkily a few feet down a tree-trunk, only to be jerked back up
again.  When they fly, they open and close their wings and propel
themselves like a boy with one foot on a scooter.

The little ground doves fly as though uncertain of themselves, like
apprentice birds learning the business.  They take off with a
whirring of tiny rose-lined wings, achieving the safety of the
crepe myrtle with a spasmodic effort.  I perpetually expect them to
miss the bough they have aimed for and topple indignantly to the
ground, for they flutter nervously as they land.  The large turtle
doves on the contrary fly with such speed and directness that they
seem like gray bullets shot from a long-range gun.  They are hurled
across space and when they light in the pecan trees it is as though
the limbs had halted them abruptly and they are only caught and
tangled there.  A covey of quail explodes like a pan of popcorn
popping and I can recognize the spasmic scattering far across the

The great blue heron often flies at great heights and labels
himself plainly with his slow flapping.  The ibis, known at the
Creek as the curlew, flies almost as slowly but his head is carried
higher and the wing-beat is more frequent.  It is a rare sight to
see a flock of perhaps twenty circling in the sky.  I suppose this
community uncertainty is an indication of a mass migration to new
feeding or roosting grounds.  I have seen a flock wheel for hours
in an endless circle over the grove, like a merry-go-round that
cannot be halted.

The most engaging of bird flights to my notion is that of the red-
birds.  They seem to take life very lightly and in motion they give
an effect of haphazard gayety.  They seem not to fly of their own
volition, but, scatterbrained, to be tossed from tree to tree like
wind-blown leaves.

When summer comes, our garden flowers are largely done for, except
the roses.  These bloom themselves literally to death, almost the
year around, and we usually replace the bushes every two years,
having had more dozens of blooms from them than is quite
reasonable.  The wild flowers burst open to fill the breach, and if
any house at the Creek has no bouquet, it is either because the
householder is too comfortably idle to go to the roadside to gather
it or has, merely, a preference for seeing it in its natural state.
The phlox grows maudlin everywhere, red and pink and lavender and
white and yellow, and the small darkies carry handfuls for their
own pleasure as they stroll by my gate.  One season I had an early
spring bean crop in the sixteen-acre field.  It was heavily
fertilized.  When the wild phlox appeared a few weeks later, it had
drawn up the foreign nourishment avidly and I had acres of phlox as
large and fine as any cultivated variety.

The stretch of flats between the Creek and the village is pink all
summer, first with gallberry and blueberry bloom, then fetterbush
and andromeda, and lastly the showy tarflower.  The individual
tarflowers are shell-pink, much the shape of the large marsh pink,
and impregnated with a sticky substance that gives them their name.
The young Negro girls wear them for earrings, pressing the
mucilaginous calyxes against the dark lobes of their ears.

The Cherokee bean puts up brilliant scarlet spikes from poor soil.
It is always a marvel to me that some of the handsomest wild
flowers grow profusely in the barest places.  The magnificent
yellow-fringed orchis and the white-fringed orchis bloom in August
in damp flat-woods where even the scrub range cattle can find no
pasturage.  The yellow false foxglove grows like a cultivated plant
in wild parts of the open scrub.  The wild allamanda is a cloth of
gold in late July near the Creek fences, where only myrtle and
scrub oak have been before.  With the summer rains come the pink
mallows in the ditches and meadow beauty is riotous in all low wet
places.  In late August the red wood lily flames across open pine
woods and is as handsome as the new exotic rubrum lily imported
from Africa.  The wild hibiscus, or blazing star, lines the banks
of streams and rivers.

Summer is established at the peak of its lushness when the bay tree
blooms.  The blossom is a miniature magnolia, with the fragrance of
a rare perfume.  A few sprays are immensely ornamental in the
house.  There is a mile of bay trees, forming what we call a bay-
head, just before the Creek is reached from the village.  I drive
or walk slowly past them, for they are flung tangibly from out a

May is the dividing line, when there is one, between spring and
summer.  In June, in a normal year, the rains begin.  With the new
moisture, the orange trees remember the spring again and put out a
second burst of blossoms that we call June bloom.  If cold has
nipped the spring flowering, the June bloom is heavy, and perhaps
our only crop of fruit will come from this.  The fruit of June
bloom is coarse-skinned and knotted, more like the wild oranges.
It matures late and seldom loses all its green of color, and is
never the best of citrus.

The rains last usually until mid-August.  We wait for them
anxiously, for in the last weeks the elements seem stationary.  The
sun seems to stand all day in one steady blazing.  May is sometimes
the hottest month of the year.  One day in June a cloud passes over
the sun in the late afternoon.  The cloud spreads until all the sky
is gray.  The air is so still that even the restless Spanish moss
hangs motionless.  Although the sun is hidden the atmosphere is
stifling.  Then an impalpable breath stirs.  The tallest palms in
the east grove bend their heads, the moss in the hammock lifts as
though a silent hand moved through a gray beard.  There is a
sibilant sound in the pecan trees, the grayness thickens, and rain
marches visibly across palms and orange trees and comes in at the
gate.  Sometimes it is a gentle shower, sometimes a rushing flood.
After it has passed, the air is as fresh and clean as April and the
night will be cool for sleeping.  The sun strikes through the
wetness, there is likely to be a rainbow, and the palms are rosy in
the evening light.  The Mallards are vociferous, waddling through
the puddles.

The atmosphere is ominous before the rain.  I recall a day last
summer, when Adrenna was low in her mind at her failure to find us
a man, and clouds darker than those in the sky rolled across us.
The day was sultry from its dawning.  The sky was a sheet of zinc,
against which the sun beat hot and furious hands.  The seedling
zinnias and marigolds drooped and finally lay bent against the
earth, sapped and exhausted.  At three o'clock in the afternoon the
temperature on the veranda, with the dark slat blinds drawn, was
ninety-eight.  The red-birds dabbled indolently in the warm water
of the bird-bath and did not sing.  Pat the pointer dug a futile
hole under the guava bushes and lay on his side, puzzled by his
discomfort.  Adrenna did not go to the tenant house, but lingered.

She said, "I aimed to wash me out a few pieces, but seems like my
backbone is melted in the middle."

I said, "Try to rest.  No one can work in heat like this."

She said, "'Tain't exactly the heat.  It's something in the air,

"Perhaps we'll have a rain and things will be better."

She burst out, "You know I been tryin' to make out by myself, so's
not to leave you.  God knows I don't want to leave you."

"I know."

"I been aimin' to tell you.  They was tracks around my house
yestiddy.  A woman's tracks, with sharp heels."

"They were your own tracks.  I haven't been to your house in weeks.
No one has been there."

"That's what I'm feered of.  But the tracks is there."

"I don't believe in things like that, Adrenna."

"No'm.  I don't believe in such things, neither.  But I wisht I
could find me a good root man, to find out is something buried
under my house."

"A cunjur bag?"

"Yessum.  I been aimin' to tell you.  Last night it cooled off in
the night and I got up and put a quilt over me.  This morning
something had drug the quilt off me and dropped it in a heap by the

"You threw it off yourself, in your sleep."

"Yessum.  And for three nights now, something been runnin' through
the house at night.  And I heered a pistol shot.  I turned up the
lamp and when I turned it down again, the pistol shot in the other

"That was the tin roof crackling when it cooled off.  If a pistol
had been shot, I'd have heard it."

"Maybe 'tasn't for your ears to hear."

"Adrenna, nothing like that can harm you."

"No'm, for I ain't et nothing from nobody's hand.  But I wisht I
could find me a good root man.  I burned sulphur around the house
night before last.  But I must of left a gap."

In the west a white cloud rolled itself together and turned gray.
Thunder boomed across the lake.  The sound was muffled, as though
the detonation came from under the water.  Lightning flickered like
a tongue, then went, tasting the south.

I said, "You'd better milk early.  I think we will have rain."


I heard her at the pasture gate, calling the cows.  Glisson's bull
was bellowing by the lake edge.  The cows were stubborn and took a
long time to come.  The gray cloud spread as though it were a great
maw, feeding on the sky.  It swallowed the last morsel of blue in
the north and the thunder crashed across the swamp.  It was the
longest day in the year, but by five o'clock the world was dark.  I
heard Adrenna go into the kitchen with the bucket of evening's
milk.  On the veranda I walked up and down.  Pat whined at the door
and I let him in.  Lightning sizzled over the young grove across
the road.  I had expected friends that afternoon but they did not
come, kept away perhaps by the ominous skies.  City folk are afraid
of the country in a storm.  And I, too, was afraid.  At first it
annoyed me and I shrugged it off.  The thunder beat closer its
invisible drums.  I went back to the kitchen to ask for an early
supper.  Adrenna sat crouched in a chair, her arms folded over her

She said, "I ain't afeered.  But I wisht I knowed is the sperrits
after me."

The spirits were after me, too.  I returned to the veranda and
paced up and down, up and down.  Adrenna brought my tray and looked
at me.

She said, "Oh, you sick.  I kin tell by your face, you sick."

I was ashamed, for if I failed her, there was no other bulwark

I said, "I'm all right."

She cried out, "I know.  You sick at heart.  Don't I know.  But
please don't cry, else I be in the same fix."

I said, "The rain will be here any moment.  You'd better get to
your house before it comes."

I gave her Pat to take with her for company, for her need was
greater than mine.  Suddenly the palms rattled their fronds, the
pecan trees bent before a nameless pressure, and the wind and rain
roared in.  The rain fell in a flood.  I thought of the mother duck
on her nest under the allamanda, where the eaves of the veranda
made only a partial shelter.  Her clutch of blue-white eggs was
soft under the thick down of her breast, but her dark head must be
bowed under the force of the torrent.  The rain pounded on the
shingled roof and poured in sluiceways at the house corners.  The
thunder and lightning were the attacking cavalry of the enemy.  The
rain fell for an hour.  Then a cosmic broom swept it away as
swiftly as it had come, and there was the sound only of spent water
dripping from the eaves.  The thunder and lightning were routed,
and the clouds that held them rolled away into the north, like dark
driven horses.  Unbearable, heavy hands released their pressure
from my shoulders.  I went out to the clean washed road and walked
a long way along it, and turned to walk back home again in company
with the sunset.

The sun itself was trivial.  It sank humbly into a modest bed of
subdued gold.  But in the north, the east, the south, cloud piled
on cloud, arrogant with color, luminous with lemon yellow, with
saffron and with rose.  Three bands of opal blue lifted suddenly
from the sun.  The west took over its own.  The unseemly
magnificence of north and east and south faded.  The sun at the
horizon came into its full glory and the west was copper, then
blood-red, blazing into an orgy of salmon and red and brass and a
soft blush-yellow the color of ripe guavas.  Northeast and south
faded instantly to gray, timid at having usurped the flame of the
sunset.  Then suddenly the west dimmed, as though a bonfire charred
and died.  There was only a bar of copper.  All the sky, to every
point of the compass, became a soft blue and the clouds were white
powder, so that in the end it was tenderness that triumphed.  I
went home to sound, cool sleep.

The next morning the world was fresh and bland.  The sun shone
benignly, without virulence.  Pat romped with Old Jib and the red-
birds trilled from the feed basket.  The mother duck came quacking
from her nest for a little corn.  A light breeze ruffled the

I said to Adrenna, "What a lovely day!"

She said, "Sho be's fine.  I got me a misery in my stomach, but I
feels a whole heap better in my mind.  Don't you fret.  Ain't no
sperrits goin' to scare me off into leavin' you."

The extraordinary becomes in summer the accepted.  Snow and Little
Will kill casually the rattlesnakes in the path of the mowing
machine and only think to mention it if the snake is large and fine
and they inquire whether I shall want the skin.  Foxes as big as
small dogs flicker along the fence by night.  Raccoons stop their
frog-hunting in the ditches to lift their masked faces to the car's
headlights.  An alligator lumbers across the road, crossing from
one lake to the other.  A bull 'gator sounds his vibrating roar
from Orange Lake.  The hoot owls quaver all night and a rabbit
squeals like a puppy as a varmint pounces on him in the darkness.

The convict road gangs come through, clearing the weed-choked
ditches and cutting and trimming the right of way.  Up the road I
hear the swishing of scythes and the swinging of lazy-boy weed
cutters, then a burst of song.  I hear the Negroes sing "I want to
hear my mother--swish-swish--pray--swish--again," and they
punctuate the song so rhythmically with the sweep of their cutters
that a set of light percussion instruments seems to be playing with
them along the highway.  They work evenly and not too rapidly and
the white guards dawdle among and behind them.  The transport and
water wagons follow the gang and in the last wagon sits an enormous
bloodhound.  He is surrounded by Negroes idle for the moment and
one or two of them always have their arms lovingly across his great
neck.  He is very much en rapport with those whom he is supposed to
track down if the occasion should arise.  I am certain they have a
complete understanding and that nothing would induce him to bring
one of his good friends to bay.

One summer day Fred Tompkins and I drove into the scrub and our car
sank hopelessly in hub-deep fine sand.  We were not within fifteen
miles of any habitation.  We sat a while and estimated our chances
of having a truck drive by.  Behind us we heard in the distance a
tumult that resolved itself into a convict road gang on its way to
a new location.  The cavalcade of men and mules and machines came
to a stop while the overseer studied our position.  He gave a sign
and a swarm of gray-striped black men climbed down and surrounded

"Boys," the overseer said in a quiet conversational tone, "I want
you to take hold of this car and lift Hell out of it."

It was a shocking thing somehow to sit in a large machine and feel
it lifted from the ground and moved forward by man power, with
men's backs and shoulders under it.  It was too primitive to be
decent.  Yet it was a natural thing.  It is fitting in a pioneer
country that men who have offended society should be at the service
of society, which needs so many things done; roads built, trees
hewn, rivers bridged and travellers helped through impassable
trails.  Organized labor protests such a use of the offenders, as
an encroachment on legitimate employment.  But the alternative is
for men to languish sullen in their cells; and surely, if we were
not so stupid as economic organizers, there would be work enough
for all.

That afternoon we passed the gang at work on the grade.  Each man
was driving a span of mules, standing on a small dirt cart or on a
sled that levelled the sand as it moved.  The black men drove like
African emperors in chariots.  Heads were high, long whips cracked,
and an ebony giant with a blue bandana knotted about his head broke
boastfully into thundering song.  Three stations down the grade
another man picked up the irregular melody.  The seething mass of
convicts chanted a spasmodic chorus.  Harness clanked, golden dust
clouded up behind the scuffling feet of the mules, black men and
their beasts sweat in the heavy summer air.  Songs of love, songs
of death, songs of the spirit's hope and the spirit's despair,
overlaid the labors of strong black men "working for the County."
Here and there a white man hobbled along with chains about his
ankles.  These were the dangerous characters, men who had tried to
kill their guards or a fellow convict.  We shared our cigarettes,
and the dangerous men were as courteous in their acceptance as the
others.  So slight a weight in the balance of character makes a man
"good" or "bad."

That night we had supper at the convict camp; boiled beans, white
bacon, soda biscuits, turnip greens, chicory, and syrup to pour
over the biscuits for dessert.  A convict named "'Possum" waited on
us.  Small fires flickered here and there in the camp.  Lanterns
swung under the gray hanging moss.  Before we had finished our
supper, the camp was deep in sleep.  The men had finished the day's
work and the day's song.  None of it seemed unnatural.

I remember the time I buried my gold, and so preposterous an
accident as came about could only have happened in the summer.  In
the spring I knew that I should have the manuscript of a book
completed by August.  I wanted to take it myself to New York to
consult over it with my editor.  I had a hundred dollars with which
to make the trip.  I knew that if I did not put the hundred dollars
in a place more difficult of access than a bank, August would find
it gone.  I converted it into five twenty-dollar gold pieces--this
was before even the government began to bury gold--and I went
furtively along the fence toward the lakeside hammock in search of
a hiding place.  Under a fence post seemed a proper spot.  I lined
up one of the posts with a cedar tree, a palm and a pecan tree and
dug deep.  I put the gold in a covered jelly glass and the glass in
a covered coffee tin.  I filled in the hole, patted down the earth,
scattered grass over the top, and went away as contented as a dog
who has done an especially good job with a choice bone.

The summer passed, the manuscript was finished, I was ready to go.
I was to be driven in the grove truck to the village to catch my
train.  Somehow, things went wrong that morning, and I was busy
until dangerously late.  I decided to bathe and dress, then make a
quick dash to dig up my buried treasure.  The day was hot and
steaming.  The sun beat down mercilessly and the sand gnats swarmed
and stung.  I thrust my spade deep beside the fence post that lined
up with a cedar tree, a palm and a pecan.  I dug deeper.  There was
nothing there.  I backed off and studied the terrain.  Five posts
lined up with a cedar tree, a palm and a pecan.  I excavated all
five in a frenzy.  There was no coffee tin, there was no jelly
glass, there was no gold.  I stood dripping and frustrated in my
best clothes.  Then I began digging all over again, three times as
deep as I had remembered doing the burying.  Under a fence post
that did not appear to line up with anything at all, my spade
struck the disintegrated coffee tin and the jelly glass, full of
water and tarnished gold pieces.  I swung on the train at the last
possible instant and paid for my ticket with money that to all
appearances had been buried during the Civil War, held tightly in a
grimy paw.  I was wet, dirty and dishevelled, and neat passengers
stared at me.

I longed to say haughtily, "My good people, you have no conception
of the difficulties I have encountered in being here at all."

I remember, too, a summer when peace and war battled for possession
of the Creek and for all of Florida.  The conflict was grave for
us.  The enemy was the Mediterranean fruit fly.  I remember that I
walked to the sixteen-acre field in search of wild flowers and
stopped at the edge to stare at the wild grape vines in the hammock
around the clearing.  The wild grape is a perfect host for the
tropical devastator that had just invaded its last unconquered
continent by way of Florida.  If anything could ruin this peninsula
appended to the United States, it seemed that it would be the
Mediterranean fruit fly, the insect of the agricultural scientists'
nightmares, a pest more destructive to fruits and vegetables than
the boll-weevil, the Japanese beetle, the cotton moth and half a
dozen others combined.  Florida has survived the West Indian
hurricanes that brush our coast.  It has survived the madness of
"the boom."  It has maintained against all enemies its beauty, and
at such places as the Creek, its privacy.

The orange industry has fought and defeated the white fly, the
citrus canker and the periodic freezes.  For every abandoned grove,
frozen to the ground in 1895, there are a hundred new ones,
incredibly neat and geometrical.  My own grove has survived the
freezes of early vintages, due to its sheltered location between
Orange Lake and Lochloosa.  It is supposed to be among the last to
go when the mercury drops into the perilous twenties.  My acres are
part of the Arredonda grant, a grant from the crown of Spain to Don
Fernandez de la Maza Arredonda and Son, and it is said that any
land that is part of an original Spanish grant is good orange land.
The Spaniards knew how to choose it, for soil and protection, out
of the unfamiliar hammock.

