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The River's Children An Idyl of the Mississippi   By: (1856-1917)

The River's Children An Idyl of the Mississippi by Ruth McEnery Stuart

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THE RIVER'S CHILDREN

AN IDYL OF THE MISSISSIPPI

By RUTH McENERY STUART

AUTHOR OF "SONNY," "HOLLY AND PIZEN," "MORIAH'S MOURNING," "NAPOLEON JACKSON," ETC.

With Pictures by Barry C. Edwards

NEW YORK THE CENTURY CO. 1904

Copyright, 1904, by THE CENTURY CO.

Copyright, 1903, by PHELPS PUBLISHING CO.

Published October, 1904

THE DE VINNE PRESS

[Illustration: "Upon the brow of the levee"]

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Upon the brow of the levee

Gangs of men, reinforcing suspicious danger points with pickax and spade

Sipped iced orange syrup or claret sangaree

The brave, unthinking fellow, after embracing his beloved, dashed to the front

Her arms were about his knees

THE RIVER'S CHILDREN

AN IDYL OF THE MISSISSIPPI

PART FIRST

The Mississippi was flaunting itself in the face of opposition along its southern banks. It had carried much before it in its downward path ere it reached New Orleans. A plantation here, a low lying settlement there, a cotton field in bloom under its brim, had challenged its waters and been taken in, and there was desolation in its wake.

In certain weak places above and below the city, gangs of men negroes mostly worked day and night, reinforcing suspicious danger points with pickax and spade. At one place an imminent crevasse threatened life and property to such a degree that the workers were conscripted and held to their posts by promises of high wages, abetted by periodical passage along the line of a bucket and gourd dipper.

[Illustration: "Gangs of men, reinforcing suspicious danger points with pickax and spade"]

There was apparently nothing worse than mirth and song in the bucket. Concocted to appeal to the festive instinct of the dark laborers as much as to steady their hands and sustain courage, it was colored a fine pink and floated ice lumps and bits of lemon when served. Yet there was a quality in it which warmed as it went, and spurred pickax and spade to do their best spurred their wielders often to jest and song, too, for there was scarcely a secure place even along the brimming bank where one might not, by listening, catch the sound of laughter or of rhythmic voices:

"Sing, nigger, sing! Sing yo' hymn! De river, she's a boomin' she's a comin che bim ! Swim, nigger, swim!

"Sing, nigger, sing! Sing yo' rhyme! De waters is a floodin' dey's a roarin' on time! Climb, squirrel, climb!"

At this particular danger spot just below the city, a number of cotton bales, contributed by planters whose fortunes were at stake, were placed in line against a threatening break as primary support, staked securely down and chained together.

Over these were cast everything available, to raise their height. It was said that even barrels of sugar and molasses were used, and shiploads of pig iron, with sections of street railways ripped from their ties. Then barrels of boiling tar, tarpaulins, and more chains. And then

And then there were prayers and messages to the priests up at the old St. Louis Cathedral, where many of the wives were kneeling and reckless gifts of money to the poor.

A few of the men who had not entered church for years were seen to cross themselves covertly; and one, a convivial creole of a rather racy reputation, was even observed, through the sudden turn of a lantern one night, to take from his pocket a miniature statue of St. Joseph, and to hold it between his eyes and the sky while he, too, crossed himself. And the boon companion who smiled at the sight did himself make upon his own breast a tiny sign of the cross in the dark, even as he moved toward his friend to chaff him. And when, in turning, he dimly descried the outline of a distant spire surmounted by a cross against the stars, he did reverently lift his hat... Continue reading book >>




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