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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesChildren Of The Market Place - Chapter 6
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Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 6 Post by :otto_jurscha Category :Long Stories Author :Edgar Lee Masters Date :May 2012 Read :1698

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Children Of The Market Place - Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI

We were some hours getting through the sand. Then we came to hilly country overgrown with oaks and some pines. Later the soil was rocky. We skirted along a little river; and here and there I had my first view of the prairie. The air above me was thrilling with the song of spring birds. I did not know what they were. Some of them resembled the English skylark in the habit of singing and soaring. But the note was different.

My head felt heavy. I seemed to be growing more listless. But I could not help but note the prairie: the limitless expanse of heavy grass, here and there brightened by brilliant blossoms. All the houses along the way were built of logs. The inhabitants were a large breed for the most part, tall and angular, dressed sometimes in buckskin, coonskin caps. Now and then I saw a hunter carrying a long rifle. The wild geese were flying....

Some of the passengers were dressed in jeans; others in linsey-woolsey dyed blue. As we stopped along the way I had an opportunity to study the faces of the Illinoisians. Their jaws were thin, their eyes, deeply sunk, had a far-away melancholy in them. They were swarthy. Their voices were keyed to a drawl. They sprawled, were free and easy in their movements. They told racy stories, laughed immoderately, chewed tobacco. Some of the passengers were drinking whisky, which was procured anywhere along the way, at taverns or stores. The stage rolled from side to side. The driver kept cracking his whip, but without often touching the horses, which kept an even pace hour after hour. We had to stop for meals. But the heavy food turned my stomach. I could not relish the cornbread, the bacon or ham, the heavy pie. When we reached La Salle, where I was to get the boat, I found myself very fatigued, aching all through my flesh and bones, and with a dreamy, heavy sensation about my eyes.

The country had become more hilly. And now the bluffs along the Illinois River rose with something of the majesty of the Palisades of the Hudson. The river itself was not nearly so broad or noble, but it was not without beauty.... More oblivious of my surroundings than I had been before, I boarded _The Post Boy_, a stern wheeler, and in a few minutes she blew the most musical of whistles and we were off....

The vision of hills and prairies around me harmonized with the dreamy sensations that filled my heavy head and tired body. I sat on deck and viewed it all. I did not go to the table. The very smell of the food nauseated me. I do not remember how I got to bed, nor how long I was there. I remember being brought to by a negro porter who told me that we were approaching Bath where I was to get off. I heard him say to another porter: "That boy is sure sick." And then a tall spare man came to me, told me that he was taking the stage as I was, and was going almost to Jacksonville, and that he would see me through. He helped me in the stage and we started. I remember nothing further....

I became conscious of parti-colored ribbons fluttering from my body as if blown by a rapid breeze from a central point of fixture in my breast. Was it the life going out of me, or the life clinging to me in spite of the airs of eternity? My eyes opened. I saw standing at the foot of the bed, an octoroon about fourteen years of age. She was staring at me with anxious and sympathetic eyes, in which there was also a light of terror. I tried to lift my hands. I could not. I was unable to turn my body. I was completely helpless. I looked about the room. It was small, papered in a figure of blue. Two windows stared me in the face. "Where am I?" I asked. "Yo's in Miss Spurgeon's house ... yo's in good hands." At that moment Miss Spurgeon entered. She was slender, graceful. Her hair was very black. Her eyes gray and hazel. Her nose delicate and exquisitely shaped. She put her hand on my brow and in a voice which had a musical quaver, she said: "I believe the fever has left you. Yes, it has. Would you like something to eat?" I was famished and said: "Yes, something, if you please." She went out, returning with some gruel. Turning to the octoroon she said: "Will you feed him, Zoe?" And Zoe came to the chair by the bed and fed me, for I could not lift a hand. Then I fell into a refreshing sleep. I had been ill of typhoid. Had I contracted it from the oysters, or from food on the steamer? But I had been saved. Miss Spurgeon had refused to let the doctor bleed me. She believed that careful nursing would suffice, and she had brought me through. But I had a relapse. I was allowed to eat what I craved. I indulged my inordinate hunger, and came nearer to death than with the fever itself. But from this I rallied by the strength of my youth and a great vitality. All the while Zoe and Miss Spurgeon watched over me with the most tender care. And one day I came out of a sleep to find Reverdy Clayton by the bed.

A father could not have looked at me with more solicitude. His voice was grave and tender. His eyes bright with sympathy. "You will soon be well again," he said. He took my hand, sat down by me, cautioned me not to worry about my business affairs, told me that nothing would happen adverse to my interests while I was incapacitated, that Mr. Brooks was guarding my affairs and that they were not in peril.... And it turned out that Miss Spurgeon was his fiancee, that it was to her that he had returned from Chicago. They were soon now to be married. I asked him if Zoe was a slave. He laughed at this. "No one born in Illinois is a slave," he said. "This is a free country. Zoe was born here."

Miss Spurgeon came in and I could now see them side by side. They seemed so kind and noble hearted, so suited to each other. I loved both of them.

I was stronger now, was sitting up part of each day. I reached out my hands and took their hands, bringing them together in a significant contact. Miss Spurgeon bent over me, placing a kiss upon my brow. "You are a dear boy," she said. And Reverdy said: "The Lord keep you always, son." Their eyes showed the tears, and as for me my cheeks were suddenly wet. Then from what they said I learned that Reverdy had been gone many months, that Sarah, for that was her name, had been in great anxiety, that Reverdy had just got out of the service the morning I had seen him in Chicago; and that he had speculated on staying there a while for the purpose of improving his fortune with a view to his marriage. But now having returned, they were to be married soon. What had been the delay thus far? They were waiting for me to get well. I had interfered, no doubt, with the wedding plans, with the arranging and ordering of the house for the wedding. But they said they wished me to be present. Sarah thought there was something well omened in my meeting with Reverdy in Chicago, and in the fate that had brought me to her house, and she wished to fulfill the happy auspices to the end by having me for the chief guest at the wedding. But how had I come to this household?

The stranger who had helped me on the boat at Bath had turned me over to a young man named Douglas who had brought me here, because of the poor comforts at the inn of Jacksonville. Douglas had been here but a few months himself, having come from the state of Vermont. He, too, had been ill of the same disease; had been confined under wretched circumstances at Cleveland on his way west; had nearly died. When he saw me he was moved to do the very best for me. He had brought me to Miss Spurgeon's and pleaded with her to take me in. And she had consented to the ordeal of my care, because Zoe insisted upon it, offering to take the burden of waiting upon me and watching over me. The Spurgeon house was quite the best in this town of 1000 people. Sarah's father and mother were both dead, and she was living here with a grandmother, a woman now of more than eighty, whom I did not see until I began to go about the house.... Meantime Zoe's face and manner became clearer to me day by day. She was not very darkly hued, rather lighter than the Hindus I had seen in England. Her hair was abundant and straight. Her lips were full but shapely. Her nose rather of a Caucasian type. Her voice was the most musical one could imagine. And she sang--she sang "Annie Laurie" at times in a voice which thrilled me. There was grace in her carriage, charm in her gestures and movements. And she waited upon me with the affection of a sister.

As I grew better Mr. Brooks came to call upon me. And at last I went to his office to talk over the matter of my father's estate. It was now July and the heat was more terrible than I had ever conceived could prevail outside of a tropical country.

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