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for the thermometer, he no longer bothered about it. He and the girl sat and watched silently. Talking would have been too much of a bellowing task to undertake, anyhow. Worn out by opposing conflicts, dulled by the noise and smoke, the girl finally dropped asleep, unaware of it, knowing only that the wide fire seemed to narrow to a dancing thread and then blow out in the peaceful darkness of unremembered dreams. When she awoke it was to a consciousness first of buttons and a watch chain surprisingly near her face; next she realized that her pillow, though warm and comfortable, was not of the usual downy consistency; finally she saw a gray sky above her in lieu of a bedroom roof. That made her sit up with a remembering haste. “Have I been asleep?” she confusedly asked. “Very probably,” he answered with extreme courtesy of doubt, considering that he had held her for an hour and that his mackinaw was still folded around her. “Oh, my goodness!” she murmured, swaying to her feet and backing to a correct conventional distance. “I am sure I am very much obliged to you for—” but the real indebtedness was too heavy and awful to mention—“obliged to you for your coat,” she ended, red but polite. “You are entirely welcome,” he answered, snatching after his watch which in the scramble had been jerked from his pocket. “I hope I didn’t hurt it,” she mentioned, trying to tuck her hair neatly away under her cap again. If it was going to play sneak thief it had better be confined. “You cannot hurt this turnip,” he replied. His
limber language proved that it had humanized him considerably to be up all night. He at once examined the miniature. “The only valuable thing about it is this picture of my mother.” “Your mother,” exclaimed the girl, craftily covering up her vehemence by adding composedly, “is very young looking.” “Young looking? My word!” he exclaimed, surveying the picture with all of a son’s utter disbelief in a parent’s youth. While he was engaged in winding and otherwise cosseting his timepiece, she took a step forward and examined the surrounding landscape, living over again the battle of the night. Through the gray of the dawn she saw that her fruit hung practically uninjured. Down the rows where the woodpiles so long had stood there were now but a hundred heaps of ashes. She forced her gaze to travel farther, her soul shrinking from what she knew she would see. And she saw it— Roycroft’s fields lying in black waste, the tender nursery stock charred to death, some pine stumps still smoldering and burning to tell the tale. In mute anguish she turned and looked at the man who had done so much for her. Her eyes filled with tears. “What now, Miss Laurie?” he asked, rising and coming towards her. “Believe me, you ought to be smiling, for your crop is safe as the Bank of England.” “I was thinking of the cost,” she answered. “How can I ever thank you?” “By letting me be present when that fox of a Selig tries to underpay you,” he answered, unceremoniously departing to his boat. He was brave enough to face anything but gratitude.
OME two weeks later the fruit was picked. A S rollicking horde of noisy negroes swarmed into the grove and swept it clean with cyclonic rapidity. Every tree showed a visible ladder and owned an invisible blackbird, who, with a canvas bag around his neck and curved clippers in his claws, fought through thorns for the fruit and got every last one. This picking is a fine art. Not everybody with a ladder and shears can gather oranges for the market, for unless an orange shows a rudiment of a stem it is a cull, and if it shows more than a rudiment of a stem it is also a cull, the idea being that no stem makes a rotting spot and too much stem makes a dangerous spear. The grove under invasion was very interesting to Laurie, who spent every minute she could spare in listening to the songs of the pickers. One moment the grove would be as silent as a primeval forest, then a hidden blackbird would boom out,
“Rock me in de ebberlastin' arms, brudders!”
And immediately the place became a grand choir of song in an anthem of real sublimity. From one group of trees would issue the plaintive wail “Rock me!” then another group of trees, tenor this time, would continue, “Rock me!” and lastly the whole would unite in a mighty chorus of religious frenzy:
"Rock me in de ebberlasting arms ob Jesus,
And Ah won't feel any danger ob de earth or ob de deep. Rock me in de ebberlasting arms ob Jesus,
And Ah'm ready, Lord, at any time to fall asleep!"
Or if it wasn't religion that kept them occupied it was repartee. For something very choice would issue from the heart of a tree, and then an earth-shaking guffaw of laughter would rise up on every side.
It was really lonely after they were gone. And the trees looked as ragged and limp and denuded of riches as if they had been dragged through the proverbial knothole, taking several days to erect their branches and straighten out their disarranged leaves, preparatory to the great business of putting on new bloom.
For a citrus tree keeps busy all the time, and February is its rush season. February in Florida is as near heaven as can be imagined. The air is perpetually drenched with hidden sweetness of newborn blossoms, and the earth is a solid blue carpet of long-stemmed violets, pale things of such exquisite beauty that one forgives them for being scentless. But such forgiveness does not need to be extended to the wild pawpaw, surely the most odorous shrub that ever covered a county with white loveliness and subtle perfume! And the generous extravagance of it! One does not have to search for the wild pawpaw, for it is everywhere, by roadsides and in pine forests, by the kitchen door or on the far margins of lakes, freely breathing out its magnolia essences by day and night, converting barren fields into royal conservatories of bloom.
It was on one of the most perfect of these perfect days that Mr. Herman Selig arrived at McAllister's grove to settle. And, claiming the right he had bargained for, Charles Roycroft made a third party at
the business interview. The three of them were at—or rather in—Laurie's front gate—a hospitable resting place with a roof on stilts, and furnished with rustic seats, these last being of great convenience to the ants and roaches. “Mr. Selig, I suppose you know that oranges are selling in New York for four dollars a box, and in Chicago for four ninety?” was Roycroft’s pointed beginning. “So?” asked the Jew, with a shrug of his round shoulders. He hunted for the least knotty portion of the rustic bench, found it, sat down, and began rolling his invisible dough-ball between his palms. “But the young lady signed for sixty cents,” he concluded, grunting it out firmly. He was so bristly of chin and so small eyed as to look tremendously like a wild boar. Still rolling his dough-ball he darted a glance from the angry young man to the prettily embarrassed girl, evidently linking them together as partners in a planned attack, and ready to rout both of them with his documentary evidence. “Mr. Selig is quite right. I did sign for sixty cents,” said the girl frankly. This free admission obviously surprised the money lender. He had not been looking for it. It made matters easier than he expected. “You see,” he remarked, addressing Roycroft ironically. “That was when fruit promised to glut the market,” said Roycroft, growing hotter with indignation. “If you hold Miss McAllister to such a contract it will be robbery!” “Will be . . . say id again.”