By the time breakfast was over and the Elmers came on deck, they found the schooner running rapidly up a broad river, between wide expanses of low salt-marshes, bounded by distant pine forests, and studded here and there with groups of cabbage palms. The channel was a regular zig-zag, and they ran now to one side and then far over to the other to escape the coral reefs and oyster bars with which it is filled. This occupied much time; but the breeze was fresh, and within an hour they had run eight miles up the river, and were passing the ruins of the old Spanish Fort of St. Mark’s. A few minutes later sails were lowered, and the schooner was moored to one of the rotten old wharves that still remain to tell of St. Mark’s former glory.
“And is this St. Mark’s?” asked Mrs. Elmer, looking with a feeling of keen disappointment at the dozen or so tumble-down frame buildings that, perched on piles above the low, wet land, looked like dilapidated old men with shaky legs, and formed all that was to be seen of the town.
“Yes, miss,” answered the colored pilot, who seemed to consider her question addressed to him. “Dis yere’s St. Mark’s, or what de gales has lef’ of hit. ’Pears like dey’s been mighty hard on de ole town, sence trade fell off, an’ mos’ of de folkses moved away. Uster be wharves all along yere, an’ cotton-presses, an’ big war’houses, an’ plenty ships in de ribber; but now dey’s all gone. Dem times we uster hab fo’ trains of kyars a day; but now dere’s only one train comes tree times in de week, an’ hit’s only got one kyar. Ole St. Mark’s a-seein’ bad times now, for sho.”
As soon as he could get ashore, Mr. Elmer, accompanied by Mark and the captain, went up into the village to find out what he could regarding their destination and future movements. In about an hour he returned, bringing a package of letters from the post-office, and the information that Uncle Christopher Bangs’s place was at Wakulla, some six miles farther up the river. As the river above St. Mark’s is quite crooked, and bordered on both sides by dense forests, and as no steam-tug could be had, the captain did not care to attempt to carry the schooner any farther up. Mr. Elmer had therefore chartered a large, flat-bottomed lighter, or scow, to carry to Wakulla the cargo of household goods, tools, building material, etc., that they had brought with them.
As “Captain Li” was anxious to proceed on his voyage to Pensacola as quickly as possible, the lighter was at once brought alongside the schooner, and the work of discharging the Elmers’ goods into her was begun.
“By-the-way, Mark,” said Mr. Elmer, as the schooner’s hatches were removed, “I am just reminded that this is Christmas-day, and that there is a present down in the hold for you from your Uncle Christmas. It will be one of the first things taken out, so see if you can recognize it.”
He had hardly spoken before the sailors, who had gone down into the hold, passed carefully up to those on deck a beautiful birch-bark canoe, with the name Ruth painted on its bows.