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CHAPTER XVII—FRANCES ESTABLISHES A SCHOOL. SEA-SICKNESS NEARING HAVANA

UPON our return home, Frances again set to work upon a self-imposed task she had begun in the spring. For years she had felt the need of a branch of the public school in our community. When our children were small they had to go a mile and a half to the Dallas Academy, and always walk whatever the weather might be, as in those days, Selma had no car line. Frances never forgot how sorry she was for the children then, and always said if she ever got the time from her numerous home and church duties, she would bend her energies toward securing an East End School. For nearly forty years she had taught the primary class in Sunday-school, and the welfare of all the neighborhood children was of vital importance to her. To be sure, conditions had improved to the extent of street-railway accommodations, but that only helped matters occasionally, as our people could not afford the additional two dollars per month for car fare. So the little tots faced the question of a three-mile walk, with twice crossing two railroad tracks daily, in going to school, besides being often burdened with books beyond their strength—the day of the all-sufficient blue-back speller having long since vanished, as we all well know. A branch school had been built shortly before this, but it was placed only two blocks nearer our part of the town.

Frances began her work by getting information from the Board of Trustees as to what must be done in order to secure their co-operation, and was told that if she could get thirty pupils they would consider her request. Even this beginning proved a more difficult task than one would think, for parents who had repeatedly expressed a wish for school privileges near by, hesitated about signing their names when it came to the point, offering some trivial excuse for waiting a while. Finally, however, the thirty names were secured, after Frances had done miles of walking and leagues of talking. (How true it is that a pioneer in any direction always finds the tangled wildwood obstructing and delaying his passage!) When the list was laid before the trustees and it was found that Frances had signed for several of the people, she was told that those could not be accepted. Then, two of the families lived beyond the city limits, and only had a right to a county school; two or three were already pupils of the Baker School, and though they were little things they must not be taken away. So most of the work was to be done over again.

My wife courageously started the second time in her rounds, though the summer heat was by that time in full blast, but she said she must have "her school" by the coming session. The next time the list was placed before the trustees, Frances had only signed for two would-be patrons, one of whom could neither read nor write, and the other had rheumatism in her arm. After due consideration, the Board of Trustees stated their financial inability to furnish a building for the proposed school, but agreed to supply a teacher if my wife could get a place in which to teach. For quite a while this seemed an effectual handicap to the movement, but Frances did not give up planning and working, and at last appealed to Mayor Atkins, who put the matter before the City Council, and a resolution was passed for the city to pay rent for a building until other arrangements could be made. Then followed a search for a suitable house, one being at last secured on Florence Street, just a block from us. All these hindrances had consumed much time, but the school was finally opened early in December, with Miss Ida Ramsden in charge. Upon investigation, it was ascertained that there was an appropriation for an East End public school building. Thereupon, the "City Fathers" generously agreed to complete their share in the enterprise by purchasing a lot, and the third year of its existence the school opened in its own up-to-date building on East Alabama Avenue, thanks to the hearty co-operation of Mr. Joe Baker, Mr. A. G. Parrish, and Dr. Harper, who did much toward pushing the work along.

All of that extra worry and exertion during the summer and fall of 1908 told upon Frances, who, though beaming with satisfaction, showed unmistakable signs of being rather run down in health. So, after the Christmas holidays, thinking a rest and change of scene would do her good, I told her to get ready for a trip, and on February 2, 1909, we set out for the southern part of Florida.

Stopping at St. Augustine for several hours, we saw the principal points of interest, the Ponce de Leon Hotel coming in for its share of wonder and admiration. It is a magnificent building and would be hard to describe. We did not fail to drink from the famous Ponce de Leon spring. It was curbed like a well and had a small,
old-fashioned windlass that drew up a small bucket. A lady stood there to draw water and sell it to the tourists, at five cents per glass. We were told that the spring only flows at certain times, usually a few hours daily. We also went into a museum and saw many curious old-time articles, some of which dated back to the Revolutionary War. A person could stay in that old building for hours, and not examine minutely all the curios it contains.

From St. Augustine we took the train for Miami, arriving there in the morning. After locating, we started out for a trip up the Miami River to the head of navigation, seeing much that was pleasing to the eye. We visited a large grove of fruit trees in which there were oranges, lemons, limes, grape-fruit and coconuts. As was customary, we had our pictures taken in the grove. We also stopped at an alligator farm. There were quite a number of the rusty creatures all ages and sizes. Upon landing at the Everglades, we went afoot over a plank walk to the observatory. This we climbed, and had a fine view of the country for miles around. We were informed that a western syndicate had made a deal of a million and a half dollars in those Everglades lands.