Indians, Seminoles or mound builders, Spaniards in search of
fabulous riches or still more fabulous youth, fugitives from
justice from the Carolinas, Georgia Crackers seeping slowly over
the border, Yankees with axes to grind, or seeking the sharp blade
of beauty--all the intruders have seen Florida's calamities
threaten them and come and go.  Now a small gauzy fly imperilled
the life of the state, and with it, the agriculture of all the
southern states.  Florida was a battleground, a Belgium, a Poland.
Four and a half of federal millions and the keenest brains in
modern entomology set in to do battle against the insidious visitor
come without passport from the infested tropics, none knew how or
when, save that the invasion was recent.  Military quarantine was
thrown around the infested areas.  There were Zones 1, 2 and 3,
with corresponding stringency of regulation.  In Zone 1, vegetation
was stripped down to the unfruiting plants.  My place seemed safely
in Zone 3, but we pulled up by the roots, and burned, the top-of-
the-market crop of bell peppers and of eggplant, perfect fly hosts.
I dared not juggle the safety of my citrus crop and that of Old
Boss against the mere amenity of a summer's income.

Not a ripe orange, grapefruit or tangerine was left that summer on
the trees.  The clean-up crew went through half a dozen times.
When we went swimming a few miles away in Cow Pen Pond, we crossed
from Zone 3 into Zone 2, and coming and going a military guard
stopped us at the boundary line.  The car was inspected for fruits
and vegetables and thoroughly sprayed.  Inspectors net-worked the
state in search of fresh infestations.  Doctor Newell of the
University shut himself in his office in Orlando and studied
charts, reports and laboratory findings.  Research scientists
worked over-time feverishly, cramming a year's experimentation into
a week, hoping to say, "Such and such will control the Mediterranean
fruit fly."  If the fly could be starved out during the summer,
Florida would be safe again, and all the south-eastern agriculture.
But deep in the jungles, out of reach over the fence lines, were
hanging the wild grapes.  They were turning rosy in the summer sun.
Wild grapes, the perfect host.  Wild grapes running riot in hundreds
of miles of all but impassable jungle.

     "Good God, with a bounty
     Look down on Alachua County,
     For the soil is so po' and so awful rooty, too,
     I don't know what to God the po' folks gonna do."

My friend Fred will not eat a meal, at table, in the woods, or by
the water, without pronouncing this grace.  I suggested to Fred
that he amend his prayer, for it seemed for a time that only God
with a bounty could spare Alachua County from the fruit fly.  If
the fly reached us, we faced ruin, with the actual menace for the
poorest, of starvation.  In Zones 1 and 2, pitiful small crops were
torn up and destroyed.  Gray-bearded backwoodsmen with shotguns
threatened Plant Board inspectors, but the necessary destruction of
fields of beans and eggplant and peppers went on; peaches and
citrus and guavas and figs continued to be stripped from the
bushes.  The Plant Board was ruthless.  But so is the fly.  Many
small homes and farms in Zones 1 and 2 were deserted.  Negroes
migrated north in search of work.

Doctor Berger of the Plant Board said, "Only a miracle can save us.
If the fly is not yet in the wild fruit--if it has not reached the
wild guavas, the grapes, the wild oranges, the pawpaws and
persimmons out in the jungle hammock lands, there is a chance--a
chance--that we can exterminate it.  Otherwise--"

Only the bulletin of the Department of Agriculture, issued long
before on the Mediterranean Fruit Fly in Hawaii, could picture
coldly and dispassionately enough the devastation of that
"otherwise."  I read the page-long list of host fruits and
vegetables whose ripe or ripening crop is totally destroyed within
a short space by this light-winged devourer, this prodigious layer
of larva-making eggs, and thought, "But there are no other fruits
and vegetables left!"  The inexorable bulletin summed it up:

"The fruit fly . . . is an insect pest of the first importance in
horticultural development.  Practically every fruit crop of value
to man is subject to its attack.  No effort . . . is too great to
combat it."

The horticultural development of Hawaii almost entirely ended after
1910.  Florida without agriculture!  Without tomatoes, beans,
peppers, eggplant, peas, squash; without its golden-headed glory of
citrus!  Georgia without its peaches!  For Georgia across the
border quarantined against us and shivered with fear.

The war raged all summer.  The next season proved that it was won,
for the fly was never seen again.  The first bitter cold night came
in, blessedly cold, for now the incubation would be halted.  We
shivered in the icy wind.

"Well," Zelma said, "a Mediterranean fruit fly'd be a fool to lay
an egg tonight."

It seems strange to us at the Creek that any one should think the
Florida summer oppressive as to temperature.  Our battles are the
age-old ones against the vagaries of nature, but the season itself
is usually clement.  The wind blows all summer from the Atlantic on
the east or the Gulf of Mexico on the west, cooling itself across
either of the great bodies of water, and moves beneficently across
the narrow Florida peninsula.  The Florida summer climate in
general is the most delightful I have known.  Of the thirteen
summers I have lived at the Creek, two have been unbearable, two on
the uncomfortable side, and the other nine have been perfection.
We look forward to summer, we swim, we fish, and we fox hunt.

Fox hunting with us is not the elegant northern or English matter
of red-coated masters of fox hounds, expensive mounts and the
serious intent on bringing in the brush.  We fox hunt as we do
everything else in the summer, leisurely and comfortably.  We are
interested in the chase and in the fox hounds, in the beauty of the
night, and we hope always that the fox will get away so that we may
run him another night.  For we fox hunt in Florida of nights, and
added to the delights of the hunt we have the tropical moonlight.

My friend Nettie Martin introduced me to fox hunting.  She is a
curly-headed person, so tiny that she must buy her boots and
breeches in the children's department, and so ardent a lover of
horses and hounds that although she owns neither, she has been an
officer of the state fox hunters' association.  She has broken
countless bones, following the hounds on a behemoth of a stallion,
but she is on a horse again as soon as the cast is off.  When I
reported seeing foxes near Big Hammock, she induced John Clardy to
bring out his hounds.

The summer moonlight was so bright that we could distinguish the
colors of the markings on the fox hounds.  They arrived in a cage
in the back of a truck, their long tails waving for delight in the
nearness of the chase.  Hounds are sad, soulful beasts, their lives
darkened by the fact that there is not a fox chase every night.
John let down the door of the cage and they trooped out decorously,
snuffing the earth and waiting patiently for the "Hie away!"
Nettie spoke to each by name; Big Belle, Flora, Sugar Boy, Black
Sam, and on down the line.  They acknowledged her greeting with a
dignified eye and an extra swish of the tail.  It is not considered
etiquette to make pets of sporting dogs, but now and then one would
brush her as though by accident and her hand rested for an instant
on a lean, loose-hided neck.  John examined the sand for fox
tracks, found them and gave the dogs the signal.

They were away like bullets, voiceless as ghost dogs in the
moonlight.  They cut to the north, across scrub palmettos, and
silence followed on the rustling and the soft padding of big feet.
The hunters on horseback lit cigarettes, talked together, then took
the same direction as the dogs, leisurely.  I did not see how any
one might hope to see or hear anything of the chase.  My own broken
neck was too recent for me to relish the idea of trotting through
the dense growth, treacherous with gopher holes, where a false step
sends horse and rider pitching.  I stayed with the truck and with
others cautious like myself.  As time passed, and only the hoot
owls sounded, it seemed to me that if the night were not so
beautiful, fox hunting would be the most stupid of all sports.
Then in the distance an old hound gave tongue.  I had thought that
talk of the hounds' "voices" and "music" was nonsense.  Old Belle's
cry was a deep-toned bell ringing across the palmettos.  A younger
dog with a high-pitched voice, known to the adepts as a "fine"
voice, sounded above the lower pitch, and then the whole pack was
in full cry.  The harmony was like that of a Negro choir, the
basses deep and rich, the intermediate tones a solid background,
and the one high silver voice like that of a Negro soprano soaring
above the others.  The hoot owls hushed in wonder.  The riders
crashed back to the road.

Nettie called, "They're headed for the gallberry flats.  Follow."

The truck started and we were plowing across land I should have
considered impossible to cross in any car.  But there were cattle
trails and here and there a dim old woods road and we bounced
along.  Big Hammock lifted to the right and the sharp scent of
orange leaves came to us on the night air.  We heard the hounds and
riders pass near us in the hammock.  The hunt doubled back, and we
were abandoned, and the cries faded.

The hunter at the wheel of the truck said casually, "They'll come
back this way.  We'll wait here."

It seemed to me then, and on subsequent hunts has still seemed, a
complete miracle that a man should know when and where a fox would
run, and the dogs after.  But the great joy to the hunters lies in
this intimate knowledge, and in hearing the hounds do the proper
and clever thing, and in following the voices of their favorites
among the dogs.  We waited a long time.  Very late in the night we
heard the hounds come closer.  The moon was high overhead, the
gallberry bloom was recognizably pink in the brightness, and the
sweetness of bay blossoms came to us from the thicket.  The hunter
driver straightened from his lounging.

"Here he comes," he said.

I had heard no sound of small sharp-pointed feet on the sand, no
rustling even among the harsh leaves of the gall-berries.  But a
gray fox slipped past us, so close we might have touched his back.
He was going slowly and his brush was dragging.  It seemed to me
that he was done for and I sickened at thought of the kill.  But
the dogs were tired, too.  They came through on the trail a moment
later, the riders followed, there was a great commotion at the edge
of a bay-head, shouts and then silence.  Hounds and riders came
back to the truck.

"He treed," John said.  "He's a good fox.  We'll run him again."

The hounds threw themselves on the ground to rest.  This is the
time when a roaring camp-fire is built, allowed to die down to
coals, and coffee made and steaks broiled.  The hunters smoke and
the bottle is passed and the camp food is nectar and ambrosia.
There is long heated talk of the performance of the hounds and each
man praises one and damns another, until all agree at last that
whatever the merits and voices of the rest, there is no beating Old
Belle.  Toward dawn on this night a light fog settled down over the
hammock, the gallberry flats, the bay-heads and the palmettos.  The
world was veiled with silver-gray and the moon struck through it
wanly.  I went home to sleep.  Now and then I awakened to the music
of the pack, for the true fox hunters were back at the chase, and
Old Belle had struck a fresh trail.

The fog of the night was one of our phenomena.  We have fog at two
seasons, the heart of winter and the peak of summer.  Both come
from the sharp night-cooling of the sun-warmed earth.  The humidity
of Florida, surrounded on three sides by water, is precipitated
into fog by the shock of the quick cooling.  Spring and fall seldom
produce fog, for the variance of temperature then is slight.  The
fog is a combination of beauty and nightmare.  One's personal
reaction depends on whether it has proved friendly or inimical.
Summer fog will always be a nightmare to me.  Even in maturity we
are conditioned by our experiences, and one sharp enough leaves an
imprint, no less indelible for being understood.  I am not easily
frightened, but I was truly afraid the night I fell asleep at the
wheel of my car when a bear hunt was over, and I drove home
afterward to Cross Creek in a summer fog.

Uncle Barney, whose tales I added to those of old Cal Long for much
of my hunting material in The Yearling, invited me to join him and
Hubert for a bear hunt.  Hubert had brought us together in the
first place, and the wonderful old man and I were fast friends.  If
his favorite name for me was "Old Ugly," he said it with a twinkle
and an affectionate undertone.  An invitation to a hunt with him
was a command.  The bear hunt was to be west of the St. John's
River and I was to meet the two men at the river "just before day."
I had a fifty-mile drive ahead of me from the Creek, and figuring
"day" in summer at five o'clock, I set my alarm clock for three in
the morning.  I distrusted the alarm, which had sometimes failed
me, and did not sleep all night, listening and waiting.  I was up
ahead of the alarm.  I brewed a cup of coffee, gathered my duffle
and set out.  The drive was dark at first, then acquired luminosity
as I became accustomed to the stars.  I drove up to the bridge at
Astor a few minutes ahead of Hubert's car.  Uncle Barney came on
foot across the bridge from his house on the river.

We met other hunters from the neighborhood, with dogs, near Juniper
Creek at sunrise.  The bear we were after had been making
depredations on nearby stock.  We tracked and trailed all morning
through swamp and low hammock, and later I used the details for a
bear hunt in The Yearling.  The trail disappeared across Juniper
Run and we gave it up.  At least, the neighborhood hunters gave it
up.  Uncle Barney did not give up so easily.  After our noon
dinner, a baked ham from me, bread and may-haw jelly from Marsh
Harper, coffee from Hubert, cold baked sweet potatoes from Uncle
Barney, the Harpers took their dogs and went away.

Uncle Barney said, "That was a cold trail we were following on that
bear.  We'll find us a fresh one."

He found the fresh trail, and I lamented years of comparatively
easy living, following him.  He was seventy-six years old, and he
whipped me down.  He understood my unvoiced distress and gallantly
assigned me to a futile stand while he and Hubert went on.  There
was a twinkle in his old blue eyes when he said, "Now, girl, don't
let that bear trip over you while you're asleep."  I did not sleep,
but I stretched out my aching booted feet and hoped he would not
return too soon.  In late afternoon the two men returned.  Uncle
Barney said, "I believe he'll head back this way this evening."  We
climbed into Hubert's car and drove back to Juniper Creek.  Uncle
Barney studied days-old tracks.

"Now, girl," he said, "you go off into that bay-head to the south
and climb a tree and sit there and wait.  You're likely to have
that black rascal come out snorting and puffing and feeding right
under your feet."

They left me and I pushed my way through dense undergrowth to the
bay-head.  There was a half-fallen pine tree there, inclining at an
angle, and I climbed up it and took my stand some twenty feet above
the terrain.  The perch was comfortable.  The sun was setting.
Under me was a tight thicket.  A light rain fell, like a gauze veil
between me and the sun.  A red-bird and two bluebirds flew to the
bay tree beside me and preened their feathers among the bay
blossoms in the mist.  I sat very still.  The birds cocked bright
eyes at me and went on with their toilets.  The thin shower ended
and a rainbow arched across the sky.  The birds flew leisurely a
little distance away.  The bay blossoms were nacre, with diamond
drops at their centers.  I hoped the bear would not come, not in
fear, for he would be too easy a shot.  I decided that if he came I
should shoot high over him and simply face Uncle Barney with the
news that I had missed.  The last red and orange faded from the
sky, the rainbow and the birds were gone, and when it was dark,
Uncle Barney and Hubert called me from the far road.

That night was moonlit and we drove all night through the scrub.
Night hunting is illegal, properly so.

Uncle Barney said, "I wouldn't hunt deer at night.  But if one was
to attack me, I'd have to protect myself."

We saw no deer.  We saw no bear.  Hubert and Uncle Barney did not
know that I was passionately willing the creatures, "Don't come!"
We drove Uncle Barney home across the river, and Hubert and I got
into our separate cars.  It was three o'clock in the morning.  I
had been without sleep more than forty hours.  All day I had fought
my way behind Uncle Barney through swamp and hammock, bay-heads and
oak thickets, through horse briers and bull briers.  With no
special consciousness of fatigue, I suddenly fell dead asleep
behind the wheel of my car.  I awoke with a jolt, headed at a high
speed for the ditch.  I swung the car sharply, bounded toward the
opposite ditch, swung back again, and cleared the four-foot ditch
to the left so clean that there was never any mark of the tires to
show that I had crossed it.  If I had not quail-hunted with Fred
Tompkins in his Ford across black-jack and pine-woods, mowing down
small trees, dodging gopher holes, I think it would not have
occurred to me to try to steer my way through the forest in which I
found myself.  I dodged the larger trees and crashed across the
smaller.  I dared not put on brakes.  I ripped past large pines and
flattened down saplings.  I came to a stop across a ten-foot

I climbed out to investigate the damage.  The left side of my car
was crushed.  The motor was still running, but the left front
fender was jammed in over the wheel so that I had no play and could
not move the car.  I turned on my parking lights so that I could
find the car again and walked back to the highway.  There was no
traffic at that hour of the morning.  I had walked two miles back
toward the Ocklawaha River when a car passed and I flagged it down
with my flashlight.  The driver took me back.  My car lights were
ominous, deep in the woods.  When we could find no marks where the
car had leaped the ditch, the stranger suspected a trap and was
reluctant to go in with me.  When I pointed out the first pine tree
past which I had ripped my way, he knew I had told the truth.  I
had an axe in my car and with it he cut down a sapling to use as a
prize-pole to lift the damaged fender a little away from the wheel.
Between us we freed the wheel enough so that I could drive the car.

I was obliged to drive home to the Creek at no more than ten miles
an hour.  After the shock it seemed to me that it would be
impossible ever to sleep again.  Yet as I turned from the village
down the four-mile stretch to the Creek, the deadly fatigue
overtook me and it was all I could manage, talking to myself,
singing, to keep my eyes open.  Then I met the fog.  It was a
soporific enemy.  It lay over the hollows like a ghostly trap.  I
drowsed.  I stirred.  The fog lay no higher than the car, but it
was a morass.  Again and again I dropped into exhaustion, and
roused out of it with a fearful rushing feeling.  The fog was about
me and I was plunging blindly into it, and imaginary trees closed
in on me, and the road ended, and I was doomed, and I got a grip on
myself and there was still open road, smothered with the fog.  I
minded especially the rushing feeling--a drowning man would feel
so.  I reached Cross Creek and went to bed.  And all that night,
and for weeks after, a road swam ahead of me and suddenly ended,
and the trees poured in on me, and I was damned in the fog.  I
still dream sometimes of rushing to destruction through the mist,
and I think that for me summer fog will forever be a nightmare.

I was struck, with Harper's bear dogs on the hunt, as with John
Clardy's fox hounds, by the sharp line drawn between house dogs and
work dogs.  Florida hunters believe that any dog allowed the run of
the house cannot be made a good sporting or working dog.  I cannot
agree.  I make companions of my pointers and take them with me in
my car.  It seems to me that my Mad Pat, for instance, hunts with
even greater enthusiasm and earnestness than kennel dogs I have
known, through his delight in sharing the hunt with me and his
desire to please me.  Discipline of course must be strict and
business-like and must begin with the puppy.  Because of this, I
did once a cruel thing to a work dog whose path crossed mine.

The dog and I first met on a warm June evening.  I was walking east
along the Creek road, a little later than usual.  The sun had set.
I remember feeling lonely.  I was a little uneasy, as well, for the
moccasins and rattlers cross the road in the twilight.  A
ramshackle car came out from the lane that leads to Cow Hammock and
turned toward the village.  A dog followed it.  He ran with the
dejection of the forsaken.  He was not noticed.  A half-mile ahead
he stopped disconsolately and began to trot back toward home.  I
saw that he was of a tawny yellow.  He had something of the build
of the Belgian police dog.  As he came closer, I became aware of
his mixed breeding.  A black and alien smudge ran down his nose,
and his long tail was ignominiously curled, revealing the mongrel.
He trotted with a wolflike purpose.

I called to him with some uncertainty as to his nature.  The yellow
dog stopped.  He came to me.  I held out my hand and he snuffed it.
I touched his rough coat.  I pulled one ear.  He rubbed his nose
briefly against me in a gesture of acceptance.  A feeling of
friendliness passed over us in the dusk.

I said, "Come, boy," and he turned and walked with me.

