Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Dedication)
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
CHINSEGUT, HERNANDO COUNTY, FLORIDA
Jan. 20, 1906
MY DEAR F. B.:
I believe it to be commonly the practice of authors to write the dedication last. But I, being summoned by the laconic imperative of the Atlantic cable to exchange London for Florida, and being thereby arrested midway in what I have always thought of as your book, must needs recover some of the old impulse that you gave me to begin it, before I can go on.
I invoke you as I would a breath of your invigorating Yorkshire, for I am captive in a land of idleness--myself idlest of all the easy, time-squandering folk that are making believe to finish my house here upon the sunburst hilltop.
This lodge in the wilderness, uplifted like an island above encompassing seas of green; this windswept, sun-steeped place, ought, perhaps (in spite of latitude and longitude), to give me back without your aid the picture and the feeling of the North. For the first word I set at the top of my page, though Indian, would not have been understanded of my ancient neighbors here. Not the Seminoles, the Alaskans gave us our name. I and another for whom it means home, pronounced it first to the rhythm of the breakers on that wild Bering coast--in the midst of the pandemonium of the "farthest North" gold boom, we dreamed and planned the picture I look out upon this morning. It might not seem beautiful to you, yet, in spite of your wise warning, there have gone into my effort to make the dream come true the most precious
Come and Find Me, Dedication page x
things I had. Into this Chinsegut, as you know, went, amongst the rest, a great faith.
So that, however reminiscent of people or conditions long since passed away, however much of the spirit of the past is garnered here as living influence or as debris and as ashes, these were for me infinitesimal affairs by comparison with the hope for the Future that made me turn deaf ears to your admonishing. For this was to be a place where my fellow-dreamer and I should not only rest, but having rested, work as never before. Our best and biggest room was to be called the Workroom.
But some strange spell has hitherto hung over that apartment and all the house, since even the white remodelers of the slave-built dwelling have found it easier to play than work here.
As if foreseeing that the added wing, new stable, and the rest, would take more months a-building than they would need weeks in other climes, our "workmen," uneasy perhaps under the misnomer, organized themselves into a Musical Society. They would lay a brick or rap in a nail, and then, casting aside trowel or hammer, would catch up fiddle and bow, horn or clarinet, trying (since walls had been known to fall at trumpet blast) whether these could be induced to rise to strains of "Dixie." One of the band to whom I owe my not very sound roof, was at the least a person of imagination, as I will make your ladyship admit, if the distractions here will give me leave to try. These are not solely the growling of saws, the scraping of planes and of fiddles. I find myself forever running to and fro like a child in some enchanted playground, wooed by fifty things at once--but not one of them has aught to do with books or with any aspect of the art of letters.
My distractions have to do with such toys as the joy of re-discovering old friends in all three kingdoms, from the forgotten beauty of palms standing sentinel-like in sand as white as meal, to the blue heron that goes sailing by to the lake at our feet. Or I am called early to see the delicate print of a
Come and Find Me, Dedication page xi
deer's foot that passed our very gate; or I must watch the sun caught at setting in the great ilex, and see the light spilling into the Spanish moss, soaking into the long draperies, till they seem to hold refulgence in solution. Or I must go and plan the hedge of roses round an old burying-ground on the place, or listen half a morning to a mocking-bird, or steal down in the dusk to my beloved copse and play eavesdropper to the sullen owl who pretends he doesn't haunt the magnolia above the spring. Or I must leave my coveted place of shade on the north veranda and come to watch our friend, Mr. Tarrypin, creeping heavily by in the hot sun on his way (I grieve to tell you) to the soup tureen. ("Lawd, yes. Tarrypin? He jes de same es chick'n, Miss 'Lizbess--once he in de pot!")
