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.
Although a year younger than Mark, Ruth studied the same books that he did, and was a better scholar. In spite of this she looked up to him in everything, and regarded him with the greatest admiration. Although quiet and studious, she had crinkly brown hair, and a merry twinkle in her eyes that indicated a ready humor and a thorough appreciation of fun.
It was Monday when Mark and Ruth walked home from the post-office together, reading the paper, for which they had gone every Monday evening since they could remember, and they were to leave home and begin their journey on the following morning.