It was good, after long months without a dog of my own, to have him
beside me.  He left me in a few minutes and went ahead, but the
link between us was unbroken.  Now and then he stopped and looked
back, to be sure that I was following.  Once he came to me to be
touched; to be reassured that we were, truly, together.  Studying
him, I saw that he was a working dog; the catch-dog, it proved, of
my new neighbor in Cow Hammock, who used him to round up his
vagrant hogs.  The business dog has his own ear marks.  He is self-
contained.  He expects no luxuries of life, no graciousness.  He
possesses usually a simple integrity.  He does his work faithfully
and well and takes his pan of cornbread and an occasional bone, not
with gratitude, but with the dignity of one who knows he has
earned, that day, his keep.  His gratitude is reserved for the rare
expression of friendliness such as I had given him.  That first
night he ran well ahead of me and up his home lane, not taking too
much for granted the closeness of our relation.

The next day I set out up the road in the late afternoon.  I passed
the entrance to Cow Hammock.

I called, "Here, boy!  Here!"

I expected no response and there was none.  I was halfway to Big
Hammock when a clicking sound on the gravel road caught my ear.
The yellow catch-dog was running to overtake me as though his life
depended on it.  I waited for him and he bounded about me with the
joy of the alien who comes at last to his own.  I was as glad as
he.  We walked that evening in a great content and that time he did
not turn up his lane until I passed it with him.  After that he
waited for me with a faithful regularity.  If I went early, I might
have to call.  Invariably he heard and joined me as soon as he
could leave his business.  If I went late, he was waiting at the
lane.  A few strokings of his head and he was satisfied.  He went
ahead, not far, looking back often over his curled and shameful

Sometimes we romped together.  We enjoyed most the game with the
bull-bats.  We stalked them together.  They have a trick of sitting
bright-eyed in the road, waiting for the approach.  At the last
instant they take off, circling to swoop low over their pursuer's
head.  It is a good game of tag.  The yellow dog beat me at it.
Often, a bull-bat too sure of himself all but lost his tail
feathers.  When this happened, the catch-dog raced joyfully around
and around, or chased a quite imaginary rabbit.

One evening we loitered, for the approaching night was hot and
sultry.  As we turned west again, the last red stain of sunset
faded from the sky and the road was dark.  The catch-dog walked
slowly beside me.  Suddenly he stiffened.  He made a sound, half
growl, half moan, deep in his throat.  Then he backed against me.
I became aware that he was pushing me with his strong hindquarters,
moving me away as deliberately as though he possessed an arm with
which to do so.  I backed with him to the far side of the road.  On
the gray gravel what had been a wide shadow resolved itself into a
large rattlesnake that slid now into the grass.  The catch-dog and
I quivered, for the blood curdles instinctively at such an
encounter in the dark.  We hurried the rest of the way.  Then and
afterward we were joined by the closeness of those who, together,
have escaped a danger.

One night I heard him being beaten for having gone away when he was
wanted.  Once he failed me, when an outlaw boar was being cornered.
I heard the shrill squealings of the hog and knew that the catch-
dog was at his work.  He came later to my gate, as though to show
me that his failure to join me was not of his intention.  He did
this sometimes, too, when circumstances kept me from my walking.
Otherwise he did not intrude on my life of which, he recognized, he
was not a part.

Some weeks after we began our jaunts together I was given the high-
bred pointer puppy for which I had been waiting.  The puppy was
captivating.  I devoted myself at once to his care and training.  I
wanted to raise the handsome young fellow as a companion, so that I
was especially anxious to discipline him firmly from the beginning.
I ended my evening walks down the highway, going about the grove
instead.  The puppy was not yet broken to go to heel and I could
not risk the distraction of the catch-dog, a rabbit chaser, to
disturb his training.  Two or three days later the yellow dog came
to my gate, wagging his tail.  I ignored him and he went away.

A week later I took my young pointer on a leash.  We passed the
entrance to Cow Hammock.  Passing, the catch-dog must have scented
us, for some distance on he came after us on the gallop.  He was
insane with joy.  He jumped against me, he went taut proudly,
introducing himself to the puppy.  He dropped his forelegs to the
ground and shook his head, inviting the new dog to play.  The puppy
barked shrilly and tugged at the leash.  Discipline was hopeless.
There was nothing for it but to drive the catch-dog away.  I made a
menacing gesture.  He looked at me unbelieving and did not stir.  I
picked up a handful of light gravel and threw it in his direction
and went on, dragging the puppy behind me.  The catch-dog followed.
He watched me with bewildered eyes.

I shouted with as much sternness as I could manage to bring from a
sick heart, "Get back!" and he stopped and made no further effort
to go with us.  On the way home, we passed him, lying at the Cow
Hammock entrance, his head on his paws.  He fluttered his tail a
little, as though in hope that I did not, could not, mean my
rejection of him.  The pointer and I hurried by.

Now we pass as though we were strangers.  I am ashamed to face him,
having used him in my loneliness, and then betrayed him.  He shows
no signs of recognition.  His tail curves over his back.  He trots
with a high head, looking straight ahead.  He is a work dog, and he
must be about his business.

20.  Fall

Somehow "autumn" does not seem properly used of Florida.  There is
a connotation in the word of flaming color, of sharp change, of
hoar frost heavy on cornfields, of all of northern harvest.  The
sub-tropical fall is so impalpable, so much a protraction of
summer, pendulous before the time of winter fruiting, that we might
almost say that we have no such season.  As with spring, we change
our habits not so much in relation to a calendar month, as
according to the storms, which are only relatively equinoctial.
Our summer temperatures are seldom extreme, never reaching the
100's and above as elsewhere in the country.  But when the summer
rains have ended, we sometimes have a temperature maintained in the
80's for many weeks, and the steadiness, through August and perhaps
all of September and even into October, becomes wearing, like the
ancient torture of the dropping of water on the head.

The sky is a glaring blue, too blue and cloudless, the red-birds no
longer sing, the rank summer vegetation turns sere, and the sun
goes down in a burning ball.  The sand is powder and a fine dust
rises from it and coats the roadside bushes.  In a temperate
climate, this would be a part of summer.  Here, it means summer's
end.  Even the sturdy zinnias curl and shrivel.  The pecan trees,
water-loving, draw up within themselves and their pointed leaves
are crisp.  At this time, flocks of diminutive drab birds sift into
the pecan trees, and cling there like dead leaves blown by a dry
wind.  The palm fronds are without luster.  The doves mourn
plaintively and the sound is tiresome.

The second week in September I gamble on the season and plant most
of my seed-beds.  The broccoli will probably survive in any case,
but if the storms with their rain do not come soon, the parsley and
lettuce will never germinate, nor can I bring through my seedling
flowers, African daisy, gypsophilia, forget-me-not, schizanthus,
stock, larkspur, calendula and the rest, for my well water is harsh
and the delicate plants resent it.  At the Creek we all watch for
signs of change.  When the dog fennel blooms, we count that it will
be forty days until frost.  When the curlews wheel, high in the
sky, we are despondent, for they are called the dry-weather birds,
and the circling flocks indicate that the fall rains are a long
time away.  The golden rod is no help to us, for it is not a fall
flower here, but blooms in August or even in July.  We listen
hopefully for the big bull alligator in Orange Lake, prophesying
change, and watch for the poor-Joe flying, for the bird is the best
of weather prophets.  We eye the Spanish moss for the direction of
the wind, for as long as the wind is from the east there will be no
rain.  One fall when the storms were late and a long drought was
holding up the fall planting of truck crops, the village held a
meeting to pray for rain.

One of the town patriarchs arose to say, "You-all jest as good to
pray for the heathen, or pray Jim Wilkins'll git sober, or ary
thing but rain.  You know good and well hit ain't a-goin' to rain
until the wind changes."

The Negroes are depressed and pass the blues on to me, and I begin
to put stock in Martha's voodoo.  She comes for long mournful
conferences and tells of the friend who vomited up a snake, and the
one whose husband was tolled away from her, and had to be tolled
back by getting some hairs from his head and burying them with
other items under the house.  She tells me how to make a cunjur
bag, and how difficult it is to get all the ingredients together.
The principal one is the right bone from a black cat.  The cat must
be black all over, without the faintest trace of white.  It must be
boiled alive in an iron pot until the meat falls from the bones.
The bones must be thrown into a running stream, and the bone that
floats upstream is the one that holds the magic.  I spilled some
potassium of permanganate crystals and Martha threw up her hands in
horror when she saw them, and inquired if I were making fumble-
dust.  I came across the word "fomb" in the book on Haitian voodoo
by the Florida Negress, Zora Neale Hurston, and it seemed to me
that the Haitian "fomb" must surely be Martha's fumble-dust.

I listen to Martha now, not over-riding her, when she refuses to
clean out the fireplaces on a Friday.  Through the summer guests
have thrown matches and cigarettes untidily into the fireplaces,
but if Martha says that Friday is an unlucky day for removing them,
I agree, for a sense of ill luck hangs over us.

"Us was maybe born to good luck," she says gloomily, "but bad luck
done overtakened us."

We are careful to throw onion peelings into the wood range, and not
to throw peanut hulls out of the door, to prevent the quarrelling
that could so easily arise in the tenseness.  We do not sweep
anything out of the door after sunset, to avoid catastrophe.  Who
is there to object?  Who could be standing outside the door after
the sun goes down, to mind being swept on?  Yes, but who couldn't
be?  I thought I heard feet going down the porch steps in the early

Martha said, "That was the night-folks goin' away."

It is probably the night-folks who don't like to be swept on.  If I
were a night-folk, I should hate it.

There is an unexpected treat of jellied chicken in the icebox.  It
was made, with no need at the moment of jellied chicken, from a
fine fat hen.  The hen in this evil time was foolish enough to crow
on the yard.  Martha said we could not have it.  Anathema to men,
and bad luck to boot, are a whistling woman and a crowing hen.
Every one in the tenant house goes down with malaria.  The doctor
calls it malaria, but Martha knows better.  When I built an
addition to the tenant house, so that Martha and Old Will could
move back here to live for the rest of their lives, I used new
lumber.  If you add new wood to old, you may as well begin saving
up for medicine, for all in the house will be ill.  I should have
remembered, for I paid for both my bathrooms, made of shiny new
pine against the old weathered house, with trips to the hospital.
Martha thinks that I learn very slowly.

Out in the grove hangs a hawk-repeller.  It is the spread-eagled
body of the last hawk shot, strung between two poles, with a gin
bottle hung at its neck.  It did not have to be a gin bottle.  It
had to be a bottle, to catch the sun, and I happened to have a gin
bottle handy.  As Gertrude Stein would say, if it had to be a
bottle it had to be a bottle and a bottle is a bottle and a gin
bottle is a bottle.  The macabre affair sways and glints in the sun
and there has not been a hawk in sight since Martha and I put it
up.  I could not say how much of a moral lesson the hawks take from
it.  I doubt whether they associate humans with gin and gin with
sin.  But the bottle does shine in their eyes and they see a very
dead fellow hawk and they think the grove must be a good place to
avoid.  At any rate, with the rains held up, it is no time for me
to quibble.

At the back of the farmhouse a dead chicken snake hangs in the
crotch of a grapefruit tree.  This is not, as might be supposed, to
keep away other chicken snakes.  It is for the all-important
purpose, late in a dry September, of inducing rain.  Very often, it
works.  I should never dream in a dry time of burying a freshly-
killed snake.  I hang it in the crotch of a tree and usually it
makes rain.  It is possible that snakes, like turtles, crawl ahead
of a rain, and that it would have rained anyway.  Facts are
ineffably simpler than explanations.  Sometimes we have a false
shower in the morning, a few futile drops, and Martha says, "A
mornin' rain is like an old woman's dance--soon over."

If a limb breaks from a tree, says Martha, and no wind is stirring,
it is a sign of death.  This is plausible enough, for it may mean
that in the great battle between creation and destruction there
comes an instant when the forces of disintegration are strong, and
if they can work on a tree, why may they not in the same moment
strike at a life?  Martha's insistence that if a cow lows in the
late hours of the night, that morning you will hear of a death
SOMEWHERE--if somebody doesn't come to tell you, she says, you'll
read of it in the paper--is one of those generalized prophecies
that cannot fail of fulfillment, for I suppose there has never been
a morning paper without an obituary.  Death does take an occasional
holiday in a small area, being no doubt busy elsewhere, and perhaps
Martha meant that in such an instance he would be at work in one's
own vicinity, for the Negro world of the body is a small one.  It
is only their spiritual geography that reaches far, out to the deep
rivers and the spaces where the Lord watches the sparrow's fall
along with the courses of the stars, and a man, black or white,
must climb Jacob's ladder to the streets of gold.

Martha and I went through an evil fall day together.  I had obeyed
all her dicta, but a sense of the ominous still hung over us.  The
morning was gray, with a treacherous promise of the healing storm
that never came.  A false light came instead, and faded, and the
sky was metallic.  I found a praying mantis on the asparagus fern
in front of the veranda and put it in a glass jar with a few sprays
of the fern.  It was angry and restless.  It folded and unfolded
its green praying hands, and opened and closed its mandibles, more
in curse than in prayer.  I called Martha to look at it, wondering
if she had some special name for it, and some age-old story.  But
she had never seen the insect before, and recoiled from its
spurious reverence.  I stood at the foot of the veranda steps as we
talked.  When I turned away to come in the house again, I looked
down and saw a cotton-mouth moccasin lying not two inches from my
heel prints in the sand.  My negligee must have brushed its coils.
I hurried for my gun and shot him.  The head struck at me after the
shot, and he died with hate in his viper's eyes.

All morning a blue-tailed lizard ran in and out of a crack along
the veranda.  He switched his tail, sleek and shining and
lacquered.  A cockroach came out in the daylight, of a breed that
usually stirs only by night.  The two bird dogs, ordinarily bent on
some mischief together, slept all day.  Once or twice they lifted
their noses, were not pleased with something, and went back to
sleep again.  I grew feverish in the afternoon and slept a drugged
sleep.  I awakened and tried to work and could not.  I read, but
the words had no meaning.  At five in the afternoon Snow came to
milk the cows and feed the calves and ducks and chickens.  He hung
the cottonmouth in the crotch of a tree.  I fed the dogs.  They ate
silently and curled up again.  Snow went away.  I bathed and

Martha came to the house to tell me that Sissie had come from her
cabin by the Creek to say that a suspicious Negro had just come and
gone.  He had demanded water at Sissie's in a belligerent tone, had
walked boldly about the cabin as though estimating the belongings,
had said that he would go back across the Creek bridge, and had,
instead, doubled back on his tracks and slipped east along the
Creek, back of my grove.  I remembered that I had read in the paper
of a Negro murderer who had escaped and had last been seen coming
our way.  I drove to the village to report the matter to the deputy
sheriff there.  He promised to bring men to the Creek for the
search.  I came home, and was restless and uneasy, and set out to
walk along the road.  I called the dogs to go with me, and usually
exuberant, they let me go alone.  The sun must have set, for that
is its unbroken habit, but there was only a stain like old blood to
make the sunset.

My feet dragged and it took me a long time to cover the return
distance to the grove.  Lightning flashed but there was no thunder.
Dark overtook me before I reached home, seeming to close in like an
enemy.  There was light enough to determine that the tail of a
snake extending into the road was that of a rattler.  I hurried by
and a screech owl shrilled its wavering lament in the hammock.  I
opened my gate and a small snake moved ahead of me.  I bent close,
and I could see that it was the deadly coral snake.  I avoided it
and when I returned with a gun it was gone.

The deputy sheriff came to report that he and his men had searched
all the Creek area back of my grove, but because the earth was so
dry, had found no footprints past the wetness of the Creek itself.
If the criminal came out, he said, he would certainly try to cut
back into the main road.  He and his men would wait all night
halfway between the Creek and the village to trap him.  He went
away.  I knew that a desperate man would attack a house for food,
for money, and above all, for a gun.  I brought all my guns to the
veranda, loaded a rifle and a shotgun, and waited.  I did not dare
turn on a light, for then I should be at the mercy of an invader.

I sat in the darkness and heard Martha and Old Will pounding away
at the tenant house.  They were barricading the doors and I could
not blame them.  Home was usually a safe and cozy place, but now it
was menaced.  I sat taut, listening for sly footsteps at the back
of the farmhouse.  There was no sound but the crickets.  They
chirped cheerily, hoping, as I, for change.  Discouragement took
them over and the chirpings ceased.  No car passed, no horse and
rider, no lowing cow, no dog, no friendly frog hunter on his way to
the Creek.  The stillness was almost unbearable.  At last I lit a
candle.  It burned steadily for a while, then wavered.  There was a
rustling in the distance, as though invisible wings passed over
marsh and grove and hammock.  The palm trees rustled their fronds
in the darkness.  There came the cleanness, the relief, the
beneficence, of wind.  It was near midnight, and I knew that if the
criminal had not now approached the house to take what he needed,
he would not come.  I went to bed and slept soundly, and the murmur
of boughs stirring softened my sleep.  In the morning we heard that
the fugitive had been seen walking in the other direction.  And on
the heels of the wind came the storm.  The season had broken,
summer was ended, and the healthy fall had come.

Martha remembers a time long ago when the only warning of
hurricanes, other than natural portents plain to the wise, was
the whistle of the train four miles away at the village.  In
the hurricane season the engineer gave an agreed signal in
announcement, and in winter another to tell of an impending freeze.
When the wind is right we can hear the passing of the train itself,
and the warning whistle must have come mournfully and distinctly to
the Creek.  Hurricanes are not a serious menace in the interior,
but we get the fringes of the big coastal storms.  An ominous green
light precedes them, and a great stillness that may hold for twenty-
four hours.  The green deepens, is infiltrated with a cosmic black
ink, and the sky-writing has its meaning plain.  Then in the
distance we hear a roaring, as though the express passing through
the village had left its tracks and were headed for the Creek.

The sound, once heard, can never be forgotten and is always
recognizable for what it is.  It means that the wind is rushing in
with such force and such volume, filling the atmospheric vacuum,
that the obstacles of trees tear and shred it in its coming.  The
roar becomes a booming and the path of the wind is visible far
ahead.  I have sat on the veranda with the moss on the pecan tree
that shades it hanging motionless, and across the grove seen the
palm trees flatten halfway to the ground.  They toss their heads
like tethered lions, fighting to be free of the thing that rips at
their bodies and loosens their feet from the safe earth.  The
fronds are stripped like paper from the trunks, and sail through
the air, stabbing into the ground, stem ends down.  Live oaks and
tall pines crash in the hammock.  The wind strikes the farmhouse a
physical blow.  If any of the old hand-hewn cypress shingles are
loose in the lichened roof, this is when they go.  The house sighs,
but does not rock nor rattle.  It has stood through too many storms
to be disturbed by this one.  Sometimes the wind comes alone, and
goes on its way, and leaves a still lower barometer behind it.
When it returns again it will have even greater force, and this
time the rain will accompany it.  The hurricane rains fly always at
an acute angle, borne outward by the fierce pressure.  They give
the appearance of a swinging curtain.  Cows and pigs caught up in
it are swept along in a panic and must go in the storm's chosen
direction.  Twice I have been overtaken in the field and it seemed
to me that I should never beat my way out of the tidal wave.  The
great storms may last for three days and these days and nights howl
like all the mad dogs in the world loose at once.  There is not the
coziness of being shut in away from ordinary storms.  Too gigantic
a force is at large for any sense of safety.

