By the time they reached the mill more than a hundred persons were assembled near it, and Mr. Elmer was talking to them from the steps. They were in time to hear him say,
“The Elmer Mill is now about to be opened for business and set to work. A bushel of corn belonging to Uncle Silas Brim, the oldest man present, has been placed in the hopper, and will be the first ground.”
Then Mark, who, as president of the Elmer Mill and Ferry Company, was allowed the honor of so doing, pressed a lever that opened the floodgates. A stream of water dashed through the race, the great wheel began to turn, and, as they heard the whir of the machinery, the crowd cheered again and again. In a little while Uncle Silas Brim’s corn was returned to him in the form of a sack of fine yellow meal. After that the bushels of corn poured in thick and fast, and for the rest of the day the Elmer Mill continued its pleasant work of charity.
As the novelty of watching the mill at work wore off, the people began to stroll towards the grove near the sulphur spring, in which an odd-looking structure had been erected the day before, and now attracted much attention. It was a long, low shed, or booth, built of poles thatched with palm-leaves woven so close that its interior was completely hidden. Mrs. Elmer, Mrs. Bevil, Mrs. Carter, Ruth, Grace, and Aunt Chloe were known to be inside, but what they were doing was a mystery that no one could solve.
“Reckon dey’s a-fixin’ up sandwitches,” said one.
“Yo’ g’way, chile! Who ebber heerd ob sich nonsens? ’Tain’t no witches ob no kine; hits somefin’ to eat, I tell yo’. I kin smell hit,” said an old aunty, who sniffed the air vigorously as she spoke.
This opinion was strengthened when Aunt Chloe appeared at the entrance of the booth, before which hung a curtain of white muslin, and in a loud voice commanded all present to provide themselves “wif palmetter leafs fo’ plateses, an’ magnole leafs fo’ cupses.”
When all had so provided themselves, they were formed, two by two, into a long procession by several young colored men whom Mr. Elmer had appointed to act as marshals, the white curtain was drawn aside, and they were invited to march into the booth. As they did so, a sight greeted their eyes that caused them to give a sort of suppressed cheer of delight. The interior was hung and trimmed with great bunches of sweet-scented swamp azalea, yellow jasmine, and other wild spring flowers, of which the woods were full. But it was not towards the flowers that all eyes were turned, nor they that drew forth the exclamations of delight; it was the table, and what it bore. It reached from one end of the booth to the other, and was loaded with such a variety and quantity of good things as none of them had ever seen before. On freshly-cut palm leaves were heaped huge piles of brown crullers, and these were flanked by pans of baked beans. Boiled hams appeared in such quantities that Uncle Silas Brim was heard to say, “Hit do my ole heart good to see sich a sight ob hog meat.”