We were continually observing sights new to us in and around Miami. It seemed curious indeed to see extensive farms of various kinds of flourishing looking vegetables growing in the sand! Frances never tired of watching the immense quantity of pineapples that grew in the vicinity. There were acres and acres, and the fruit nestling in the green foliage did make a lovely picture.

While out on a walk one day we reached a house in an attractive, shady situation, and surrounded by banana trees. A pleasant faced lady came out and we got into a conversation. She told us that though that portion of Florida is fine to visit during the winter months, in April and May, even, the weather gets extremely hot, and the sun shining at its brightest on the white sand is very trying to the eyes. After a stay of two weeks at Miami, Frances not having improved as much as I wished, I decided to take a run to Havana. So to Cuba we went.

Neuralgia had taken hold of Frances in the meanwhile, and the remedies we procured failed to give relief. We began our trip by way of the Florida and East Coast railway as far as Knight's Key. This way led through a low, flat country until within thirty miles of its terminus, when we struck the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It gives one a curious sensation to ride in a train over the big ocean! The foundation of the track is made of coral, while in the deep water concrete arches are supplied with twenty-five or thirty foot openings to allow the water to pass. We had the pleasure of making the run with a conductor who was an old acquaintance, Mr. Alf Seale. Reaching Knight's Key at seven A.M., we left on the steamer A. W. Perry, at eight o'clock. In a short while my wife had to take to her berth, but though I "got a little off" directly after starting, managed to keep from going down. We had a rough passage and were ten hours crossing.

It was night when we landed, and going through the city seemed like a visit to Fairyland. Our landlady at Miami had given us a card of introduction to an American hotel-keeper, who resided on the Prado. This Prado is different from any street I have ever seen, and beautiful indeed. Lovely park-ways stretch on either side of the broad middle passage, which is reserved for pedestrians, while on the outer edges are carriage drives. We took the Tourist Route around the city on the street car, then visited the shops and stores, seeing many queer articles as well as exceedingly handsome ones. It was odd to see scores of Spanish traders in their tightly fitting clothes and broad sombreros going around looking like beasts of burden, with their wares hung about their person.

There are a number of very handsome structures in Havana, among them the President's palace overlooking the Plaza.

On returning, we had a much rougher passage. The sailors told me it was next to the roughest they had ever known. The vessel was long, and the bow set fully fourteen feet out of the water, but we were thrown about almost like egg-shells. We were on the upper deck, over which the water would dash in great sheets. Four meals were due us, but we got only one. I started to the dining-room a time or two, but returned quicker than I went. Before landing, we were all collected below and made to pass an examination by a Board of Health Officer. We took the train for Miami at eleven P.M., and though allowed to occupy the sleeper until seven in the morning, my wife called me quite early and said she was hungry. As she had eaten very little for some time, and fed most of her last two days' rations to the inhabitants of the deep, I quickly dressed and went in search of breakfast.

Not long after getting back to Florida, I asked Frances where her neuralgia was. She said she had left it in the ocean. That was certainly the last of it, so I advise all husbands whose wives are ailing to take them for a ride on the sea.

We spent another week very pleasantly at Miami, and then came on to Jacksonville, where we remained a few days, visiting my third sister, whom I have not previously mentioned. During our stay, we went to the celebrated ostrich farm, and though we had been there before, we enjoyed again seeing the colossal birds, their big eggs, and the great quantity of handsome plumes, sold much cheaper than they can be bought elsewhere. The bodies of most of the ostriches were completely covered with tips, and their wings with plumes. The feathers are picked every eight months or they will shed. The male birds are black and the female birds gray, the former possessing the finer plumage. They eat any kind of fruit, being especially fond of oranges, which they swallow whole. They are also fed with hay and grass. An exceedingly sensible and helpful spirit must be attributed to the male, for when there is a nest to be set upon, he always takes the hen's place at night, and for an hour during the day while she eats her dinner. Some men might profit by the example of the ostrich! Some of these mammoth fellows were said to be twenty or twenty-five years of age, and the majority were eight or over. One old warrior had killed a brother bird and a horse. There were several baby ostriches, only a few days old when we saw them. They were as large as good-sized roosters, and their backs had a queer, bristly appearance. We witnessed a number of ostrich races. It was most amusing to watch the ungainly strides of the immense birds, either with riders on their backs or hitched to small sulkies. Their ponderous hoofs thumped at a great rate as they rapidly covered ground.


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