When the September storms are over we have some of our most superb
weather.  The oranges take on color, the red-birds are delirious,
and in the morning and evening long shadows lie under the citrus
trees.  The skies are the brightest of robin's-egg blue and the air
has a translucent quality, as though the storms had washed it with
a fine gold dust.  The bear grass blooms and we shall use the harsh
strips of the leaves for hanging our fall hams and bacons in the
smoke-house.  The deer tongue, or wild vanilla, blooms in the flat-
woods, and when we step on the leaves, crushing them, the scent is
spilled perfume on the air.

If they are not planted already, we hurry to put in our fall crops:
beans, English peas, squash and cucumbers; our winter crops of
cabbage, lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli, turnips, collards,
kohlrabi, cauliflower and celery.  The hurry now for the fall
market crops is against the first frost.  The beans are delicate
and must make before the cold has touched them.  The crops that
have matured through the long summer are ready.  Sweet potatoes are
dug and mounded for the winter's use, the vines fed to the cows and
the nubbins to the hogs.  The fields of sugar cane are gold-green,
Chinese scarves waving across the tawny sand.  It is desirable for
a light frost to touch the cane to sweeten it, as persimmons and
citrus must be touched, but a heavy frost ruins it, so that the
stalks sour where they stand.

The cane is scythed down, the bundles gathered like sheaves of
wheat, and drawn with mule and wagon to the grinding.  I think the
cane mill will survive all mechanization on our remote Florida
farms and backwoods clearings, certainly as long as there is any
individualistic and agrarian society.  Each family has a small plot
of sugar cane for its own use and several families use one mill.  A
mule or horse walks around and around.  A boy feeds the cane stalks
into the gears of the mill, and the cloudy sweet juice bursts
through a spout and into a barrel.  We have cane-grindings and
syrup-boilings, festive occasions when the children may run and
shriek as they please and the old folks come and renew their
childhoods.  There are experts among the syrup boilers, and when
these give a boiling, their followers flock to them.  And when the
new cane syrup goes in bottles or tins to the rural grocery stores
roundabout, the proprietors announce to their customers that they
can now offer Martin's syrup.  There is a finer flavor to syrup
that you have seen boiling and bubbling in the great kettle, with
the fatwood fire blazing under it, the sweet smell of it cooking,
the bees that come even at night to guzzle at the edges, the
skimmed heavy syrup seen poured into a clean hewn cypress trough.

We have peanut boilings in the fall earlier than syrup boilings,
for the peanuts are good for boiling only before they are mature.
They are well washed and boiled in the hull in salted water.  The
nuts are gelatinous, with all the peanut sweetness, and quarts may
be eaten without a trace of stomach ache.  In Georgia they call
peanuts "goobers" and in Florida we call them "pinders."  Pinder-
ripening time is the height of harvest, and the hogs are turned in
to the fields to root up the vines and grow fat and marketable in a
week or two on the rich oily kernels.  The doves and quail flock to
the fields, for the greedy hogs chew the peanuts carelessly, and
walk from row to row with broken fragments dropping from their
snouts, precisely the right size for the bills of birds.

One fall, one of my first at the Creek, I had two fine porkers I
had bought for fifty cents each in the wilds near the Ocklawaha
River.  I heard that old man Butler, at Orange Lake Station, had
fifteen acres of pinders and wanted to fatten hogs on shares.  My
shoats had outgrown the table scraps.  I loaded them in the truck
and drove off to Butler's in the September twilight.  The old man
came to the gate with outstretched hand.

"Now I'm powerful glad to have visitors," he said.  "Come right in,

I had not come to visit, I said, but on the business of fattening

"Now, friend, you must be a stranger.  How come you're in such a
hurry?  Ham can wait.  Pork always do be sweeter for a mite of
time.  You like boiled pinders?"

I confessed to a passion for them.

"Then we'll go pull you some pinders to carry home to boil, and I
want you to come back for another visit and tell me they was the
best you ever sucked outen the hull.  What's your name?  Never
mind, I'll just call you Friend.  Come on now.  The moon is high
and we can see as good as day."

He was excited, intoxicated with something I could not place.  An
elderly female figure emerged like a shadow from the cedar-bordered

"You come to buy the farm?" she quavered.  "You know anybody wants
to buy a farm?"

"The farm ain't for sale," old Butler said placidly.  "Now sugar-
plum, me and my friend here aim to pull pinders.  Go fetch us a
basin and come with us yonder to the field."

She followed obediently and sadly with an ample pan.  The moonlight
flooded the peanut field.  Hogs came behind us and rooted in our
wake, snuffling and grunting.

"Ain't this a fine farm?" Friend Butler demanded.  "I was born on
this place."

The woman stripped peanuts from the vines mechanically.

"He just says that," she murmured mournfully.  "It was some place
in the county, but the record's lost and he don't really know."

I understood that there was war between these gentle veterans.  It
was the age-old conflict between love of the soil and hate of it.

"Ain't this peaceful, friend?" Butler asked.  "Ain't it beautiful?
I lived in a blasted town for twenty years, and now I'm back again,
right on the place where I was born."

The woman did not address him or me directly, but spoke in the
manner of a Greek chorus, chanting dismally.

"He acts drunk all the time," she lamented to the moon.  "Just runs
around plumb crazy, raising hogs and pinders and sweet potatoes.
Nobody to talk to, no place to go.  No lights at night to look at,
nothing but the tormented moon and stars.  I got ten kittens, but
they ain't real company.  Run around near about as bad as him.  He
talked me into trading good city lots for this.  If we could only
sell and go back to town.  But nobody in their right mind would buy

Friend Butler waved his arms, dripping earth and peanuts from the
vines he held.  He ignored the chorus, as befits a hero of Greek

"Now this is what I enjoy!  Pullin' pinders in the moonlight, with
a friend to enjoy them with me."

He gave a vast sweep and the peanuts flew wide.

"Independent!  That's it, independent!"

He must show me his four acres of orange trees, old time-worn
fellows as big as oaks.  The moonlight filtered through the arched
rows.  Friend Butler became speechless with ecstasy.  He must give
me a drink of icy water from an ancient well with buckets and
windlass, and I must understand how sweet and rare it was.  My
porkers must be ushered gravely into the Elysium of pinders, my
basinful of peanuts loaded in the truck.  The unhappy quaverings of
the woman trailed after me as I drove away.  I promised to stay
longer when I came next month for the fattened pigs.

I never saw my friend again, sending for my pigs when they were
ready.  Last month I read in the local paper of his death.  I was
immensely gratified to read that his address was still Orange Lake

21.  Winter

We have one fixed seasonal dividing line.  While spring and summer
and fall merge silently one into the other, we announce winter with
the crackling of gun shot.  On November 20 our hunting season
opens.  The day comes close to being a state holiday.  Men who hunt
at no other time go out "the first day of season."  Even Little
Will begs off from his morning's work and goes to the hammock for
squirrels or to the Creek edge for ducks or coots.  We are excited
and hilarious, and I think that a part of this is because we are
unconsciously returning to the pioneer aspect of the state, when
all men took a portion of their living from the hunt.  It is the
marked end of one thing, too, and the beginning of another, and
something in men's minds likes a simple demarcation.  Our crops are
harvested or reaching their maturity.  Ahead of us is the good
season, when growth is slowed and a very little hoeing keeps clean
the farm fields, the groves and the gardens.  It is the tidy time.
The lush exuberance of summer is forgotten and the hurricanes of
the fall.  All is neat and ordered.

My own flower and vegetable gardens are thriving, if they will
thrive at all, and my citrus crop will not be ready for picking
before Christmas.  I do most of my writing in the summer, when
there are no interruptions, and I have hurried to finish such work.
I have a space of freedom and I am ready to go into the woods and
the fields with my friends.  Fred Tompkins and I open the hunting
season together.  He has long been my favorite hunting and fishing
companion.  He brings to the sport a great gaiety of spirit and an
eye for all the beauty of the open.  The hunt with him is a
comfortable affair and I love him for his frequent stops to sit on
a pine log and smoke a cigarette.

"No use to kill ourselves havin' a good time," he says.

My only grievance against Fred is that he has never been entirely
convinced that I am not a Yankee.  I should not hold this against
him, for he judges Yankees, after more than fifty years at it, as
he would judge any one else.  If they are good sports, like to fish
and hunt, and are always ready for a laugh, they will do for
friends.  The first time he came to see me in my first February
here, he brought me a strange bouquet.  It was of holly berries and
orange blossoms.

He said, "I studied what would please a Yankee lady, and I figured
it'd be new to her to have winter and summer all in one bouquet."

I murmured, in the same breath with my thanks, words to the effect
that I did not consider myself a Yankee.  He accepted the thanks
and passed lightly over my protests.  I had arrived from New York
state, and I should have hard work of it proving any contradictory
antecedents.  He tried me grievously in our early friendship.  It
was late in my first spring at the Creek.  An affluent New York car
drew up at my gate.  A middle-aged man and woman came to my door
and greeted me warmly.

"Mr. Tompkins sent us to you," they said.  "He said just to tell
you that Fred sent us."

They were friends of Fred and that was good enough.  I invited them
into the living room and we sat, attempting conversation.  I
wondered why Fred had sent them and I offered a highball.  They
refused stiffly.

The woman said, "You have very good fishing on Orange Lake, Mr.
Tompkins tells us."

"Oh, yes.  Orange Lake is famous for its big-mouthed bass."

"We are fishing fanatics.  We have fished all over Florida.  You
fish, Mr. Tompkins says."

"Yes, indeed.  I'm not much good yet at casting, and I have no
outboard motor, but I go when any one will take me."

Brightly, "We have our outboard motor with us."

"How convenient!" I said.

Conversation languished.  The woman looked at her husband and he
looked at her.  At last she took the plunge.

"We're very anxious to fish in this part of Florida.  Mr. Tompkins
said he was sure you would take us in."

"Take you in?"

"Yes.  So that we can fish on Orange Lake.  We'll be glad to pay
anything within reason."

"There must be some mistake.  I don't run a boarding house.  I
don't take people in."

The woman said desperately, "Mr. Tompkins said for us to offer pay,
but he was sure you would refuse it."  She looked despairingly at
her husband.  "He said that if you took a notion to us, he was sure
you would invite us to spend the month with you."

I wondered if friendship in Florida meant that one offered
hospitality for a month to friends of a friend.  It seemed too
much, even for the vaunted Southern hospitality.  But if I was cold
now, and I was becoming colder every moment, these good people,
friends of my friend, would think that I had not taken a notion to
them.  I fumbled for an excuse.

I said, "Ordinarily, of course, I should love to have you.  But we
have a large crop of beans and are picking now and have extra
helpers and I have no room in the house, none at all.  I'm so
sorry.  Please tell our mutual friend Fred that I'm very sorry."

"Oh, we won't see Mr. Tompkins again.  We've never seen him before.
We just met him at the garage in Citra.  We asked about fishing and
the garage man called Mr. Tompkins over and said he could tell us
more than any one else.  Mr. Tompkins told us about Orange Lake,
and said he knew you would invite us to stay for the month--if you
liked us."

"I do like you, of course.  I can see you're charming people.  But
you understand about the lack of room.  I guess Fred didn't know
about my not having any room."

They left, puzzled and reluctant.  The first time I saw Fred I
questioned him.

"Why on earth did you send those perfect strangers out to me?  Why
did you tell them I would take them in?"

"Well," he said, "they come through, Yankees and strangers.  I
studied, how would I feel if I was living up in New York and folks
from Florida come through?  I'd be so proud to have home folks, I'd
put 'em up for as long as they'd stay.  So I figured, you being a
Yankee, and them being Yankees, it'd be a big treat for you to have
'em visit you."

I said, "I came to Florida just to get away from Yankees."

Fred laughed heartily over my facetiousness and is entirely
convinced that I just did not take a notion to the strangers.  Fred
is an amazing person.  I do not know his age, but he was a sergeant
in the regular army in the Spanish war, so he is no lad.  Something
about him is timeless, and when he was young he must have looked
much as he does now and will always look.  His wife says that he
was handsome in his youth.

"He had them sparklin' brown eyes," she said to me, "and he had a
gold tooth, and he come to court me drivin' two black horses drove
tandem.  I hadn't never see a gold tooth nor horses drove tandem,
and my heart turned to water in me."

Her heart is still water within her, but her devotion does not
prevent her from quarrelling steadily and hopelessly with him over
his habits.  Because of her motherly and uneasy fluttering, he
calls her the Old Hen.  My sympathies are of course with her, for I
know that the most ingratiating friend can be the most exasperating

"He's just different," I say to her.  "You're a domestic fowl and
he's a wild fowl.  You want him to stay home and he just doesn't
want to stay home."

"I know," she says, "but honey, wouldn't you think he'd want to
stay home nights once in a while?  All he wants to do is prowl and
ramble.  Just like a varmint.  He's worst moonlight nights.
There's no keepin' him home after the moon comes up."

The Old Hen favors me with her friendship, and I think this is
because, whenever Fred and I hunt together, I try to bring her home
a fox-squirrel.

"The Old Hen's a slave to fox-squirrel," Fred says.

Our first-day-of-season hunt is a glorified combination light-
hearted search after deer, squirrel and quail.  We set out for the
big scrub about four o'clock in the morning.  Sometimes I oversleep
and we are a little late, leaving at five.

Fred says comfortably, "Maybe day'll hold off 'til we get there."

We have always beaten the sunrise to the river.  We cross the hand
ferry at Orange Springs in the grayness and the Ocklawaha River
boils darkly under us.  We turn south on the narrow scrub sand road
and then west to the river bank at Ingram's field.  Fred's Ford
goes unerringly through shoulder-high grasses, bumps over gopher
holes and comes like a homing pigeon to a cluster of hickory trees
at the edge of the rushing water.  We leave the car, leave the bird
dog comfortably asleep in it, and go on foot along the river trail
in the darkness.  The theory is that we will come on a deer, and
that day will break at that moment, so that our shots will coincide
with the technical instant of sunrise, at which hunting legally
begins.  We have crowded day every time, and only the fact that we
have never seen a deer on these occasions has kept us out of the
hands of the law.

We know the river trail by heart, but each time it is as though we
moved silently into the dark core of a dream.  There is no sound
but the rushing of the swift river current.  Sometimes a buck
rabbit thumps or whistles, or a hoot owl cries through the forest.
It is an hour at which the small night creatures seem to have
finished their night's feeding and the day creatures have not yet
come from their sleep.  Bamboo vines brush us as we go.  We can
only distinguish one tree from another by the feel of the bark as
our hands touch it in passing.  There is no greater darkness than
this high wood by night.  The river bank steepens and we turn up
it, away from the river.  The black curtain through which we have
been pushing thins to the gray velvet of dawn.  The trees at the
top of the slope are spaced more widely.  A dusty pink glow seeps
into the tops of the tall oaks and hickories and magnolias.  I
learned here that what I had considered the fiction of Cabell's
mystic hour between daylight and sunrise is a magical fact.

In this hour we abandon our deer hunting and find soft places on
the bank to sit and wait for squirrels.  I have no compunction here
about killing them, for our breakfast depends on it.  They make
themselves known a long way off.  Where the river bank levels off
at the top into the broad stretch of thick low-growing scrub, there
is a swaying of scrub oak boughs, as though a sudden breeze swept
through them.  There is a rustling, a scurrying, and as though the
rising sun released minute squeaking springs, a shrill and rusty
chattering.  The squirrels are coming in to feed.  The gray bodies
whisk up and down the hickory trunks.  I hear Fred's gun from his
distant stand, and there is a great commotion for an instant, until
the squirrels decide the menace is remote.  We shoot no more than
we shall need, and according to whether other hunters are to join
us for breakfast.  The signal to meet comes from Fred, who has
gauged the number of our shots, and knows when we have enough meat.
He gives the bob-white call, and since I cannot whistle in return,
I work my way back toward his calls.

We put our bag together and move back along the trail.  The scrub
is a mass of green and gold, the jorees are calling in the
underbrush, and the swift river runs copper under the early sun.
At times, if the morning has been cold or windy, we have only a
squirrel or two, but cut into small pieces and simmered in the
Dutch oven they seem to multiply like the loaves and fishes and
there is always enough.  We are famished, and the smother-fried
browned squirrel, the rich gravy made with river water, the bread
and camp coffee, are all we want of a feast under the shining
hickories.  We eat leisurely and let the bird dog out to run and we
talk of where we shall hunt quail the rest of the day.

The dew is still heavy on the grasses and the quail have not fed
far from their night's bed.  The scent is strong.  The pines cast
long shadows and the air is sweet and cool.  Some of my hunting
companions, such as the Major, seek out the most inaccessible
hunting grounds, but Fred and I avoid the swamps, the bay-heads and
too heavy a growth of palmettos.

"No use to kill us nor the dog neither," Fred says.

We hunt from the car, which the Major considered effete.  The
custom antedates automobiles, going back to the days of the hunting
wagon.  Then men piled their dogs, their camping supplies and
themselves into an open buckboard and set forth for the day or the
weekend or the week, independent and free.  Hunting dogs love to
ride, especially in the company of humans.  They hang over the side
of truck or wagon, or from the window of a car, their long ears
flapping in the breeze, their noses keen and lifted for the great
unrolling ribbon of smell.

Hunting from a car is no vicarious business.  It means only that
great distances can be covered, moving from one good territory to
another without wasting hours in unlikely places.  Once in bird
territory, Fred puts my Pat out.  The dog works both sides of the
road, seldom ranging out of sight.  A whistle and a wave of the
hand turn him in the desired direction.  Fred drives slowly, often
in second gear, and when Pat's tail begins to vibrate with a new
tenseness, we leave the car and follow wherever the scent may lead,
for the dog is definitely on birds.  The point is a beautiful
thing.  Pat stands staunch and true, a sturdy pattern in black and
white, his nose on a line with his back, one forepaw lifted
daintily, his tail rigid, curving upward a little at the end.

Fred takes Pat in the car at frequent intervals so that the dog is
always fresh.  He gives him water from a shell box or finds a clear
pool in a sinkhole for him.  We take with us a Dutch oven, cooking
fat, flour, bread and coffee.  When the sun is high overhead and
the quail are nooning and dusting themselves in the warm sand, we
build a fire with fatwood chips and oak twigs, dress what birds we
have shot and fry them whole in deep sizzling fat.  We make strong
coffee and stretch out our feet to rest them while the birds brown
and the coffee boils.  We eat the birds in our fingers and dip our
slices of bread in the brown gravy in the Dutch oven.  Pat gets the
bones and what is left over of bread and gravy.

"Some folks say a dog can't smell good with gravy on his nose,"
Fred says, "but a dog ain't goin' to leave no gravy on his nose."
He wipes the Dutch oven clean with the last slice of bread and
holds it for Pat.  "I have a good time on a bird hunt and I aim to
have the dog have just as good a time as I do."

Game birds have an added flavor when you have shot them yourself,
or have at least been on the shoot.  I am a poor shot, and
hypocritically have little true desire to do better.  What makes
the sport is the magnificent country and the stirring performance
of good dogs.  Good companions lift it into high adventure, and
while there are solitary souls who rove the fields alone with dog
and gun, it is one of the pastimes that I, who can do with much
solitude and like to walk alone, prefer to share.  But the birds I
have downed would not make a respectable covey.  Some day I shall
lay down my arms entirely.

