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Description de l’éditeur
Over and over again had Mark and Ruth Elmer read this paragraph, which appeared among the "Norton Items" of the weekly paper published in a neighboring town:
"We are sorry to learn that our esteemed fellow-townsman, Mark Elmer, Esq., owing to delicate health, feels compelled to remove to a warmer climate. Having disposed of his property in this place, Mr. Elmer has purchased a plantation in Florida, upon which he will settle immediately. As his family accompany him to this new home in the Land of Flowers, the many school-friends and young playmates of his interesting children will miss them sadly."
"I tell you what, Ruth," said Mark, after they had read this item for a dozen times or more, "we are somebodies after all, and don't you forget it. We own a plantation, we do, and have disposed of our PROPERTY in this place."
As Mark looked from the horse-block on which he was sitting at the little weather-beaten house, nestling in the shadow of its glorious trees, which, with its tiny grass-plot in front, was all the property Mr. Elmer had ever owned, he flung up his hat in ecstasy at the idea of their being property owners, and tumbled over backward in trying to catch it as it fell.
"What I like," said Ruth, who stood quietly beside him, "is the part about us being interesting children, and to think that the girls and boys at school will miss us."
"Yes, and won't they open their eyes when we write them letters about the alligators, and the orange groves, and palm-trees, and bread-fruit, and monkeys, and Indians, and pirates? Whoop-e-e-e! what fun we are going to have!"
"Bread-fruit, and monkeys, and pirates, and Indians in Florida! what are you thinking of, Mark Elmer?"
"Well, I guess 'Osceola the Seminole' lived in Florida, and it's tropical, and pirates and monkeys are tropical too, ain't they?"
Just then the tea-bell rang, and the children ran in to take the paper which they had been reading to their father, and to eat their last supper in the little old house that had always been their home.
Mr. Elmer had, for fifteen years, been cashier of the Norton Bank; and though his salary was not large, he had, by practising the little economies of a New England village, supported his family comfortably until this time, and laid by a sum of money for a rainy day. And now the "rainy day" had come. For two years past the steady confinement to his desk had told sadly upon the faithful bank cashier, and the stooping form, hollow cheeks, and hacking cough could no longer be disregarded. For a long time good old Dr. Wing had said,
"You must move South, Elmer; you can't stand it up here much longer."
Both Mr. Elmer and his wife knew that this was true; but how could they move South? where was the money to come from? and how were they to live if they did? Long and anxious had been the consultations after the children were tucked into their beds, and many were the prayers for guidance they had offered up.
At last a way was opened, "and just in time, too," said the doctor, with a grave shake of his head. Mrs. Elmer's uncle, Christopher Bangs, whom the children called "Uncle Christmas," heard of their trouble, and left his saw-mills and lumber camps to come and see "where the jam was," as he expressed it. When it was all explained to him, his good-natured face, which had been in a wrinkle of perplexity, lit up, and with a resounding slap of his great, hard hand on his knee, he exclaimed,
"Sakes alive! why didn't you send for me, Niece Ellen? why didn't you tell me all this long ago, eh? I've got a place down in Florida, that I bought as a speculation just after the war. I hain't never seen it, and might have forgot it long ago but for the tax bills coming in reg'lar every year. It's down on the St. Mark's River, pretty nigh the Gulf coast, and ef you want to go there and farm it, I'll give you a ten years' lease for the taxes, with a chance to buy at your own rigger when the ten years is up."
"But won't it cost a great deal to get there, uncle?" asked Mrs. Elmer, whose face had lighted up as this new hope entered her heart.
"Sakes alive! no; cost nothin'! Why, it's actually what you might call providential the way things turns out. You can go down, slick as a log through a chute, in the Nancy Bell, of Bangor, which is fitting out in that port this blessed minit. She's bound to Pensacola in ballast, or with just a few notions of hardware sent out as a venture, for a load of pine lumber to fill out a contract I've taken in New York. She can run into the St. Mark's and drop you jest as well as not. But you'll have to pick up and raft your fixin's down to Bangor in a terrible hurry, for she's going to sail next week, Wednesday, and it's Tuesday now."
So it was settled that they should go, and the following week was one of tremendous excitement to the children, who had never been from home in their lives, and were now to become such famous travellers.
Mark Elmer, Jr., as he wrote his name, was as merry, harum-scarum, mischief-loving a boy as ever lived. He was fifteen years old, the leader of the Norton boys in all their games, and the originator of most of their schemes for mischief. But Mark's mischief was never of a kind to injure anybody, and he was as honest as the day is long, as well as loving and loyal to his parents and sister Ruth.