By the middle of February, or six weeks after the Elmers had landed in Wakulla, their influence had become very decidedly felt in the community. With their building, fencing, ploughing, and clearing, they had given employment to most of the working population of the place, and had put more money into circulation than had been seen there at any one time for years. Their house was now as neat and pretty as any in the county. The ten-acre field in front was ploughed, fenced, and planted, half in corn and half—no, not with orange-trees, but half was set out with young cabbage-plants; a homely crop, but one which Mr. Elmer had been advised would bring in good returns. The ferry was running regularly and was already much used by travellers from considerable distances on both sides of the river. The mill was finished and ready for business, and the millpond, instead of a mud flat, was a pretty sheet of water, fringed with palms and other beautiful trees. Above all, Mr. Elmer’s health had so improved that he said he felt like a young man again, and able to do any amount of outdoor work.
One Sunday morning after all this had been accomplished, Mr. Elmer announced to the Sunday-school that on the following Wednesday a grand picnic would be given in a pine grove midway between the Elmer Mill and the big sulphur spring, that the ferry would be run free all that day, and that all were cordially invited to come and enjoy themselves. He also said that the Elmer Mill would be opened for business on that day, and would grind, free of charge, one bushel of corn for every family in Wakulla who should bring it with them.
This announcement created such a buzz of excitement that it was well it had not been made until after the exercises of the morning were over, for there could certainly have been no more Sunday-school that day.
For the next two days the picnic was the all-absorbing topic of conversation, and wonderful stories were told and circulated of the quantities of goodies that were being made in the “Go Bang” kitchen. Aunt Chloe was frequently interviewed, and begged to tell exactly how much of these stories might be believed; but the old woman only shook her gayly turbaned head, and answered,
“You’s gwine see, chillun! you’s gwine see; only jes’ hab pashuns, an’ you’s gwine be ‘warded by sich a sight ob fixin’s as make yo’ tink ole times back come, sho nuff.”
At last the eagerly expected morning dawned, and though a thick fog hid one bank of the river from the other, sounds of active stir and bustle announced to each community that the other was making ready for the great event.
By nine o’clock the fog had lifted, and the sun shone out bright and warm. Before this Jan and the mules had made several trips between the house and the mill, each time with a heavy wagon load of—something. Mr. Elmer, Mr. March, and Mark had gone to the mill as soon as breakfast was over, and had not been seen since.