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Then, too, on a moonlight night Florida's underbrush has an orchestra of insects with flutes on their wings and violins on their hind legs, and a choir of tree toads that can chirp and trill like tiny birds, so that the argent earth furnishes a fitting fairy music for the moon-ray's dancing. Old indeed must be the mortal who can look and listen without shaking off the shackles of fleshly existence and becoming of “the stuff that dreams are made of.”
But out of her wonderful dreams Laurie's sleepless responsibilities kept bringing her sternly back to the actual. Tonight, especially in the glorious moonlight, her grove looked like wealth, its five hundred trees, each standing in its perfect circle of raked sand, standing as trim and orderly as so many schoolboys lined up in waiting to be called into the school building. Laurie had scrubbed every solitary one of those urchins with whale-oil soapsuds—as fishy a bath as she had ever administered in her life to anything. The grove was no longer a shabby orphan; it had an industrious mother and showed it. Not only had it been scrubbed and sprayed, but it had had its wild hair clipped. So far so good, but the benefits of this care would not be accruing till next year, and the best that could be said of the present crop was that it might stay on till it was gathered. Every high wind brought down bushels.
“And they are the finest flavored oranges it has ever been my good fortune to taste," was old Andrew McAllister's constant verdict, when he pottered happily from tree to tree sampling the drops, undeterred by their greenness, for nothing improves the quality of fruit like feeling an ownership in it, and the proud words “my granddaughter's grove" were continually on The McAllister's lips. He had really helped her in
the pruning of it, though it was as well for the grove that his muscles had been unable to keep up with his enthusiasm. He was more firmly in love with Florida than ever.
Most people yearn for apples when in an orange land, as they yearn for oranges when in an apple land. This one idiosyncrasy The McAllister lacked, therefore in balmy Florida he had not only the food and climate of his liking, but days that were full of sunshine and nights that were peaceful with sleep.
The moon rose higher and more glorious. Laurie had it all to herself without entirely enjoying her monopoly. One of its silvery bridges glistened straight across the lake, connecting her tumble-down dock with the point on the opposite shore whence Roycroft's canoe so often put out. Ashamed of herself for so doing, but unable to control the thought, she began to wish that she might see it now—that he might cross over on that silver bridge—that he might come and sit down on the steps with her and have a little chat that was not entirely oranges. Good moonlight is shamefully wasted that is shared with only a frizzly chicken. Yet Roycroft's interest in her was but the interest of one grove-owner in the fortunes of another.
“For if I were the pretty girl whose picture is in his watch he'd be over here on a night like this if he had to swim,” Laurie stoically told Laurie.
A clammy hand was at her heart. She did not like the heavy feel of it. Then she heard something that startled her by its unusualness at that hour. It was an automobile coming up her lane, driving through the sand with a ruthless force that utterly contradicted the likelihood of its being the gentle tin gazelle of Mr. Hopkins. The machine stopped, and a man got out. Not knowing who it could be, the girl, rising hastily,
located the pistol which she carried in a pocket in the folds of her dress. Roycroft had persisted in his refusal to let her keep it pillowed on a sachet bag in her top drawer, which she had tried to convince him was much the safest place for it.
The man who now plodded towards her through the clear moonlight came too openly to invite a shot, but he was anything but a reassuring-looking object. He was a squat, stoop-shouldered individual, past middleage, and was hung with garments so loose that they suggested an ill-advised donation. It is sometimes more charitable to surmise that a man has been given his clothes than to accuse him even in thought of having bought such things.
“Good evening,” said Laurie, in a tremble, but hospitable. “Do you want anything?”
He took off his hat, but only to scratch his head. Its cropped gray hairs and those of his stubby beard stuck out with the coarse pugnacity of pig's bristles. The personal amelioration being concluded, he firmly resettled his hat.
"It's not me that wants anything,” he answered gratingly, “but I've been told that you do. I'm Herman Selig. So you're in trouble, heh?”
“Yes, Mr. Selig, I am in trouble, but not of a sort to prevent you from treating me with politeness," she replied before she could stop herself. She spoke gently, and her tremble was quite gone.
The money lender stood immovable, apparently to let this remark slide from him like snow from a slippery roof. He ruminatingly rubbed the palms of his hands together while he squinted at his customer studiously. “Suppose then, Miss Laurie McAllister, that you
ask me to come in or to sit down, heh?” was his counter-criticism, every “g” hissing snakily.
She led the way into the parlor and turned up the lamp. The room's old-fashioned furniture gleamed placid welcome from every polished lump and bump. Herman Selig sat down and took a carefully appraising view of everything in sight, beginning with his pale young hostess and ending with the ebony frame of the plate-glass mirror. All the while he quietly rubbed his palms as though rolling an invisible dab of dough into a ball-had there really been a ball it would have come out badly soiled.
The girl seated herself not far from him, but kept a little table between them-an unconsciously placed symbol of demarcation. She waited for him to speak.
“Well, how much do you want, and for what?” he finally asked, hunching his stooped shoulders by way of punctuation.
“I think you must know already from Mr. Roycroft, who said he would ask you to come,” she ventured timidly, not at all up in her part. She had never before played a borrowing rôle.
“So! Let me hear it again from you,” he demanded shrewdly.
This hint that the two tales might not match made Laurie desperately explicit, and to her great surprise she soon found herself telling her grim companion all her story-of her bereavements and of her subsequent struggles to earn a living for her grandfather and herself, of the old man's failing health and dislike of the northern winters, of her reckless buying of unseen property on the childish hope that it would bring in a big income every year, of her disillusionment, of her determination to conquer a bad situation and wrest at least
a living from the place, and of her immediate need of money to buy her hungry land its food. She broke down under the strain and pain of the telling, and told the last with down-drooped head and quiet weeping.
“That's about all, Mr. Selig,” she concluded, struggling to speak without sobs. “I don't know what makes me cry so easily. I've done it twice lately. I think it must be the heat. This is a warm climate."
She furtively wiped her eyes, then leaned her head upon her hand and glanced across the table at him apologetically.
His leathery face was unmoved.
“Yes, this is a warm climate,” he agreed, rubbing his dough-ball assiduously, "for some people; others keep cool. I keep cool—it pays. I am to understand, among other things, that you are willing I should buy your crop ? “Yes, I awfully wish you
would.” “How much will you take for it?”
“All you will give,” she said. “All that it's worth, I mean. I think I must have about three hundred boxes."
“Between four and five hundred,” he stated curtly. “Yesterday I looked the grove over from the road. You were on your porch feeding your kitty, and you had just finished lighting the old man's pipe.” This he threw in by way of reply to the question in her glance. “Say four hundred. Listen now! I offer you the full price, a good one-sixty cents a box on the tree when ripe. Take this or leave this. How about it?" He rubbed his ball slowly.
“Oh, I take it,” she said eagerly.
“Then sign!” With a quick movement he threw away his make-believe ball, with a quicker he produced from his pocket a prepared agreement, also a fountain