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The Crucial Moment 1911   By: (1850-1922)

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By Charles Egbert Craddock


A mere moment seems an inconsiderable factor in life only its multiplication attaining importance and signifying time. It could never have occurred to Walter Hoxer that all his years of labor, the aggregation of the material values of industry, experience, skill, integrity, could be nullified by this minimum unit of space as sudden, as potent, as destructive, as a stroke of lightning. But after the fact it did not remind' him of any agency of the angry skies; to him it was like one of the obstructions of the river engineers to divert the course of the great Mississippi, a mattress spur, a thing insignificant in itself, a mere trifle of woven willow wands, set up at a crafty angle, against the tumultuous current Yet he had seen the swirling waves, in their oncoming like innumerable herds of wild horses, hesitate at the impact, turn aside, and go racing by, scouring out a new channel, leaving the old bank bereft, thrown inland, no longer the margin of the stream.

The river was much in his mind that afternoon as he trudged along the county road at the base of the levee, on his way, all un prescient, to meet this signal, potential moment. Outside, he knew that the water was standing higher than his head, rippling against the thick turf of Bermuda grass with which the great earthwork was covered. For the river was bank full and still rising indeed, it was feared that an overflow impended. However, there was as yet no break; advices from up the river and down the river told only of extra precautions and constant work to keep the barriers intact against the increasing volume of the stream. The favorable chances were reinforced by the fact of a singularly dry winter, that had so far eliminated the danger from back water, which, if aggregated from rainfall in low lying swamps, would move up slowly to inundate the arable lands. These were already ploughed to bed up for cotton, and an overflow now would mean the loss of many thousands of dollars to the submerged communities. The February rains had begun in the upper country, with a persistency and volume that bade fair to compensate for the long continued drought, and thus the river was already booming; the bayous that drew off a vast surplusage of its waters were overcharged, and gradually would spread out in murky shallows, heavily laden with river detritus, over the low grounds bordering their course.

"This Jeffrey levee will hold," Hoxer said to himself, as once he paused, his hands in his pockets, his cap on the back of his red head, his freckled, commonplace, square face lifted into a sort of dignity by the light of expert capacity and intelligence in his bluff blue eyes. He had been muttering to himself the details of its construction: so many feet across the base in proportion to its height, the width of the summit, the angle of the incline of its interior slope the exterior being invisible, having the Mississippi River standing against it. "A fairly good levee, though an old one," he muttered. "I'll bet, though, Major Jeffrey feels mightily like Noah when he looks at all that water out there tearing through the country."

His face clouded at the mention of the name, and as he took the short pipe from his month and stuck it into the pocket of his loose sack coat his tread lost a certain free elasticity that had characterized it hitherto, and he trudged on doggedly. He had passed many acres of ploughed lands, the road running between the fields and the levee. The scene was all solitary; the sun had set, and night would presently be coming on. As he turned in at the big white gate that opened on a long avenue of oaks leading to the mansion house, he began to fear that his visit might be ill timed, and that a man of his station could not hope for an audience so near the major's dinner hour.

It was with definite relief that he heard the gentle impact of ivory balls in the absolute quiet, and he remembered that a certain little octagonal structure with a conical red roof, in the grounds, was a billiard room, for the sound betokened that he might find the owner of the place here... Continue reading book >>

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