I had a worse struggle over the kill with my Aunt Wilmer than with
my own conscience.  Our line descends from Wesleyan Methodist
preachers and the flame burns fiercely, if fitfully, in Wilmer.
Fred and I took her with us on a quail hunt one winter when she
visited me, I dubiously, Fred full of mischief.  At his most
conservative he drives with an utter disregard of the terrain.
Now, with a wide-eyed school teacher to terrify if possible, he
plowed with his Ford straight across the piney woods.  We hit
gopher holes at forty-five miles an hour.  The bird dog braced
himself stiff-legged on the back seat.  We rushed at pine saplings
much larger than Fred usually attacked, sometimes hanging in mid-
air as the sapling resisted, then dropping over it like a roller-
coaster.  When we left the car and the dog began to find birds, I
blundered along with my shooting as usual but Fred was on his
mettle.  Every time he swung his gun to his shoulder, a brown ball
of feathers dropped to earth.  Each time Wilmer ran forward with a
little wounded cry and retrieved the bird, nestling it to her.

Fred said, "Now if you can keep your auntie here, we got no use for
a bird dog."

The dog was puzzled and a trifle resentful at having the retrieving
taken out of his control.  He began going like an arrow to the dead
bird to get there ahead of Wilmer.

"The darlings," she murmured, stroking the bird feathers.  "How
awful!  This is awful!"

Left to myself, I, too, often feel that it is an unwarranted
slaughter, but Wilmer's moans made me perversely take the opposite

"It's really not so frightful to shoot them," I told her, "for if a
covey isn't shot into and broken up, it stays together and the
quail don't mate that year."

"That just proves," she said, "they're fine, moral birds."

I cannot testify as to their morality but I do know they have a
diabolical cleverness in outwitting the hunter.  Any man who comes
home with enough quail for the table has earned his meal.  Four
miles beyond the Creek there is a mystery covey on Guthrie's land
that always outwitted even the Major.  There is good quail shooting
there, for we were the only hunters allowed on the land.  Each fall
I swap pecans and oranges for the privilege of hunting there.  In
consequence of not being much hunted, the quail are as wild as
hawks.  Birds much hunted will hold for a dog's point.  Birds not
hunted flush wild far ahead of the dogs.  The Guthrie terrain is
ideal.  Open black jack woods full of partridge peas and sumac and
myrtle berries join the cultivated fields of corn and peanuts and
chufas.  The fields are bordered with blackberry thickets where the
quail love to "bunch up" for the night.  The woods dip to bay-head
swamps where the birds are found in dry weather or in the heat of
the day.  The shooting in the bay-heads is difficult, but it was to
the taste of the Major and his own powerful dog Steve.

We usually had good luck until we fell foul of the mystery covey.
It fed from the road back to the bay-head and numbered at least
forty birds.  After its first mad flushing and our first desperate
shots, at too great a distance, it disappeared into thin air.  The
Major and I came on that covey again and again, knowing about where
we should find it at any given time of the day.  We never found it
that day again.  If it flew into the trees, we were unable ever to
see the small brown forms that cluster on limbs like pine cones.
If it flew farther, it was a greater distance than any covey has
been known to fly, for we made wide arcs and circles with the
indefatigable Steve and found no trace of it.  I spoke of it to old-
timers who travel the River Styx road past the Guthrie place.  The
enormous covey has been known to them for years.  Their theory is
that one wise old cock has led it all this time, a cock with some
special technique for outwitting the hunter.

The Major opened up for me the sthetic delights of duck-hunting.
The sport pleased me particularly because, in the great beauty of
the surroundings, there was not a chance that I should ever bring
down one of the swift-flying birds.  We met on the north side of
Orange Lake before dawn and crossed in a small boat to an
established duck blind.  The lake was gray chiffon, the horizon a
gray velvet curtain.  Sometimes, on rainy mornings, there was no
lifting of the soft mist.  Only, in the distance, the palms took
shape, the reeds and saw-grass stood out like the lines of an
etching, and the water was a silver mirror for the ducks and coots,
flying low.  On days when the sun rose visibly, the gray was slowly
infiltrated with lavender, then with pink, until the sun lifted
before us and sky and water blazed with salmon and orange and red,
and all the world of lake and shore came to life.  The red-winged
blackbirds chattered from the tussocks, the coots took off from the
water like clumsy seaplanes, the big-mouthed bass leaped and made
great whirls and spirals, the ducks gave their harsh vibrant call,
white herons winged over, and a fish-eagle screamed, high against
the sky.  Then we settled quietly in the blind, each listening for
the other's "Mark!"

I loved the swift whir of the approaching ducks, the sharp slicing
of the air overhead.  I lifted my hypocritical gun obediently and
fired, usually to hear, "Diana, damn it, the birds almost took your
hat off."  It was good to be ravenous in early midday, to open the
lunch basket and eat the whole length of a Cuban sandwich--eight
inches long, four inches thick, stuffed with layers of chicken and
ham and roast pork and cheese and chopped sweet pickle--and to
digest such a preposterous affair as easily as though it were baby
food.  A flight of ducks, of course, always came over when one's
mouth was full and one's hand was on the beer bottle or the coffee
cup instead of the shotgun.  That gave me a fine excuse and no
alibi was necessary.  Then the sun was low and the egrets came in
to roost and the ducks were arrows against the sky.  Home was good
then, with supper of red wine and biscuits and quail from
yesterday's hunt, or a roast guinea, and afterward, good talk by
the blazing hearth-fire.  These are the things my mind holds dear
of hunting.

Of my deer hunting I treasure, not a kill, but a hunt deep in the
Everglades, when Bob Chancey and I followed two great bucks from
dawn to dark, and never once saw the quarry.  They were ghost deer,
with incredible large tracks running side by side, and they led us
through a dream world of gray cypresses and silent Spanish moss and
soft knee-deep watery sloughs.  The trail once crossed a circular
pond and growing on all the cypresses around the pond were orchids,
and I stopped and let my companion and his dog go far ahead of me
while I stood and stared and could not believe that I held orchids
in my hands.  In the evening I took up a lone stand deep under a
thicket of low growing young cypresses massed with strange exotic
flowering vines.  Beside the thicket was a clear pool and to this
in the rosy sunset hundreds of egrets and great white herons came
to drink and roost in the trees around it.  They did not see nor
hear me and I forgot that the great phantom bucks might pass my
way, and sat and drank my fill of white birds and ferns and flowers
and crystal pool.

Once upon a time there was snow at Cross Creek.  The Chamber of
Commerce would insist that this was not a factual item, but the
beginning of a fairy tale.  Yet oddly, the conditions and the
temperature necessary to make snow, are much milder than those
prevailing when we have our occasional disastrous and quite
snowless freezes.  The snow at the Creek came on a cloudy winter
evening when the temperature hung at the minutest fraction below
thirty-two degrees.  It was a fine, dry, powdery snow, like a
wandering breath of the north.  In its brief falling it sifted
through cracks and eaves and lay for a moment like spilled salt.
It was surprising that so nebulous a thing should make an entrance

"Snow's a searchin' thing," Martha said.  "Snow be's like sorrow.
It searches people out."

Our periods of cold last for three days at the most, then mildness
follows, and even during the bad times the days themselves are
bright and sunny.  My only concern through the winter is for my
young grove.  The old section of the grove has taken care of itself
since before 1890 and can be trusted to survive if grove anywhere
survives.  When I came to the Creek, a pecan grove stood across the
road from the farmhouse.  It was lush and handsome in the summer.
It was not profitable, many of the trees being seedlings, many
bearing no crop at all.  In winter, being deciduous, it was a
nightmare; row on row of gaunt gray skeletons.  It irked me in a
tropical climate to stare day after day at bony, leafless trees, as
though there were no escape in all the world from bleakness.

I cut down all but a few of the better trees and used them for fire
wood.  After them stood a vacant field, fertile but unbred.  The
lean times came to me, when my reserve money was gone and the grove
for two years had not paid its way.  I did not know whether the
grove and I should be able to weather our difficulties.  The field
across the road grew high in weeds and was sad for lack of
production.  It depressed me to look out on those rich acres and
know that I was not able to feed them.  When things looked the most
desperate, my Florida stories found a market.  With my first
available money I planted the field to orange trees.  I chose
Valencias, for they are our late orange, maturing in March and
April, and I longed to have the bright globes of fruit to look at
after the earlier citrus was harvested.  But the field proved to be
what we call a cold-pocket, lying a little lower than I had
realized, and I have been obliged to nurse the young trees year
after year.  The late maturity for which I chose the Valencias has
nearly been my undoing, for they must weather the most severe cold,
long after the other oranges have been safely picked.

I invariably put off all the orange picking as long as possible.
I have watched the fruit so long, from the first blossoms in
February, through the summer growth of the hard green balls,
through the sudden swelling on the fall rains, and, with cool
nights, the bright color showing.  The oranges hang like lighted
lanterns through the winter.  I use the excuse of waiting for a
better market, but I delay in fact only because I cannot bear to
see them cut and the globes of light extinguished.  Several times I
have lost the entire crop in a freeze through my dilatory fondness.

The picking is a colorful process.  The Negro pickers arrive on a
truck like a cage of birds, huddled together in silence.  They hate
the early morning cold and mist and cannot be sent up into the
trees until the sun is high enough to dry the dew.  They build
fatwood fires near the barn and crouch close to them.  Some have
brought their breakfast with them and some are already hungry for
their lunch.  They open the paper sacks and the tin lard pails and
eat, and my chickens have learned to go to them for the crumbs.
They eye my dog suspiciously, for a lunch-stealing dog is a
catastrophe.  They stretch their legs to the fire, and, warmed and
fed, the talk and laughter begin, as though a stream had emerged
from its winter coat of ice.

The foreman says, "All right, boys.  Let's see who's the best man
with those ladders.  Pick clean as you go.  No stem ends.  Pick up
all dropped fruit from the ground before you leave your tree.  Full

A flock of chattering monkeys is suddenly in the orange trees.
There are jests and jibes, the ladders rattle against the boughs,
and the sound of the metal orange clippers is like castanets.  A
powerful young buck begins a song.  He is derided and there are
calls for "Preacher."  Preacher is a wizened little chimpanzee of a
Negro, his hands swift as the claws of a hawk among the oranges.
He is the best singer of them all.  His notes roll out in an old
spiritual, low and rich and slowly spaced.  One by one the men join
in.  The orange clippers click in counterpoint against the swell.

My trees are old and tall, and thirty-foot ladders must be used to
reach the tops.  Only an experienced hand can manage one alone.  He
runs to his tree with it, balancing it like a juggling acrobat.
The tall ladders rest precariously against the frail topmost
branches, but the pickers mount quickly and surely.  They are
reminded of the need for climbing, the age-old set-backs, the
burden of their race and their hope.  Sooner or later "Jacob's
Ladder" sounds mournfully from high in the tallest trees and a
great organ seems to roll its notes across the grove.  It is the
favorite song of the orange pickers and they sing it with a sad

     Jacob's ladder's steep an' ta-all--
     When Ah lay mah burden down!
     If you boun' to climb,
     You boun' to fa-all--
     When Ah lay mah burden down!
     Burden down, burden down,
     When Ah lay mah burden down!

Sometimes Preacher gives them a sermon, and they chant the
responses like a Mass.  His strong old voice exhorts them from the
top of an orange tree and they cry out in answer.

"Yes, Lord!"

"Preacher right!"

"Ain't it the truth!"

"Lord be praised!"


Sometimes they sing the songs of the jook-joints, the Saturday
night songs, but I have an idea that the day I hear "Shake that
thing" ribald from the orange trees, Preacher is not picking that
day.  He can pick with the best of them, but his strength fails him
and he must take a day off now and then.

I acquired an undeserved reputation for ferocity among the pickers.
The market price on citrus one season was high, my fruit was
unpicked, and word of a freeze impending came in late on a Saturday
night.  I sent six miles away to Citra early Sunday morning, asking
a picking crew to come at once, and offering double the usual pay.
The crew came back on my truck, still a little tipsy from Saturday
night.  They set jovially to work.  I sat on the back porch oiling
and cleaning my bird gun that had had hard use all the week.
Suddenly I became aware that a Sabbath calm lay over the grove, but
from the tenant house came sounds of revelry.  Black Kate was
entertaining the pickers.  I dashed toward her quarters, shouting
to make myself heard above the gay din.  A banjo tinkled, feet beat
on the floor, and whoops of laughter lay over Kate's lone female

I called out for the crew to get out and pick oranges or to get out
altogether.  The pickers did not emerge from the door one by one
and sheepishly, as I expected, but amazed me by popping out of
every window in the tenant house as though a cage of blackbirds had
been liberated.  They galloped to their ladders and several fearful
souls made a dash for the woods.  I looked down.  All unconsciously
I was toting my gun and flourishing it as I shouted.  I had the
report later that all records for picking were broken that day.  I
find that I am still known to the pickers as "the lady who jes' as
soon shoot you as look at you."

Twenty boxes a day is a fair average for a picker, but the old
hands at it do much better, and in a picking contest this winter,
the champion picked more than forty boxes.  Pickers are paid by the
box and can make much more than at the low hoeing wages.  There
have been two seasons in which the pickers netted more per box than
I did.  The orange season is the cash-money season for most of us.
The entire village works in season at the orange-packing plant,
washing, grading, wrapping and packing the fruit.  We pay up our
accumulated summer bills and make down payments on cars and radios
and set aside money for spring seeds and fertilizer.

Christmas is the height of the orange season.  There will be steady
shipments for two months more, but in December the citrus has come
to full perfection and the oranges are burnished gold, bursting
with juice.  Christmas is celebrated quietly at the Creek.  None of
the holidays has the festival air of the north, probably because
here we are likely to take a holiday at any moment the fancy
strikes us, and live a more liberated life in general.  We have no
need of the emotional outlet of specified gala occasions.
Thanksgiving is only a name.  Banks and stores are closed on the
Fourth of July, but farm work is likely to go on as usual.  A very
old black man came to his hoeing in my grove on one Fourth.  In
late morning he shuffled to the door.

"Please, Missy, I notice de postman don't come this mornin'.  Could
you tell me, please, be's this Thanksgivin'?"

I undertook to explain the significance of the Fourth of July.  In
a moment the old Negro and I were beyond our depth.  He had heard
of George Washington but believed him to be an insignificant
contemporary of Lincoln.  He had never heard of Europe nor England
nor the Declaration of Independence.  The United States had no
connection with Florida.  The only wars he had heard of were "the
war jes' a while back" and "the Confed'rit war."  "Freedom" meant
only one thing, the emancipation.  He himself had been born "the
year after Freedom."  I left him feeling that the Fourth of July
most certainly had something to do with emancipation, and wondering
vaguely if he should not go home and sit respectfully on his stoop.

There is not much giving of Christmas gifts at the Creek.  We give
presents to one another at any season according to what we may have
in abundance.  At Christmas I make up boxes for the Negroes, of
frivolities along with needed sweaters and shirts and dresses,
candy, fruit cake and pecans, more for my pleasure than theirs.
They thank me for the unopened boxes, as a matter of courtesy, and
never, with equal politeness, refer to them again, so that I never
know whether I have truly pleased them or not.  I take boxes of
candy and toys to any families of children, migrant or permanent,
at the Creek, and while again I never hear of them afterward, I
feel more certain of having given pleasure.  I have no gifts in
return, but sometime during the year there will be a present of
wild grapes or blackberries, or a pair of quail, or an especially
large bass.  One Christmas, Snow gave me a duck-hunt for my

He said, "I studied and studied what I could give you that you
couldn't buy."

He repaired his outboard motor, borrowed small boats from his frog-
hunting friends, located the best duck flights on Orange Lake, set
up duck blinds, and on the chosen date, took out my party.  A
millionaire could not have given a finer present.

Most Christmas days at the Creek have been warm enough to serve
Christmas dinner on the veranda.  I feel a little cheated on such
occasions, for although half the world is warm at Christmas, it is
difficult not to think of snow and cold and reindeer and coziness
in connection with the day.  I have a roaring fire on the hearth no
matter what the temperature, and growl a bit at the bright sunshine
and the hibiscus blossoms.  The holly and the mistletoe that are
inseparable from the northern celebration grow in abundance at the
Creek, and the poorest families gather a few sprays to hang over
the mantel.  The mistletoe is a parasite (which the Spanish moss is
not) and sucks the substance from my pecan trees.  It must be cut
out once a year in any case and I have no qualms at breaking
immense boughs at Christmas time for furbishing my house and for
taking to town friends.

I can never snap off one of the brittle sprays without thinking of
Lum.  Lum and Ida were my one attempt to have white help on the
place.  There was resentment in the village at my using Negro help.
A good white man would have been more than acceptable, but it was
difficult to explain why I did not want a white woman.  It is
impossible to make a servant of any southern white, and I rejoice
in the fact.  But it is irksome enough for me to do my writing on
the veranda at the Creek, in the midst of the commotion of grove
and stock, with constant interruptions to give advice about broken
machinery and escaped cows.  I have been obliged to train myself to
accept the disturbances as part of the natural background.  A white
country woman would be much more of a guest than a maid.  My
aloofness would never be understood if I were reluctant to stop my
writing to listen to her personal story and to sit and visit with
her when her own work was done.  But I was told in the village
again and again that it was not fair to the unemployed there to pay
my comparatively high wages to Negroes, when white men were hungry.
They believed also that my work was all idleness and ease.  I tried
to tell them that the work was hard and steady, that there was
little time for fishing and for long siestas and days and weeks of
the complete inertia to which many of them were accustomed.

I think the village backed Lum for a show-down.  He demanded the
job.  He understood, he said, that I needed a woman in the house as
well as a man for the grove.  He and Ida were the perfect pair and
they were coming, whether or no.  I protested feebly that Ida was
not suitable for the making of a servant, the work too hard--and I
needed a servant.

"She waits on me for nothin'," Lum said.  "Ain't a reason in the
world why she cain't wait on you for pay."

They descended on me against my protests.  It worked out in exactly
opposite fashion from what I had expected.  Ida was indeed perfect.
She was quiet and very sweet and learned as fast as I could teach
her.  My habits of cooking were as strange to her as though I had
been Chinese, but if by gravy I meant a greaseless, browned and
floured affair, instead of a bowl of melted fat, that was the gravy
I should have.  She was spick and span and I have never lived more
immaculately.  And miracle of miracles, she had a complete
understanding, without my ever having to make mention of it, that
one engaged in what she called "composition" needed peace and quiet
for the job.  In our few weeks together we became deeply attached.
We wept and embraced and vowed eternal friendship when Lum tore us
apart and took her away.

The job was an appalling blow to Lum.  To keep up with the routine
winter work meant from eight to ten full hours a day.  He could not
believe it.

"They ain't no time for a feller jest to set and rest and think,"
he complained.

I said, "I tried to tell you that my job wasn't play."

The first real rift came over the mistletoe.  Whatever man had
worked on the place before had brought me at Christmas acceptable
boughs without question.  I told Lum that I was ready to decorate
the farmhouse for Christmas and wanted at least a dozen boughs of
mistletoe.  He brought me a few small sprays totally without

I said, "These won't do.  I want larger ones, and I want the ones
with berries.  I know there are berries, because I can see them."

"Sure there's berries.  But they're high up in the trees."

