It was midnight when we tore ourselves away and taxied to the Chicago train, the first lap of the much-discussed honeymoon.
The train trip gave me my first sight of tropical fruits and growth, hanging moss and air plants. At St. Petersburg, Mother Cook had rented a small frame, three-room cottage, with enough furniture for sleeping purposes. The nearby hotel supplied meals. There we found the usual run of tourist society. We had contact with people when we sang for them or went on excursions or fishing parties. Clearwater and St. Petersburg were our stopping places until it grew too warm; then we went on to Fernandoah on the East Coast.
We had two delightful boat trips, one each on the Ocklawaha River and St. Johnís. At Silver Springs we found a red-velvet lined boat named Una. It had a glass bottom and we went fishing in it. I could watch the fishes nibble at my bait and consider whether it was a good risk. I liked that. Most fishing I thought was a bore and I merely watched George do it.
Because of the lateness of the season when we arrived at Silver Springs to embark on the Ocklawaha, the winter excursion steamers had discontinued their trips and the only substitute was a freight boat which operated without any schedule. Consequently we had to await its convenience. We were to be the only passengers, but there was a chef to cook for us and comfortable bunks, so we were told. It sounded like a nice honeymoon set-up for us.
George had his camera with him and he made shots of unusual things all along our route. I shall never forget the sight of that old steamer as it puffed into Silver Springs. Most of the freight it picked up was turpentine (in barrels). Instead of being lighted by electricity, it had on the roof of the pilotís perch a huge metal container filled with burning knots of pine that cast weird shadows and lighting over the black water and moss-hung trees.
It arrived about three in the morning and we were aroused and notified as it came downstream. Some sort of telegraph signal operated so that, when it took on freight at a port, that port called the next in line. We had our luggage and were waiting when the puffing shape burst into sight. It looked like a big prehistoric monster with lurid flames dancing from its forehead. The snorting sound it made added to its awfulness. All I could think of was St. George and the Dragon!
The run started as soon as we were aboard and the entire boat was ours. George hung a hammock across the bow. There were no railings; we could have stepped right into the water from off it. George changed his camera films in a darkened stateroom and then we settled ourselves on the bow and watched all sizes of alligators swim out of our path in the miasmic mists of early morning.
The shores of the river were wooded and swampy and, hanging from the trees, there appeared the dreaded moccasin snakes, coiled and wicked-looking. Because it was a freight boat, our journey was much longer than the ordinary excursion, and we loved to watch the loading, done by Negroes at the plantations along the route. Barrels and barrels were rolled aboard and we had ample opportunity to study the Florida [Negroes] in their native habitats. [Written about 1901 Ė Ed.]
We were very tired when we arrived at our destination, for we had slept little in the three nights aboard. Our curiosity had kept us awake. It was shortly after noon when we checked into the hotel and George left me while he went to look after our baggage. We had been shown to a nice clean-looking room with a wide-open view.
The door had barely closed on George, however, when I looked at the bed. Iíve no idea whether the view was of the St. Johnís River or not. All I saw was the clean, inviting bed. Without preamble I fell onto it and, when George returned, he was shocked to be unable to make me hear his knock. He went back to the desk and got the room clerk and soon I awoke to the sound of my name, looking up to see two startled men standing over me as I lay on the bed. Bridegrooms are easy to startle!
From that point we made the regular St. Johnís boat trip, which was beautiful and modernly convenient but never to be compared to the Ocklawaha set-up, which was once-in-a-lifetime.
Fernandoah was a summer resort on the East Coast, an enormous ramshackle tourist affair, not open to the public until a month or so later. It was run, however, by the staff that operated the Verona Inn, where we had stayed in Clearwater, and we had made arrangements to stop with them before the summer season opened. It proved to be very unattractive. The winds were strong and the sand blew with such force over the barren beaches that we decided to return to Illinois and begin life in real earnest, with people around us.
Waves of homesickness rolled over me. I had never been so long away from my family and the certainty that I was going to have a baby when I was physically so miserable settled the matter swiftly and unequivocally. Home was the best place on earth. I had always thought so; now I knew it.