Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed
A DIXIE SCHOOL
GABRIELLE E. JACKSON
MADE IN U.S.A.
M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
CHICAGO :: NEW YORK
M. A. DONOHUE & COMPANY
Made in U. S. A.
TO MY TWO DIXIE NEIGHBORS,
whose entertaining tales of their childhood escapades have helped to make these stories, this first volume of the “Dixie Girl” is most affectionately inscribed by their friend.
G. E. J.
Four straight country roads running at right angles. You cannot see where they begin because they have their beginning “over the hills and far away,” but you can see where they end at “Four Corners,” the hub of that universe, for there stand the general store, which is also the postoffice, the “tavern,” as it is called in that part of the world, the church, the rectory, and perhaps a dozen private dwellings.
“Four Corners” is oddly mis-named, because there are no corners there at all. It is a circle. Maybe it was originally four corners, but today it is certainly a circle with a big open space in the center, and in the very middle of that stands a flag staff upon which floats the stars and stripes. The whole open space is covered with the softest green turf. Not a lawn, mind you, such as one may see in almost any immaculately kept northern town, with artistic flower beds dotting it, and a carefully trimmed border of foliage plants surrounding it. No, this circle has real Virginia turf; the thick, rich, indestructible turf one finds in England, which, as an old gardener told the writer, “we rolls and tills it for a thousand years.” Nature had been rolling and tilling this green plot of ground for a good many thousand years.
The circle was encompassed by an iron rail fence to which the people from the surrounding community hitched their saddle or carriage horses when they came to the “Store” for their mail, or to make various purchases. And there the beasties often stood for hours, rubbing noses and exchanging the gossip of the paddocks, horse (or mule) fashion.
There were always several hitched there, and they were always gossiping or dozing as they waited for their owners to start toward home, and they represented all sorts and conditions of their kind just as those owners represented all sorts and conditions of men. Some were young men, some middle-aged, some old. Some were of the gentry of the surrounding country, some the humbler white folk, some the negroes who had managed to acquire small tracts of land which they farmed successfully or otherwise. Among them, too, was the typical shiftless, “triflin’ no-’count” darkey who “jist sits ’round a-waitin’,” though it would be hard for him to tell what he was waiting for.
Nevertheless, the “Corners” is the center of the activities of that community, though to make those who most frequently gather there, comprehend the limitations of its activities they would have to be set down in the midst of some big, hustling city.
Still, some who go to the Corners are very much alive to this fact, for they have journeyed throughout the length and breadth of their own land and many other lands beside. But they do not tell their less travelled brothers much of the wonders which lie beyond the towering mountains, which is just as well, perhaps. The stay-at-home might be less happy and content were they to learn of the doings of the big world beyond the barriers of their snug, peaceful valley, which seems to the wiser ones so far away from the trials, struggles, and worries of the world beyond.
And, curiously enough, when those of wider knowledge return to the valley they find again the peace and tranquility which they left there, and, breathing a sigh of relief, settle back into its restful atmosphere, and tranquil content, as one settles into a comfortable old chair.
The nearest “real, sure-enough town” to the Corners is Sprucy Branch and that is fourteen miles from Luray, with its famous caverns. To reach Sprucy Branch from Four Corners one must drive or ride “a right smart distance,” and then to reach Luray take a railway trip or drive the fourteen miles. It is a beautiful part of this big world, and the valley is a happy one. Moreover, it would be hard to find a more delightful, little social world than its gentlefolk represent. Not the formal, artificial, rigidly conventional social world of the big northern cities, where few have time or inclination to be absolutely genuine, but the rare, true social life of the well-bred southerner, to whom friendship means much, kinship more, and family ties everything. Whose sons go forth into the world to make their mark, and often their fortunes, too, yet still retain the charm of their up-bringing, the traditions of their families, and their intense love of “the home back yonder.” Whose daughters, though brought up, “raised,” they often say, in the simplicity of country life, and more often than not having very limited financial resources, are in the truest sense of that beautiful old word, the gentlewomen we picture, prepared to grace their homes, or the outer world and reflect credit upon the land of their birth. And this is the conviction of her northern sister, the first of nine generations to be born beyond the borders of the old Bay State, so she can hardly be accused of a biased opinion.
And this lovely September morning, when the air holds just the faintest suggestion of autumn, when the leaves are beginning to hint of richer tints than the soft greens which they have worn all summer, when the native birds are hobnobbing and gossiping with their friends who are journeying farther south, “All the news of the north to the sunny south bringing,” and the squirrels are chattering and scolding as they gather their hoard of chinkapins and other fodder for the long winter at hand, something is stirring. Yes, stirring vigorously, too, if one may judge by the hullabaloo which suddenly arises far down the East Pike. The people gathered upon the porch at the store prick up their ears to listen. There are a dozen or more there upon one errand or another, for the store is the commercial center of the district, and from it can be bought or ordered every nameable thing under the sun. It is also the postoffice, so, once, at least, each day there wends his or her way to it, every human being who expects, hopes for, or by any chance may receive a letter.
It was mail time. Hence the number of people gathered about to prick up their ears as the racket down the road grew louder and louder each second, and the thud of horses’ hoofs, the shouts of boys’ voices and a girl’s ringing laugh were borne to them.
“Yonder comes the Woodbine bunch, I’ll bet a dollar, and they’re sure enough a-hittin’ it up, too. Reckon that young one of the old Admiral’s is a-settin’ the pace, too. She’s a clipper, all right,” commented a man seated upon a tilted-back chair, his hat pushed far back upon his shock head. He was guiltless of coat, and his jean trousers were hitched high about his waist by a pair of wool suspenders.
Hardly had he ceased speaking when three horses came pounding into view, the leader ridden by a girl about fifteen years of age. The animal was a little mouse-colored beastie with white markings and eyes which gave a pretty strong hint of a good bit of broncho disposition to which the markings also pointed. He was lithe and agile as a cat and moved with something of the sinuous gliding of that animal, rather than the bounding motions of his eastern-bred mates. The two horses running neck and neck behind him were evidently blooded animals, and all three were a-lather from the pace set by their leader, all mud-bespattered to the point of being wholly disreputable, for a shower the previous night had left many a wide puddle in the road.
The girl leading rode as only a southern girl, accustomed to a saddle all her life, can ride. The saddle was of the Mexican type, but the headstall was the lightest possible, with a simple snaffle bit, even that seeming almost superfluous for she guided her mount more by the motions of her body than the bridle. She held the reins at arm’s length in her left hand, while with her right she waved above her head a soft felt hat, her banner of defiance and derision of her pursuers. Swaying ever so slightly in her saddle, she brought her wiry little mount up to the platform, and slid from his back as snow slides from a hillside. The reins were tossed over his head and the race was ended.
Running across the porch she nodded or bowed comprehensively to all seated or standing upon it—the greeting accompanied by a sunny, happy smile which revealed faultlessly pretty teeth.