Even my interviews with the cook, elsewhere as summarily despatched, are here a thief of time. For our Peter, who learned his craft of the Cubans during the late war, is the most beguiling of conversationalists. In beautiful sky-blue, brass-buttoned clothes showing under a spotless apron, he stands, interlarding his promise to "do it Spanish style," with legends learned of his mother who was born in the negro quarters here in those more sumptous days when our hill was crowned with the finest orange grove in all Hernando. Peter will tell you, chuckling, that our great twelve by twelve-inch cypress beams that turn the edge of the white carpenters' tools, were hand-hewn by his grandfather, and by that gallant woodman "tied and pinned" to frame the house before the "orange" days--when all cleared land was cotton field.
But more than by any other creature the spirit of idleness has been fostered by my four-footed friend, the particular joy of my life here, Dixie. For I must tell you that one's love of woods is only whetted by looking out, as I am told we do, upon two hundred and fifty thousand acres of virgin forest--the old Seminole hunting-grounds--which swallow up the white man's puny clearings so effectually that even a Zeiss glass can scarcely pick them out. Dixie and I may travel for hours, through tangles of jessamine-laced live-oak and palmetto, down to dim lakes where the cypresses stand in water to their
Come and Find Me, Dedication page xii
"knees" (with all the moss curtains close-drawn against the sun), and never see a soul. Then, when even in the open ways of the pine woods we find the warm day quenched in mist, I let the rein fall slack and trust to that skill of Dixie's, never baffled yet, to take me home the shortest way, in spite of night or storm or the fierce dazzle of tropic lightning.
If we are late, we know "Uncle" Fielding will be looking out for us. Even if I fail to distinguish his kind, dark face, I see the whites of his eyes shining, I hear his rich voice lowered to reporach that I should be abroad so late in the vast Annuttalagga woods that go to the verge of the world.
But Uncle Fielding has his share in my idleness, for he knows the stories I like best of all. When I've gone to sit within the radiance of the great open fireplace (less for warmth than for sake of cedar scent and love of the flaring, singing resin in the pine), Uncle Fielding will come staggering in under the weight of a single log, and having thrown it down, will tarry awhile. To my polite hope that he feels at home in his new cottage, he replies with gentle assurance: "I'll have to be mighty ole and mighty painful befoh I leave this hilltop." With humility I learn to see myself as the transient one, the visitor, and Uncle Fielding as the one who rightly is "at home." Even for neighborly credit and fair regard I look to him. For when one of the younger generation, or some mere new-comer ventures: "They say, in the old days, you knew her brother," " Knew him?" says Uncle Fielding loftily, "I raised him--" and so re-established our respectability in a land that for so many hears has known us only as little-remembered names.
Can you not see that with the vivid intervention of all this new-old life--the story you bade me write has in a brief space gone to a distance so illimitable that beside such a standard of remoteness, Florida is neighbor to the Pole? I tell you plainly that if this book of yours is ever to be finished, you must send me something of that influence that has so often spurred me on before. Once even here, a touch of it, like your hand on my shoulder, reached me one evening, in spite
Come and Find Me, Dedication page xiii
of all the hosts of Hernando. Walking about at sunset to count how many mangoes were growing near the house--I was pursued as far as the great ilex at the gates by faint intermittent strains of some unearthly music. I looked up, thinking of those "harps" that Hilda heard and to whose strains she unsealed the Master Builder's ears. Again that music! faint but unmistakable; sad and wild, with its vaguely inciting call. A little shamefaced for my fancy, I said to one who knew not Hilda: "I could almost swear I heard harps in the air." "Yes," was the answer, "on the roof," as though it were the most natural thing on earth that a carpenter, instead of making us rain-proof, should devise and lash in place a wind-harp over our heads! I thought how you would have disapproved that man--and cherished him.
Although the winds that come sweeping over the Mexican Gulf have cast the great lyre down from my housetop--nevertheless, now that I've invoked you, I seem to hear the air again--even feel on my shoulder that touch of your hand with which you sent me forth to try if, in the midst of the London din, we might make folk pause an instant, and say with upturned faces: "Harps in the air!" You and I have heard them for many a year, my friend. I think I never was with you long, but I caught some note of that far music. Even with the thick of the world between us, I listen for you to call the tune that "sends me on."
To First Chapter
Available on the web since January 2000