"Then go higher and get them."

"Listen," he said, "I ain't no damn mockin' bird."

He was indeed no mocking bird.  I think he fancied himself as a
bird of Paradise.  I climbed into the pecan trees myself and broke
my mistletoe, thinking to shame the man, but he was unimpressed.
The final shock came to him when we fired the young grove on the
first freeze.  The cold came shortly after Christmas.  I rounded up
ten hands to help with the firing.  Through the afternoon they
hauled fat pine from the high stack kept for the purpose, and
placed it in the grove, one fire to be laid in the center of each
square of four trees.  Two four-foot logs of the rich resinous pine
are crossed in an X, a little kerosene poured on the center for a
quick start when the temperature drops to 28 degrees.

Night came and the temperature dropped steadily.  The fatal 28 came
at midnight and I gave the word for the lighting of the fires.  I
put Lum in charge and Ida and I went at the business of preparing
food and drink to warm the men through the long bitter night.  The
work is so cruel that it seems to me the least I can do is take
care of the men properly.  We had pounds of hamburg, baked beans,
bread and butter, jams and relishes, sweet buns and hot coffee, and
the men came in relays of two through the night to eat and warm
themselves by the roaring wood range in the kitchen.  I had also
several quarts of gin and whiskey, and I suspect that this heating
medium is the source of my success in getting hands for firing.  I
turned over the liquor to Lum with instructions to parcel it out
through the night as the men needed it.  Authority and liquor went
to Lum's head.  He drank the lion's share and toward morning, while
the men shivered and went without, Lum was overcome and returned to
his bed to sleep in drunken comfort.  I was obliged to take over
the direction of the firing myself, while Ida fried hamburgers and
held the fort in the kitchen.

The cold was so severe, going down to 17 degrees, that we depleted
the wood pile.  Through the next day, bright and sunny but still
icy cold, the helpers took turns at sleeping and hauling more fat
wood.  We were in for another night of it.  Lum appeared groggily
to milk the cows and feed the chickens, then went back to bed.
When the second night came and all the crew was on hand for the
work, Lum calmly announced that he would not be with us.  All of us
save Lum had worked without sleep for thirty-six hours.

"Hit's too much to ask of a feller," he said, "that's used to his

I asked with what calm I could muster, "How can you expect to keep
a job where you won't do what has to be done in an emergency?"

He answered with greater calm, which, unlike mine, was not
affected, "Oh, I ain't studyin' on keepin' it.  I'm quittin'."

It would have been only a Pyrrhic victory for me to insist that he
was not quitting but was fired, so I let it pass.

I said, "Very well.  But when you go back to the town, I want you
to tell everybody that comes to the post-office that the job out
here is a man's job."

"Don't you fret," he said amiably, "I'll tell 'em."

He must have painted a lurid picture of cold nights spent without
sleep and days spent gathering mistletoe at dizzy heights.  I have
not since been asked for my work at the Creek.

There is a healthy challenge in danger and a certain spiritual
sustenance comes from fighting it.  For all the losses they have
cost me, I would not choose to have lived without knowing the
nights of firing on a freeze.  Nowadays at the Creek we do not have
to depend on the wailing of the train whistle for a warning, but
have it over the radio.  By two o'clock in the afternoon we know
for fact the approximate temperatures of the coming night.  Mature
citrus fruit can stand 28 degrees for four hours, 26 degrees for
two hours.  The trees themselves, if in good condition, can stand
temperatures much lower.  The grove itself survived 15 degrees a
few winters ago.  Some affluent grove owners use smudge pots of the
California type, but most of us put our faith in the old-fashioned
fatwood fires.  The smudge pots cost about seven dollars each, even
in large quantities, require from one to two dollars' worth of
crude oil a night, and rust to pieces during the two and three year
periods in which the cold is not menacing.  I am convinced as well
that the smudge pots raise the grove temperature by only two or
three degrees, while our pine blazes have raised them as much as
six degrees.  The smudge pots lay a thick smoke, but good fat pine
properly handled lays enough of a protective blanket of smoke over
the trees against the settling cold.

If we have had warning enough, we place the wood in the afternoon
and are ready to touch the pine torches to it at the crucial
moment.  The weather at such times is always as clear as a bell.  A
damaging freeze is impossible under cloudy or windy skies.  The sun
sets magnificently, fiery red, laying lingering fingers across the
shining orange trees as though reluctant to withdraw its mercy.
The air is so still that voices from far away sound very close at
hand, and the champing of the cows on their hay in the lot is
audible.  It is too cold for the birds to sing an evensong and they
go to bed early and uneasily.  The first stars are visible while
the west is still rosy.  They are silver against aquamarine.  There
is never at any moment complete darkness.  The stars take over the
sun's work, but with a dispassionate aloof coldness, like a frigid
and beautiful stepmother taking over a nursery where once walked
warm and true maternity.  The earth itself stands like a child,
awaiting the injustice and the blow.  We have bared our bosoms to
the sun, and trusted it, and it has gone and left us to the
treachery of the stars.

Yet, as there is mental depression on a low barometer, there is an
exhilaration on this high pressure that throws its icy mantle
around us.  We hurry about in inadequate clothing and are too
engaged with fighting to feel the cold.  We bring out newspapers
and old quilts and sheets and drape them over our favorite shrubs.
The poinsettias, as trusting as we, have reached their full
brilliant bloom by midwinter and stand with proud heads to be
struck down.  There will be no saving them, even under the sheets,
if the night be bad.  The avocados are too tall and brittle to be
weighted with covering.  The hardy hybrid roses can shift for
themselves.  The north is in their blood and their sap exults
secretly at the touch of cold.  We shall have finer roses than ever
after the freeze.  The plumbago can be saved and perhaps the roots
at least of the flame vine.  The guavas will survive, and the
pomegranate, and the Amaryllis and spider lilies.  I pull Spanish
moss from the pecan trees to cover the tender plants in the garden.
No matter what other help I may have, from wherever she may be
Martha comes to help me with this.

"I jes' so feered, Sugar," she says, "evvybody but me be so busy
they forget the garden."

We cap each plant with a mound of the soft moss.  It will keep safe
and warm for as long as needed the delicate gerberas and
snapdragons and all the other flowers in bud or the first
blossoming.  Martha likes to help too with the feeding of the
firing crew through the night.

"The mens tells me they looks forward to my coffee," she says.  "I
makes it double strong and I doesn't stint 'em with the milk and
sugar.  A night like this be's no time to be scarce with the

Sometimes we wait through most of the night for the temperature to
drop low enough to light the fires.  Midnight may tell the story.
If the temperature has hovered around 32 until that time, then
suddenly begins to dip down, slowly but inexorably, we are ready,
and watch the thermometer as though the life of a dying man were at
stake.  The poorest helper, recruited from his clearing in the
flatwoods, with not a single orange tree of his own, knows that
this is a matter of life and death for something rich and fabulous
and beautiful that he longs for as his own, but will fight to save
for a more fortunate other.  If we have 28 degrees just before
daylight and it has not previously dropped to this mark, we are
inclined to risk it and to disband, saving the precious fat pine
for a worse night.  Once I lost the crop through this confidence in
the passing by of the enemy.  The crew went home and I went to bed
and between five and eight in the morning the temperature dropped
to 22 degrees and the fruit was lost.  If the fatal degree comes,
it is usually about two o'clock in the morning.  Of late years
Snow, like Martha, drops whatever other work he may be doing, to
supervise.  He comes to me with the word.

"Two o'clock and it's 28.  Shall we turn the boys loose, or you
want to wait?"

"Turn them loose."

The pine splinter torches flicker in the night.  The men have been
silent.  Now they break into a chattering, like night birds roused
from the day's sleeping.  Their voices are sharp across the grove.
The first fire blazes.  There is rivalry to see who will first
light his assigned fires and have them burning and smoking to cover
his territory with the protective heat and smudge.  There has been
a great tension, and now, with the grove a pattern of blaze, it
cracks.  We are like soldiers, taut for the first attack, and
sighing deep with relief to have taken over the first front with no
casualties.  It is important to have all the fires going before the
insidious cold has dropped again too sharply.

I have seen no more beautiful thing in my life than my orange grove
by night, lighted by the fatwood fires.  It is doubly beautiful for
the danger and the struggle, like a beloved friend for whose life
one battles, drinking in the well known features that may be taken
away forever.  The fires make a geometric pattern, spaced as
regularly as the squares of trees.  The pine burns with a bright
orange flame and the effect is of countless bivouac fires across a
low-wooded plain.  The sky is sapphire blue, spangled with stars.
The smoke lifts from the fires gray-white, melting into gray-blue,
drifting like the veils of a dancer under the open skies.  Each
orange tree is outlined with light.  The green leaves shine like
jade.  The round golden oranges are each lit with a secret inner
candle.  My heart bursts with the loveliness of the grove and of
the night.  If only, I think, I could watch such beauty
unencumbered by my fears.  Then I know that a part of the beauty is
the fight to keep it, and that all good things do not come too
easily and must perpetually be fought for.  Our test is in our
recognition of our love and our willingness to do battle for it.

Sometimes the battle is hopeless.  We burn all the pine, the great
pile accumulated through the summer and enough, I had hoped, for
four or five firings.  One time it was all gone, and the men and I
exhausted, by five o'clock in the morning, and the mercury was
still falling.  We could only stand and watch the embers die down
and the blue smoke fade to tattered wisps, see day come in, gay and
gaudy, and the temperature drop and drop, until the sun that had
failed us was high in the heavens, shining over a tropical world
solid with alien ice.

These mornings after a freeze are unbearably fine.  The red-birds
take the sun at face value and sing as though they did not know
that the very corn in their guest basket were in danger of never
being replenished, for their host's sudden catastrophe and poverty.
The poinsettias flaunt their redness in the warmth, unaware that
they are frozen mausoleums of blossoms, and are doomed within an
hour to droop and shrivel on the stalks.  The orange leaves are
rigid, for they too are frozen, and before the day is done they
will curl, then later turn yellow and wither and fall untimely from
the trees.  Icicles drip from the water tower and there will be no
water in the pipes before midday.  The oranges themselves are balls
of ice, and we make a game of eating them while they are still
sweet and frozen, and we offer one another a dish of "orange
sherbet."  We are sick at heart.  But we are relaxed, too, and
resigned.  We have fought forces stronger than we, and done our
best, and lost, and now we may sleep.

There have been many winter battles at the Creek.  Most of our
deaths come then, and our serious illnesses, as though the lethargy
of summer had kept us alive, but with the coming of the enemy cold,
we cannot resist any longer.

I remember the winter when Snow and I together saw old Joe to his
death.  We live close to our animals at the Creek.  When I was
poor, the death of a cow or mule, even of a brood-hen, came hard,
not only for the loss, but because we made our living together.
When my mule, old Joe, died in the lean days, I lost a co-laborer.

He was an odd mule--not that all mules are not a little peculiar.
The unnatural mating of mare and donkey gives the offspring a touch
of the fey.  Joe had a quizzical look in his eyes, as though he
were in on a joke.  Mules in general live in a sterile world of
their own, apparently content to pull the plow or harrow, to feed
leisurely, and as emotional release to roll gawkily on their backs,
snorting at the good scratching of the sand or the cooling touch of
the pasture grass.  Old Joe had fits of loneliness and in his moods
of sociability sought out any company.  A human being was
preferred, but he had a weakness for cows.  I do not know how long
it took him to attract the attention of the Glisson milch cows that
fed up and down the road, but he made at last fast friends with a
pair of young Jerseys.  The friendship was a false one, but like
all illusions, was as satisfying to Joe as a reality.  The contact
consisted of his sticking his long nose over the fence of pen or
pasture, and of the two cows licking it in what he took for
affection.  He stood with closed eyes and relaxed ears, drinking in
the attention that must last him so long a time.  He could not know
that the delicious flavor of his salt brick was on his nose.  His
friends were hypocrites.

When he fell ill, it seemed at first that his eccentricities had
for the moment got the better of him.  We noticed that he walked in
circles.  Perhaps his loneliness had touched his queer mule's
brain.  Then as he paced the lot, he crashed into the side of the
barn.  It was no ordinary blindness.  It was a sightless frenzy,
born of pain.  The neighbors came and stared and shook their heads
and went away.  The blind staggers, they agreed.  The veterinarian
identified the trouble as forage poisoning.  It seemed unfair that
an old mule could not graze along the marsh edge without meeting so
strange an enemy.  The poison is like the rust on wheat or corn and
grows sometimes on the marsh grass in puffy black balls that give
no warning to a creature.  Its substance is ergot, killer of human
unborn.  Purges may be tried but there is seldom recovery.

Old Joe submitted to the drenching, his head tied high to an orange
bough.  Then the circular walking continued, and the days passed
and the nights, and he would not eat nor drink, or could not, and
only walked around and around and around like something charmed.
We tethered him in the maiden cane until he wore the rope through.
He ran so wildly from us, crashing through the orange grove when we
pursued him, hurting himself so painfully, that it seemed best to
let him go his way.  A second drenching had only weakened him and
there was nothing more to do, for witch poisons are too much to
cope with.  The evening came when we knew he would not know
another, and somehow Snow and I wanted to keep him company, knowing
his spells of loneliness.

I remember the chilly loveliness of the night.  The moon was full
in December and now and then the ripe pecans dropped sharply in the
stillness.  We built a bonfire outside the fence to warm us.  Snow
had not gone home for supper to his shack of the moment and his
friend Glenwood came to see about him.  Glenwood squatted beside
us.  It seemed entirely right and natural to him that we should be
seeing old Joe out.  The mule walked his ceaseless circle through
the grove.  He sensed our presence and now and then plunged toward
us as though for reassurance.  Then Snow rose from his heels by the
fire and put out his hand to keep him from crashing into the fence
and spoke to him.

"Easy, Joe.  Easy."

The mule stood a moment, wavering, then made his round again, with
death firm at the bridle.

I said, "I hate to keep you up late this way, Snow."

"That's plumb all right.  He's likely to have a wild fit at the end
and hurt hisself.  I reckon the dyin' itself won't hurt.  I'd hate
to leave him alone.  He's been mighty faithful."

Glenwood said, "Shore has been faithful."

Toward midnight I brought the boys ham and bread and coffee, and
the occasion in the bright cold moonlight was not at all a sad one.
All creatures must die and old Joe had had a good life, as life
goes for a mule, and not too hard a one, and now he had
companionship at the end.  He came to the fence and whinnied and I
touched his nose.  Then he broke into a gallop and when he was done
with that fine burst of living, he was done with it for good.

"We done all we could," Snow said, and walked with Glenwood home in
the brightness.

In the early spring there was a circle marked in the maiden cane
where he had walked on his tether.  There was a different kind of
grass that grew there.  Even a mule, I thought, might leave his
mark a moment on the earth.

It was in a winter that Old Boss came very close to losing Old
Miss, and because of it, I knew him suddenly, not as the patriarch
of the Creek, venerable and invulnerable, of whom all of us, black
and white, stood in awe, but vulnerable, as we, to those intimate,
those personal things that make up life for human beings.  Old Miss
was very ill, Martha told me, and I went down to Old Boss' house to
inquire of her.  He came to the door in answer to my question.  His
face wore its usual mask, kindly and detached.

"She's not doing well," he said.  "I'm afraid--I'll lose her."

I put out my hand to touch him.  The next moment he had reached out
his arms to me, and Old Boss was crying on my shoulder.  I held his
small old body close to me and was astonished by its frailty.  He
was not now the giver of laws, but a lonely little old man weeping
for his beloved.  I knew in that instant how fragile a defense are
pride and authority against the common enemies.

I thought, "How can any of us be cruel to one another?  How are
wars possible, and hate, when we must all face such things?  Death
is the enemy, and life itself is inimical, for all its bounty.  We
must hold one another close against the cosmic perils."

For all our battles, winter at the Creek is the cozy time, when fat
pine fires crackle on all the hearths.  I take my dog for a walk up
the road at sunset and the wind blows in our faces.  I turn back to
walk westward home as the red sun drops behind Orange Lake.  The
dusk comes quickly and we turn in at the gate and shut the house
door behind us and drop down in front of the hearth fire in the
living room.  A fresh log of fatwood thrown on the slow-burning bed
of oak coals catches and blazes and roars up the big chimney.  The
flames light the old white-walled room so that there is no need
even of candles, though one or two over the bookshelves are always
pleasant, for candlelight on books is one of the lovely things of
this world.  The ruby-red velvet sleepy hollow chair glows in the
firelight.  The dog groans for comfort and turns his belly to the
heat and stretches out his paws in the ultimate luxury.  Only a
hunting dog or a cat can share man's love of the open fire, and if
I had a whole kennel full of dogs, on winter nights I should let
them all come in to enjoy mine with me.

Sometimes the dog and I go together for our supper to the old-
fashioned kitchen where the wood range still glows and is warm and
the fire box blinks a red eye in the dusk.  Because we like the
clean bare snugness of the room, and the bland heat of the range,
we often sit beside it when we have finished our bread and Dora's
rich milk, and converse together, wordlessly.  We drowse and nod
and try to decide whether it would be more pleasant to go back to
the living-room fire or to go to bed.  On the bitter nights the dog
is allowed to sleep inside by the fire, and after his day's hunting
he knows no greater delight or security.

In the morning the red-birds sing in the crisp air and some one,
perhaps Martha, comes to my bedroom and lights a blazing fire on
the hearth for me, and when the room is warm I have my tray of
coffee, with cream as yellow as buttercups and so thick it must be
spooned into the cup, and I lie and watch the aromatic wood burning
and think, "What have I done to deserve such munificence?"

22.  Hyacinth drift

Once I lost touch with the Creek.  I had had hardships that seemed
to me more than one could bear alone.  I loved the Creek, I loved
the grove, I loved the shabby farmhouse.  Suddenly they were
nothing.  The difficulties were greater than the compensations.  I
talked morosely with my friend Dessie.  I do not think she
understood my torment, for she is simple and direct and completely
adjusted to all living.  She knew only that a friend was in

She said, "We'll take one of those river trips we've talked about.
We'll take that eighteen-foot boat of yours with a couple of
outboard motors and put in at the head of the St. John's River.
We'll go down the river for several hundred miles."

I agreed, for the Creek was torture.

Men protested.

"Two women alone?  The river runs through some of the wildest
country in Florida.  You'll be lost in the false channels.  No one
ever goes as far as the head of the river."  Then, passionately,
betraying themselves, "It will be splendid.  What if you do get
lost?  Don't let any one talk you out of it."

The river was a blue smear through the marsh.  The marsh was tawny.
It sprawled to the four points of the compass; flat; interminable;

I thought, "This is fantastic.  I am about to deliver myself over
to a nightmare."

But life was a nightmare.  The river was at least of my own

The St. John's River flows from south to north and empties into the
Atlantic near the Florida-Georgia line.  Its great mouth is salt
and tidal, and ocean-going vessels steam into it as far as
Jacksonville.  It rises in a chain of small lakes near the Florida
east coast, south of Melbourne.  The lakes are linked together by
stretches of marsh through which, in times of high water, the
indecisive course of the young river is discernible.  Two years of
drought had shrunken the stream and dried the marshes.  The
southernmost sources were overgrown with marsh grass.  Water
hyacinths had filled the channels.  The navigable head of the St.
John's proved to be near Fort Christmas, where the highway crosses
miles of wet prairie and cypress swamp between Orlando and Indian
River City.

