ページの画像
PDF
ePub

He stood in the canoe, gave a stroke which looked too gentle to be efficient but which resulted in sending him straight and far on his way, and he then presented these bars to the wave-lapped dusk:

“Her brow is like the snaw-drift,
Her neck is like the swan.”

The evening world was wrapped in a smoky amber haze that is all Florida knows of twilight. In this haze the land and water stretched away to infinity, owning no boundaries. In the sky, which appeared to have dropped till it was much closer to the earth, a few stars kept coming out and going in again, finding the night not yet dark enough to need them.

“That much of the song is true, at all events,” discovered Charles Roycroft.

CHAPTER IV

Wo: have poets never dropped a hint of the

fact that sometimes a picturesque pump won’t pump?” Laurie asked herself one morning, after persuasive and finally indignant manipulation of a rusty handle that merely hiccoughed and wheezed in lieu of producing a drop of water. She relinquished the handle at last, watching it asthmatically raise itself high in air and stay there at an angle no sensible pump arm is supposed to take, and then sat herself down on the Moloch’s sloppy platform to calm her state of mind by surveying the scenery. The “meditativeness” of the scenery was growing into her system, just as Mr. Hopkins had said it would. By the clock the morning was still delightfully young, but by the feel of the sun it might have been ardent midday. Warm and steaming perfumes floated around, coming from everywhere at once. It was like being in a conservatory. Cloistered in the citrus trees, all the unhysterical birds rested after the arduous exertions of their five o'clock matin concert, but the blue jays were still at large exchanging sarcastic shrieks about it, and on the dead limb of a pine a row of pessimistic critics in the shape of teetering crows laughed raucously. In the chicken yard the chickens were huddled plungingly in a far corner, awesomely watching a flock of buzzards take possession of the inclosure. The moment a buzzard leaves the air and comes to earth it behaves with the collapse and uselessness of a pricked balloon. These in the chicken yard were tumbling clumsily around like lomomotor ataxia victims, their big wings spread in constant readiness for flight, and they were hissing goosily at each other while defending choice bits of garbage. They were almost as large as eagles and quite as ferocious-looking. Laurie's sympathies were with the beleaguered chickens until a tiny mocking bird instituted a performance which showed up the buzzards for what they Were. The mocking bird had been watching the invaders from a fence-post, its expressive tail tipping up and down with an eloquence which amounted to talkativeness, its bright eyes filled with amusement. When unable to stand the bravado of the hissers any longer, it darted at them with a cheep that meant “Scat!” And with precipitancy and confusion the flock of buzzards scatted, rising in the air and making off like a stormdriven cloud of darkness. Then the mocking bird flew back to the post and cocked its eye merrily at Laurie as much as to say, “Did you extract the full humor from that ludicrous exhibition?” A mocking bird’s remarks are always refined. Under the same circumstances a jay would have said, “Say, dame, didn’t that beat all?” The chickens Laurie had succeeded in buying from the rural mail carrier, a bent old darky who rode a mule, and who, in the sandy silence of his long, hot route, did almost everything with the mail except put it into the right boxes. But he sinned with such simple

sweetness and real kindness of heart that nobody would have been brutal enough to complain.

Of course he was able to read, else he could not have passed the civil service examination—though he probably "passed” it by being hopped right over it by some friendly hand—but the act of reading entailed such a cock-fight experience with a pair of horn spectacles that the old colored man preferred to distribute the mail by faith alone, letting it fall into waste places like manna.

Is I got chickens, lady?” he echoed, bending benignantly down to Laurie who stood in the road beside his moth-eaten steed. "An' yo' determine yo’ ain' want this?” he sidetracked regretfully, looking down at a letter she had just handed back to him—a smeary missive scrawlingly but plainly addressed to one Bill Menefee. He reluctantly returned it to his saddle-bag. “Chickens?” remembering wearily. “Yes, lady, I is.”

“Will you sell me about a dozen ?”

“Sho'ly, sho'ly,” he answered, warming to the conversation. "Live er daid?"

“Alive, of course!"

“Sho'ly. Does yo' want de chickens to lay aigs?Or does yo' want de vari’ty what costs money and yo' keep mos’ly fo' displayment of 'em to yo’ fr’en's ?”

“Eggs,” announced Laurie with impact.

“Den I 'vise yo’ to pu'chase de frizzly vari’ty o' chicken."

“The what variety?"

“Frizzly vari’ty. Din' yo' know, lady, dat every chicken is some vari'ty? One vari’ty's laighone; one's coach in Chiney; one's wine dots. What I jes' enumerate is de high-price vari’ty; and yo’have to tend 'em like chillen. But frizzly chickens is homely nigger

chickens, wid scaley laigs and mighty few proud notions. Dey ambition is to lay aigs and dey lays 'em.” “Then please bring frizzly ones,” Laurie decided, turning away. She could not afford to linger all day in the middle of the road the way the mail evidently could. And next morning there he was with twelve frizzly chickens tied together, two and two, and strung across the mule's neck, where they hung, uncomplainingly fluttering, six on one side, six on the other, changing the mule into quite a Pegasus. The philosophical fowls, turning the outing into a treat, pecked pleasantly into likely looking places among the mule's fuzz. After the labor of introducing them to their new home Laurie had no further trouble with them. Calm fails to describe them. But they were as composite as composed; architecturally they showed the bad points of every breed known to hendom. Any one of them could say, with Alexander Pope,

“Keep on, kind friends, and let me see,
All that disgraced my betters met in me!”

Their color was mostly that of a brown Betty teapot, and one feather sprouted forward, another back, a third straight up. This gave them the disreputable appearance of having been out all night in a brawl. But they preserved their ambitions—they laid.

“And grandpa likes eggs as much as he needs them,” now mused Laurie contentedly, turning her glance from the frizzly comforts to scan the landscape for the old II18.Il.

There he was, at a near distance. In his decent black garb, with his silvery hair almost touching his bent

« 前へ次へ »