There is a long high fill across the marsh, with a bridge over the
slight blue twisting that is the river.  We drove car and trailer
down an embankment and unloaded the small boat in the backwaters.
The bank was of black muck, smelling of decay.  It sucked at our
feet as we loaded our supplies.  We took our places in the boat and
drifted slowly into mid-channel.

Water hyacinths began to pass us, moving with a faint anxiety in
their lifted leaves.  The river was no more than a path through
high grass.  We swung under the bridge and the boy at the wheel of
our car lifted his hand in parting and shot away.  Something alive
and potent gripped the flat bottom of the boat.  The hyacinths
moved more rapidly.  The river widened to a few yards and rounded a
bend, suddenly decisive.  Dess started the outboard motor.  I
hunched myself together amidships and spread the U. S. Coast and
Geodetic Survey river chart on my knees and clicked open my
compass.  I noticed disconsolately, "Lights, Beacons, Buoys and
Dangers Corrected for Information Received to Date of Issue."
There would be neither lights, beacons nor buoys for at least a
hundred miles.  Bridge and highway disappeared, and there was no
longer any world but this incredible marsh, this unbelievable
amount of sky.

Half a mile beyond the bridge a fisherman's shack leaned over the
river.  For sociability, we turned in by the low dock.  The
fisherman and his wife squatted on their haunches and gave us vague
directions.  We pointed to Bear Island on our chart.

He said, "You won't never see Bear Island.  Where they got a
channel marked on your map it's plumb full o' hyacinths.  Down the
river a ways you'll see a big ol' sugar-berry tree stickin' up in
the marsh.  That's your mark.  You keep to the left.  The next mark
you'll get is a good ways down the river.  You go left by a
pertickler tall piece o' grass."

The woman said, "You just got to keep tryin' for the main channel.
You'll get so you can tell."

The man said, "I ain't never been as far as you-all aim to go.
From what I hear, if you oncet get through Puzzle Lake, you got
right clare river."

The woman said, "You'll some kind of enjoy yourselves.  The river
life's the finest kind of life.  You couldn't get you no better
life than the river."

We pushed away from the dock.

The man said, "I'd be mighty well obliged if you'd send me a
postcard when you get where you're goin'.  That-a-way I won't have
to keep on worryin' about you."

Dess cranked the motor and they waved after us.  Dess began to
whistle, shrilly and tunelessly.  She is an astonishing young
woman.  She was born and raised in rural Florida and guns and
campfires and fishing-rods and creeks are corpuscular in her blood.
She lives a sophisticate's life among worldly people.  At the
slightest excuse she steps out of civilization, naked and relieved,
as I should step out of a soiled chemise.  She is ten years my
junior, but she calls me, with much tenderness, pitying my
incapabilities, "Young un."

"Young un," she called, "it's mighty fine to be travelling."

I was prepared for marsh.  It was startling to discover that there
was in sight literally nothing else.  Far to the west, almost out
of sight to the east, in a dark line like cloud banks was the
distant swamp that edged this fluid prairie.  We may have taken the
wrong channel for a mile or so, for we never saw the sugar-berry
tree; nothing but river grass, brittle and gold, interspersed,
where the ground was highest, with butter-yellow flowers like
tansy.  By standing up in the boat I could see the rest of the
universe.  And the universe was yellow marsh, with a pitiless blue
infinity over it, and we were lost at the bottom.

At five o'clock in the afternoon the river dissolved without
warning into a two-mile spread of flat confusion.  A mile of open
water lay ahead of us, neither lake nor river nor slough.  We
advanced into the center.  When we looked over our shoulders, the
marsh had closed in over the channel by which we had come.  We were
in a labyrinth.  The stretch of open water was merely the fluid
heart of a maze.  Channels extended out of it in a hundred
directions--some shallow, obviously no outlets; others as broad as
the stream we had left behind us, and tempting.  We tried four.
Each widened in a deceptive sweep.  A circling of the shore-line
showed there was no channel.  Each time we returned to the one spot
we could again identify--a point of marsh thrust into the water
like a swimming moccasin.

Dess said, "That map and compass don't amount to much."

That was my fault.  I was totally unable to follow the chart.  I
found later, too late for comfort, that my stupidity was not
entirely to blame, for, after the long drought, half the channels
charted no longer existed.  The sun had become a prodigious red
disc dropping into a distant slough.  Blue herons flew over us to
their night's quarters.  Somewhere the river must continue neatly
out of this desolation.  We came back once more to the point of
land.  It was a foot or two out of water and a few square yards of
the black muck were comparatively dry.  We beached the rowboat and
made camp.

There was no dry wood.  We carried a bag of fat pine splinters but
it occurred to me desperately that I would save them.  I laid out a
cold supper while Dess set up our two camp cots side by side on the
open ground.  As the sun slid under the marsh to the west, the full
moon surged out of it to the east.  The marsh was silver and the
water was steel, with ridges of rippled ebony where ducks swam in
the twilight.  Mosquitoes sifted against us like a drift of
needles.  We were exhausted.  We propped our mosquito bar over the
cots on crossed oars, for there was no bush, no tree, from which to
hang it.

We did not undress, but climbed under the blankets.  Three people
had had a hand in loading our cots and the wooden end-pieces were
missing.  The canvas lay limp instead of taut, and our feet hung
over one end and our heads over the other, so that we were disposed
like corpses on inadequate stretchers.  The crossed oars slid
slowly to the muck, the mosquito bar fluttered down and mosquitoes
were about us in a swarm.  Dess reached under her cot for her light
rifle, propped it between us, and balanced the mosquito bar
accurately on the end of its barrel.

"You can get more good out of a .22 rifle than any other kind of
gun," she informed me earnestly.

I lay on my back in a torment of weariness, but there was no rest.
I had never lain in so naked a place, bared so flatly to the sky.
The moon swung high over us and there was no sleeping for the
brightness.  Toward morning dewdrops collected over the netting as
though the moonlight had crystallized.  I fell asleep under a
diamond curtain and wakened with warm full sunlight on my face.
Cranes and herons were wading the shore near me and Dess was in the
rowboat a few hundred yards away, casting for bass.

Marsh and water glittered iridescent in the sun.  The tropical
March air was fresh and wind-washed.  I was suddenly excited.  I
made campfire with fatwood splinters and cooked bacon and toast and
coffee.  Their fragrance eddied across the water and I saw Dess
lift her nose and put down her rod and reel.  She too was excited.

"Young un," she called, "where's the channel?"

I pointed to the northeast and she nodded vehemently.  It had come
to both of us like a revelation that the water hyacinths were
drifting faintly faster in that direction.  From that instant we
were never very long lost.  Forever after, where the river sprawled
in confusion, we might shut off the motor and study the floating
hyacinths until we caught, in one direction, a swifter pulsing, as
though we put our hands close and closer to the river's heart.  It
was very simple.  Like all simple facts, it was necessary to
discover it for oneself.

We had, in a moment, the feel of the river; a wisdom for its
vagaries.  When the current took us away that morning, we gave
ourselves over to it.  There was a tremendous exhilaration, an
abandoning of fear.  The new channel was the correct one, as we
knew it should be.  The river integrated itself again.  The flat
golden banks closed in on both sides of us, securing a snug safety.
The strangeness of flowing water was gone, for it was all there was
of living.

In midmorning, solid land made its way here and there toward us,
and then in time withdrew.  For a mile we had a low rolling hill
for company, with traces of ancient habitation at its peak: a few
yards of rotting fence, a crepe myrtle, an orange tree.

We passed a lone fisherman hauling his seine.  His legs were
planted cranelike in the water.  His long arms looped up folds of
the gray net with the rhythm of a man swinging a sickle.  We told
him our origin and our destination.  Because we were now a part of
the river he offered us a fish.  His catch was meager and we
refused it.  We passed cattle, wild on the marsh.  They loomed
startlingly above us, their splotched black and brown and red and
white luminous against the blue sky, like cattle in Bonheur
pictures hung high above the eye-level.

The river dissolved into shallow pools and was interspersed with
small islands, palm-crowded and lonely.  It was good to see trees,
lifting the eyes from so many miles of flatness.  The pools
gathered themselves together and there was under us again a river,
confined between obvious banks.  Sometimes the low-lying land was
dry for a great distance, specked with soapberry bushes, and the
wild cattle cropped a short grass that grew there.

We had Puzzle Lake and then Lake Harney, we knew, somewhere ahead
of us.  We came out from a canal-like stretch of river into a body
of open water.  Dess and I stiffened.  She shut off the motor.

Far away across the marsh there was a long white rolling as though
all the sheep in the world were being driven through prehistoric
dust clouds.  The mad thought came to me that we had embarked on
the wrong river and had suddenly reached the ocean, that the vast
billowing in the distance was surf.  But something about the thing
was familiar.  That distant line was a fill, a forty-foot sand
embankment across the marsh between the St. John's River and the
east coast town of Mimms, and I had driven its one-rut grade two
weeks before.  The marsh had been even more desolate from the
height of that untravelled, unfinished roadway.  The fill ended, I
remembered, in a forty-foot drop to a decrepit ferry that crossed
the river.  The billowing we now saw was loose white sand moving
along the embankment ahead of a high wind.  I ran my finger along
the chart.  There was no ferry mapped for the far side of Puzzle
Lake.  A ferry was indicated, however, on the far side of Lake

I said, "Dess, we've come through Puzzle Lake and didn't know it.
We've reached Lake Harney."

She did not question my surety.  She spun the motor.

"All right, young un.  Which way across?"

I compared chart and compass.  I pointed.  She headed the boat as I
directed.  I split nautical points to keep our position exactly.  I
took her across water so shoal we had to pole through it; under
overhanging banks and through dense stiff sedge, when often a
plainly better channel swung a few feet away in another direction.
The extreme low water, I called, had evidently dried Lake Harney to
this confused alternating of open lake and maze.  Dess whistled
dubiously but asked no questions.  We struck deep water at last and
were at the ferry I had indeed remembered.  The old ferryman peered
from his hut and came down to meet us, shading his eyes.  He seemed
to find us very strange indeed.  Where had we come from?

"We put in yesterday at Fort Christmas," I answered him, "and I'm
glad to say we've just finished navigating Lake Harney."

He stared in earnest.

"Lady," he said, "you haven't even reached Lake Harney.  You've
just come through Puzzle Lake."

The ferry here simply was not charted, and the episode proves
anything one may wish it to prove.  I felt contentedly that it
proved a harmony with the river so complete that not even the
mistaking of whole lakes could lose us.  Others of more childish
faith were sure it proved the goodness of God in looking after
imbeciles.  I know only that we were congratulated by fishermen the
entire length of the river on navigating Puzzle Lake successfully.

"I brought our boat through Puzzle Lake," I told them with simple
dignity, "by the sternest use of chart and compass."

And it was only in Dess' more evil moments that she added, "--in
the firm belief that she was crossing Lake Harney."

Lake Harney itself was four miles long, unmistakably broad and
open.  We crossed it in late afternoon with the westerly sun on our
left cheeks and a pleasant March wind ruffling the blue water.
Passing out of the lake we bought roe shad, fresh and glistening
from the seine.  The current quickened.  The hyacinths plunged
forward.  The character of the river changed the instant the lake
was left behind.  It was deep and swift, the color of fine clear
coffee that is poured with the sun against it.  It was mature.  All
its young torture was forgotten, and its wanderings in the tawny
marsh.  The banks had changed.  They were high.  Tall palms crowded
great live oaks and small trees grew humbly in their shadows.
Toward sunset we swung under the western bank at one of those spots
a traveller recognizes instinctively as, for the moment, home.

If I could have, to hold forever, one brief place and time of
beauty, I think I might choose the night on that high lonely bank
above the St. John's River.  We found there a deserted cabin, gray
and smooth as only cypress weathers.  There was no door for its
doorway, no panes or shutters for its windows, but the roof was
whole, with lichens thick across the shingles.  Dess built me a
fire of red cedar.  She sat on the sagging steps and whittled
endpieces for our cots, and I broiled shad and shad roe over
fragrant coals, and French-fried potatoes, and found I had the
ingredients for Tartar sauce.

Dess nailed a board between low rafters in the cabin from which to
hang the mosquito bar over our cots, and said, "Young un,
Christopher Columbus had nothing on us.  He had a whole ocean to
fool around in, and a what-do-you-call-it:--a continent, to come
out on.  Turn that boy loose in the St. John's marsh, and he'd have
been lost as a hound puppy."

We had hot baths out of a bucket that night, and sat on the cabin
steps in pajamas while the fire died down.  Suddenly the soft night
turned silver.  The moon was rising.  We lay on our cots a long
time wakeful because of beauty.  The moon shone through the doorway
and windows and the light was patterned with the shadows of Spanish
moss waving from the live oaks.  There was a deserted grove
somewhere behind the cabin, and the incredible sweetness of orange
bloom drifted across us.

A mocking-bird sang from a palm tree at sunrise.  We found by
daylight that the cabin sat among guava trees higher than the roof.
The yard was pink and white with periwinkles.  Dess shot a wild
duck on the wing with the .22 and I roasted it in the Dutch oven
for breakfast.  We lay all morning on the bank in the strong
sunlight, watching the mullet jumping in the river.  At noon we
went reluctantly to the water's edge to load the boat and move on.
The boat was half filled with water and was resting with an air of
permanence on the river bottom.

My first thought was of pure delight that it was no longer
necessary to leave this place.  But Dess was already stepping out
of her sailor trousers.  I too removed superfluous clothing.  We
bailed the boat and found two streams of water gushing in steadily
under bow and stern seats.  We managed to drag the boat on shore
and turn it upside down.  We found that the caulking had worked
loose out of two seams.  Dess donated a shirt, and for two hours
with pocket knives we stuffed strips of cloth into treacherous
cracks.  When we put the boat in the river again, the caulking

I begged to stay another night, but Dess was restless.  We pushed
on for the few hours left of daylight.  The shore line narrowed to
thin strips of sand with tall twisted palms along them.  The clear
brown river was glassy in the windless evening.  The palms were
mirrored along both banks, so that when white ibises flew over in a
rosy sunset, the river might have been the Nile.

We camped that night in comparative comfort under an upturned tree
root.  The spot was not tempting from the water, but once we were
snugged down, it proved cavelike and cozy.  A moccasin slithered
from under my feet at the edge of camp and went harmlessly about
his business.  Dess cut down a young palmetto and we had swamp
cabbage for dinner.  I cooked it with a piece of white bacon and
baked corn sticks in the Dutch oven to go with it.

In the morning we watched the hyacinth drift closely to be sure of
taking the cut to Prairie Landing instead of wandering into Lake
Jessup.  A highway crossed the river here and folk waved down to
us.  In the cut a woman was running a catfish line.  She was gaunt
and sun-tanned, ragged and dirty.  She pulled in the line, hand
over hand, with a quick, desperate accuracy.  She lifted a shaggy
head when we called "Howdy" and said "Hey," and bent again to her
line with a terrifying absorption.  Something about her shamed all
soft, clean women.

We cut across the south end of Lake Monroe and found that it was
Sunday in the city of Sanford.  We had reached the outpost of large-
vessel traffic on the St. John's, and we put-putted under the bow
of an incoming freight steamer.  We had meant to bathe and put on
clean shirts and slacks that morning, but there had been no landing
place among the marshes.  Dess strapped around her waist the
leather belt that held her bowie knife at one hip and her revolver
at the other, and felt better prepared for Sanford than if we had
been clean.  She landed us neatly at the city dock, in the lee of
an immaculate pleasure yacht from Long Island Sound.  The owner,
trim in double-breasted blue, came to the rail and looked down at
us.  We had also intended to do a better job of stowing.  The bow
end of our boat was piled untidily with our supplies, our folded
cots, our extra outboard motor and our gasoline tins.  Dess stood
up in the stern and stretched and shifted her armored belt.

She called up to the yacht owner, "Safe to come into this town?"

"That depends on what you are coming for," he said, and smiled.

"Not a thing but gasoline.  Where's the nearest place a fellow can
fuel up?"

"All the filling stations near the docks are closed this morning.
But I'm having my yacht refuelled, and a station is opening for me.
How much do you need?"

Dess checked our tins with her eye.

"Five gallons is about right."

He smiled again.

"I'm sending my car to the station.  If you will bring your tins
up, I'll be very happy to have my man take you along and bring you

"Thanks, fellow," Dess said.  "You're a white man."

There was a sound inside the yacht.  There simmered up the
companionway a woman, magnificent in pink spectator sports costume.
The crew jumped almost to attention and escorted her down the
yacht's gangplank.

The woman snapped over her shoulders, "I must have the car at once.
I cannot be late to church for this nonsense."

Our white man turned rosy and made a comradely gesture to us.

He leaned over and whispered, "The car will be back in just a
moment.  If you don't mind waiting--.  Please wait."

"O.K., fellow," Dess said.

The pink spectator sports swept into a limousine.  In a few minutes
the car had returned.  We were driven in style to a filling station
and our tins filled with gasoline.  We bought the New York Sunday
papers.  The yacht crew brought the tins down to us and helped us
re-stow our duffle.  Dess outlined our trip briefly to the owner.
She cranked up and we were off again.

"Good luck!" called the yacht owner.  "The very best of good luck!"

He waved after us as far as we could see him, as though reluctant
to break a mystic thread.  His face was wistful.

"The poor b--," Dess said pityingly and indignantly.  "I'll bet
he'd give his silk shirt to go down the river with us instead of
with Pink Petticoats."

We used the gasoline and forgot to read the papers.

Out of Lake Monroe we began to see fishermen pulling seines every
few miles along the river.  Here and there was a camp.  Once a
palmetto thatching made a tip-tilted shelter and a startlingly
pretty girl in overalls looked out with a placid face.  We passed
an old fisherman and a little girl in a boat.  The child was
rowing.  We encountered a tall lumber steamer in mid-stream.  The
book of Pilot Rules on my lap provided that the boat in our
position should swing to starboard, passing to port, and should
give two short distinct blasts on the boat's whistle to signify its
intention.  Two lusty blasts on my dog whistle brought no answering
blow from the steamer, but the cook, paring potatoes in the open
stern, waved to us as we angled to cross their wake.

We had "right clare river" now, the river life was indeed the
finest of lives, and there was no hurry left in the world.  We put
up a golden-brown deep creek and fished all afternoon.  A white
egret fished companionably with us a few yards away, and water
turkeys flapped their wings lazily from high cypresses.  A water
moccasin arched his six feet of magnificent mottled hide between a
spider lily and a swamp laurel.  The laurel was in full bloom and
the sunny creek was a wedge of fragrance.  We found a white sand
bar and had a swim in water clear as amber.

Camp that night was on a pine bluff, very high and dry and decent
after the tree root and the moccasin.  Storm threatened for the
first time and we stretched a tarpaulin between slash pines to make
a shelter.  We were on the east bank.  The moon and sun rose behind
us.  In the morning we found that small animals had dug holes all
about us while we slept.

We pushed the motor that day.  The river was deep and narrow.  The
banks were dense swamp, black with undergrowth.  A landing would
have been, for the most, impossible.  We ate a cold lunch as we
travelled.  Beyond Deland Landing we called at a houseboat tethered
to the bank.  Its owner had been captain of the old Clyde River
Line, and he received our request for advice on crossing Lake
George with the old-school graciousness of large craft meeting
small.  He took my compass well forward of the houseboat, away from
its metal stanchions, to chart our course across the fourteen-mile
lake the more precisely.  I made the mental note that perhaps I had
better move the cast iron Dutch oven from under my seat.  He gave
us a set of distance cards and a choice of courses.  The more
sporting course was the main channel used by large steamers.  In a
boat as small as ours we should be out of sight of land for nearly
an hour.  The west channel never entirely lost the land, but if it
came on to blow, we would do best by taking neither, and hugging
the west shore.  He bowed us courteously on our way.

We planned to camp as close as possible that night to the Volusia
bar.  We wanted to cross Lake George in the early morning before
the wind rose.  Beyond the village of Astor the scrub reared high
against the west.  Cypress swamp bordered the river.  There was
scarcely a patch of ground large enough to step out on.  We pushed
on to a cluster of fishing huts at the junction of lake and river.
Hyacinths moved here in vast green flexible sheets.  The huts were
on stakes over the river and were not inviting.

Only one stood on enough ground to offer camping facilities.  We
poled through the hyacinths and called from the rickety small dock.
A sullen-faced woman spoke curtly from the doorway.  We could see
the interior of the shack.  There were pallets on the floor; a
table; a chair or two.  A dirty child peered from her skirts.  We
were not wanted here, it was plain, but she was a squatter, with no
right to refuse us.  Dess and I debated the matter in low voices.
The woman, the place, seemed to me preferable to the dark swamp to
which we must return.  But the wind was freshening from the west.
Even now, hyacinths were piling in behind us.

Dess said, "I'd rather sleep with a moccasin over each shoulder
than get caught in a hyacinth block."

We swung about to turn back up the river.  As we pushed away, the
child dropped to the doorsill and began to pat his hands together.
He chanted with shrill delight, "They're going away!  They're going
away!"  I wondered what life had done to this woman and this child,
that, among a friendly fisher-folk, they should know such fear and
hate of strangers.

When the sun dropped behind the scrub, swamp and river were in
darkness.  At twilight we had retraced several miles.  When we
landed at the only promising opening, we found a comfortable square
of high ground.  As we were making camp three fishermen hailed us
excitedly.  Were we the women who had put in at Fort Christmas
nearly a week before?  If so, they must know.  Word had been sent
down the river from other fishermen to watch for us and to report
our safety.  The three were camped across the river from us.  They
had a trail cut into the swamp to a spot of sound dry earth.  Their
campfire flickered sociably all night.

The course for the main channel was, simply, north by east.  But
there was fog at daylight, and when the fog lifted a little the
wind came freshly from its week-long westerly quarter.  Boats twice
our size had been in trouble on Lake George.  Its squalls were
notably dangerous.  It seemed needlessly heroic to deny ourselves
the comfort of the sight of land.  We had no intention of hugging
the safe shore, so we compromised on the west channel.  We left the
great channel markers behind and a gust of wind twisted our stern.
There was a half hour when the haze threatened to obscure all
visible shore lines.  Then Drayton's Island lifted ahead.

Midway, the wind was blowing the whitecaps off the waves, but it
was helpfully behind us.  With both arms braced against the
steering handle of the motor, Dess kept the boat headed when water
that rolled like surf lifted our stern.  The propeller churned high
out of the water.  When it dropped again the boat lunged and

I called, "She's slueing badly!"

Dess shouted, "Young un, if you had this wind under your stern,
you'd slue, too!"

The distant shore seemed stationary.  We passed the north point of
Drayton's Island, where the main channel joined the west, with the
lake boiling after us.  At the first sheltered dock we stopped to
rest and an old Negro gave us fresh drinking water.  We had been
some two and a half hours in crossing the lake.

The river resumed its broad quiet way as though it had left no
tumult behind it.  It had the dignity of age, was not now in that
dark hurry to reach the sea.  At Welaka one afternoon we left the
hyacinths swirling leisurely and turned up our home river, the
Ocklawaha.  I thought in a panic, I shall never be happy on land
again.  I was afraid once more of all the painful circumstances of

But when the dry ground was under us, the world no longer fluid, I
found a forgotten loveliness in all the things that have nothing to
do with men.  Beauty is pervasive, and fills, like perfume, more
than the object that contains it.  Because I had known intimately a
river, the earth pulsed under me.  The Creek was home.  Oleanders
were sweet past bearing, and my own shabby fields, weed-tangled,
were newly dear.  I knew, for a moment, that the only nightmare is
the masochistic human mind.

23.  Who owns Cross Creek?

Thoreau went off to live in the woods alone, to find out what the
world was like.  Now a man may learn a deal of the general from
studying the specific, whereas it is impossible to know the
specific by studying the general.  For that reason, our
philosophers are usually the most unpractical of men, while very
simple folk may have a great deal of wisdom.  A friend of mine once
entertained Einstein on her fishing yacht off Miami.  She had
ordered the most elegant of lunches put up by the most elegant of
hotels.  Einstein ate busily on his cold roast squab.  He explored
the interior and pulled out its stuffing with a finger that had
measured the universe.  The stuffing was a large French prune,
soaked in sherry and stuffed in turn with an almond.  The great man
eyed it in horror and threw it overboard.  He thought plainly that
the gizzard had not been removed.  All his knowledge of light and
space had not fitted him to know that he would not, under any
circumstances, find an appended gizzard in a roast squab served him
on a yacht off Miami.

We at the Creek draw our conclusions about the world from our
intimate knowledge of one small portion of it.

Old Boss said, "The Creek doesn't amount to anything.  The people
don't amount to anything.  But if you're sick and have no money,
they'll cook for you and fetch it to you, and they'll doctor you,
and if you get past their doctoring, they'll send for a doctor and
pay his bill.  And if you die, they'll take up a collection and
bury you.  I figure it's just as close to Heaven here as any other

Martha and Old Boss are the best of us, and we trail on down
through those of us doing the best we can with whatever we have to
work with, to those who make no effort at all, and these lilies of
the field are perhaps the most happily if the least profitably
adjusted to life of us all.  I think we may have more than the
average share of tolerance and generosity.  This is because life
has not been easy for any of us, and because we live so close to
one another's difficulties, in spite of our individualistic
detachment, that when one of us suffers, the rest of us are
outraged and wounded, too.

All of Cross Creek was disturbed when one of the women came close
to dying through having "thrown away," as Martha puts it, an unborn
child who had no right to enter the world under the handicap of an
already over-large family burdened with poverty.  Ordinarily Martha
does not approve of such a "throwing away."

"I'se always taught my girls," she said, "to mind they manners with
the men.  But I'se told 'em, too, does you do wrong, now mind, does
you, and you gets kotched--be lady enough to bring the child into
the world."

In this particular case, she understood its exigencies.  I do not
know where or how Martha acquired her worldly wisdom, but she knew
the woman must have a "remedy" against similar future catastrophes.
She knew the best remedy recommended by the medical profession and
knew its cost.

"I'se talked to some o' the other ladies at the Creek," she said,
"an' times is so hard right now, cain't none of 'em contribute.
Hit takes three dollars, and I figured you might like to know."

I gave her the three dollars to take to our neighbor, and the offer
of the grove truck to take her to the doctor as soon as she was
able.  It is perhaps the strangest gift I have ever made.

We step on one another's toes at the Creek, inevitably, but
forgiveness follows quickly.  Mr. Martin forgave my shooting of his
pig because I "talked so honest."  We all forgave Henry his
shooting of Samson, because after all he was one of us, and we
loved the black rascal.  Tom Glisson forgave me my injustice
against him.  Our feud was violent.

One day my beautiful pointer dog, Mandy, struggled home from her
morning jaunt down the road and died within a few minutes in
convulsions.  She had been killed by strychnine poison.  I do not
know and perhaps shall never know who killed her, or whether the
matter was an unaccountable accident.  At any rate, I laid the
blame on neighbor Tom, for it was reported to me soon after that he
had been heard to say he would not have a female dog at Cross
Creek.  It seemed that backwoods morals were involved.  The dog had
been in season and I had kept her shut up past the presumably safe
two weeks, then had set her loose.  The backwoods is prudish, and
the mating of animals is not believed to be a salutary thing for
the young to observe.  It seemed archaic to me to blame the female
and not the aggressive males.

I broke off relations with Tom and his friendly family, forbade him
to set foot on my land, even to drive out his cows, refused to
listen to his explanations, and made dire threats in general.  A
year passed, a most unpleasant time, for all the Creek was divided.
It was necessary for the Glissons to pass my gate with averted
heads, and when we met in the village grocery store, embarrassment
took over the whole shabby building.  At the end of the year, my
fences were found cut, and the hogs and cattle of all the Creek
were at large in my grove.  I believe now that vagrant hunters had
taken the easiest way to get themselves and their dogs across the
property.  At the time, nothing would do but Tom was the culprit.

I sent a note to him:  "Tom Glisson.  I wish to see you.  Hurry up
about it."

He came, and we laid the cards on the table.  I stated my
grievances, and one by one he made a fool of me.  He had indeed
said that he would not have a female dog at the Creek, but he had
meant, not that he would take a hand to prevent another from having
one, but that he himself would not choose to have one.  He reminded
me of his own family's love of animals.

"I couldn't lift my hand against a dumb brute," he said, and added,
"nor, a speakin' one."

There was an unmistakable integrity in his facing of the facts,
going into each situation in detail.  His blue eyes were direct and
clear.  In a revelation, I knew the man's character.  Suddenly he
burst into tears.

"That note you sent me.  I'm as white as you are.  You wrote like I
was a nigger."

I was sick with shame.  I made my apologies, and I was in tears,
too.  He wiped his away with the back of his calloused hand.

"You abused me once, about the dog, and I forgive you then."

He laid his big hands on my shoulders.

"I'll forgive you again."

We shook hands and agreed to a fresh start.

"All we got to do," he said, "is jest talk things over and stick

I asked him then why another neighbor had insidiously tried to lay
on him the blame about my dog.  He thought deeply.

"All I can figure is, he's jealous.  He wanted to make trouble for
me.  He ain't got anywhere in his life.  You know how hard me and
my wife has worked.  You know we want our young uns to get a better
chance in life than we've done had.  We've got ahead a mite by near
about killin' ourselves, workin'.  But some folks is jealous of
another stridin'."

Tom is one of my best friends today.  It makes one very humble to
receive a forgiveness one does not deserve.

There was mutual forgiveness, too, in a passing triangle at the
Creek.  Three people lived here for a brief time, a woman, her
sweetheart and her husband.

Tom told me, "Luke found the pair of 'em off in the flat woods and
he takened a notion to the woman.  He washed her bottom and put a
clean shift on her and brought 'em both here, all cozy-like."

The husband was much older than the woman and things seemed to go
smoothly for a while.  Then one day he announced that he was tired
of fishing on the lake to make a living, while the newcomer stayed
in the house with his wife.  He would either stay at home, too, or
the intruder could fish with him.  The intruder meekly fished with
him.  While both were absent, their suspicions grew jointly.  That
strange community of men's reactions linked them together.  The
sweetheart moved away and the husband moved out.

Martha reported demurely, "Mr. Jackson done left he wife to her
devices.  I seed him settin' out to move acrost the lake.  Him and
his bed and his boat."

Soon after, the woman fell ill.  Martha nursed her and we all sent
her supplies.  The doctor reported there was no hope for her.  I
suspect Martha of having a hand in the general reconciliation.
Sweetheart and husband came back to the woman and took turns at
taking care of her.  The woman died and the two men went away
together, and the last I heard were farming and sharing, like good
bachelors, the housework.

I suppose there are a hundred other places where I might have found
what I found at Cross Creek.  George Sand wrote, in "La Mare au

"Nature possesses the secret of happiness, and no one has been able
to steal it from her.  The happiest of men would be he who, working
intelligently and laboring with his hands, drawing comfort and
liberty from the exercise of his intelligent strength, should have
time to live through his heart and his brain, to comprehend his own
work and that of God.  Happiness would be wherever the mind, the
heart and the arm should work together beneath the eye of
Providence, so that a holy harmony should exist between the
munificence of God and the rapture of the human soul."

This holy harmony is the ideal, but it does not take into account
the dual nature of man and the dual nature of the universe.  All
life is a balance, when it is not a battle, between the forces of
creation and the forces of destruction, between love and hate,
between life and death.  Perhaps it is impossible ever to say where
one ends and the other begins, for even creation and destruction
are relative.  This morning I crushed a fuzzy black caterpillar.
It was fulfilling its own destiny, trying to complete its own life
cycle.  Its only sin was that it was feeding on certain green
leaves that I wished to look at.  In the brief instant after the
crushing and before its death, did its minute mind wonder why an
unnamable catastrophe had overtaken it?  When a human life is
snuffed out untimely, can there be invisible forces whose wishes we
offend?  Can it be that one has eaten green leaves?  We should be
so happy to cooperate with the unvoiced demands if we were aware of
them.  The caterpillar would be quite willing to nibble in an
adjacent field, if the completion of his life span could be so

But in crushing the caterpillar, I have fed the ants.  They are
hustling to the feast, already tunnelling the body.  The ants would
applaud the treading of caterpillars.  The death of a human feeds,
apparently, nothing.  Or are there psychic things that are
nourished by our annihilation?

We know only that we are impelled to fight on the side of the
creative forces.  We know only that a sense of well-being sweeps
over us when we have assisted life rather than destroyed it.  There
is often an evil satisfaction in hate, satisfaction in revenge, and
satisfaction in killing.  Yet when a wave of love takes over a
human being, love of another human being, love of nature, love of
all mankind, love of the universe, such an exaltation takes him
that he knows he has put his finger on the pulse of the great
secret and the great answer.

Here at Cross Creek we sense this, sometimes dimly, sometimes
strongly.  Because we have adapted ourselves, with affection, to a
natural background that is congenial to us, we know that the
struggle is better done in love than in hate.  We feel a great pity
for the industrial laborer who toils only for what it will bring
him in pay, and will not do his work unless his pay pleases him.
If we tillers of the soil sat down in a pet and refused to turn our
furrows because our crops had failed us, the world would starve,
for all its riches.  We feel as great a pity for the industrial
capitalist who reckons living in terms of profit and loss.  Profit
and loss are incidental to life, and surely there is enough for us
all.  We know that work must be an intimate thing, the thing one
would choose to do if one had, as Tom said, "gold buried in
Georgia."  We know above all that work must be beloved.

We know that in our relations with one another, the disagreements
are unimportant and the union vital.

The question once arose, "Who owns Cross Creek?"  It came to
expression when Mr. Marsh Turner was turning his hogs and cattle
loose on us and riding drunkenly across the Creek bridge to drive
them home.  Tom Morrison, who does not own a blade of corn at the
Creek, but is yet part and parcel of it, became outraged by Mr.
Marsh Turner's arrogance.  Tom stood with uplifted walking stick at
the bridge, a Creek Horatio, and turned Mr. Marsh Turner back.

"Who do you think you are?" he demanded.  "How come you figure you
can turn your stock loose on us, and then ride up and down,
whoopin' and hollerin'?  You act like you own Cross Creek.  You
don't.  Old Boss owns Cross Creek, and Young Miss owns it, and old
Joe Mackay.  Why, you don't own six feet of Cross Creek to be
buried in."

Soon after this noble gesture was reported to me by Martha, I went
across the Creek in April to gather early blackberries.  I had not
crossed the bridge for some weeks and I looked forward to seeing
the magnolias in full bloom.  The road is lined with magnolia trees
and is like a road passing through a superb park.  There were no
magnolia blossoms.  It seemed at first sight that there were no
magnolia trees.  There were only tall, gray, rose-lichened trunks
from which the branches had been cut.  The pickers of magnolia
leaves had passed through.  These paid thieves come and go
mysteriously every second or third year.  One week the trees stand
with broad outstretched branches, glossy of leaf, the creamy buds
ready for opening.  The next, the boughs have been cut close to the
trunks, and it will be three years before there are magnolia
blossoms again.  After long inquiry, I discovered the use for the
stripped leaves.  They are used for making funeral wreaths.  The
destruction seemed to me a symbol of private intrusion on the right
of all mankind to enjoy a universal beauty.  Surely the loveliness
of the long miles of magnolia bloom was more important to the
living than the selling of the bronze, waxy leaves for funerals of
the dead.

I had a letter from a friend at this time, saying, "I am a firm
believer in property rights."

The statement disturbed me.  What is "property" and who are the
legitimate owners?  I looked out from my veranda, across the acres
of grove from which I had only recently been able to remove the
mortgage.  The land was legally mine, and short of long tax
delinquency, nothing and nobody could take it from me.  Yet if I
did not take care of the land lovingly, did not nourish and
cultivate it, it would revert to jungle.  Was it mine to abuse or
to neglect?  I did not think so.

I thought of the countless generations that had "owned" land.  Of
what did that ownership consist?  I thought of the great earth,
whirling in space.  It was here ahead of men and could conceivably
be here after them.  How should one man say that he "owned" any
piece or parcel of it?  If he worked with it, labored to bring it
to fruition, it seemed to me that at most he held it in fief.  The
individual man is transitory, but the pulse of life and of growth
goes on after he is gone, buried under a wreath of magnolia leaves.
No man should have proprietary rights over land who does not use
that land wisely and lovingly.  Steinbeck raised the same question
in his Grapes of Wrath.  Men who had cultivated their land for
generations were dispossessed because banks and industrialists
believed they could make a greater profit by turning over the soil
to mass, mechanized production.  But what will happen to that land
when the industrialists themselves are gone?  The earth will
survive bankers and any system of government, capitalistic, fascist
or bolshevist.  The earth will even survive anarchy.

I looked across my grove, hard fought for, hard maintained, and I
thought of other residents there.  There are other inhabitants who
stir about with the same sense of possession as my own.  A covey of
quail has lived for as long as I have owned the place in a bramble
thicket near the hammock.  A pair of blue-jays has raised its
young, raucous-voiced and handsome, year after year in the hickory
trees.  The same pair of red-birds mates and nests in an orange
tree behind my house and brings its progeny twice a year to the
feed basket in the crepe myrtle in the front yard.  The male sings
with a joie de vivre no greater than my own, but in a voice
lovelier than mine, and the female drops bits of corn into the
mouths of her fledglings with as much assurance as though she paid
the taxes.  A black snake has lived under my bedroom as long as I
have slept in it.

Who owns Cross Creek?  The red-birds, I think, more than I, for
they will have their nests even in the face of delinquent
mortgages.  And after I am dead, who am childless, the human
ownership of grove and field and hammock is hypothetical.  But a
long line of red-birds and whippoorwills and blue-jays and ground
doves will descend from the present owners of nests in the orange
trees, and their claim will be less subject to dispute than that of
any human heirs.  Houses are individual and can be owned, like
nests, and fought for.  But what of the land?  It seems to me that
the earth may be borrowed but not bought.  It may be used, but not
owned.  It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its
seasonal flowering and fruiting.  But we are tenants and not
possessors, lovers and not masters.  Cross Creek belongs to the
wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic
secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.


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