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IN THE STORE.
At night the landing scenes are still more picturesque. The electric headlight suddenly irradiates a few rods of the levee, causing a negro cabin, the colonnaded mansion of a planter, or the dingy walls of a sugar-house to flash out of the obscurity for a moment, and then to relapse into the surrounding blackness. The boat feels her way with the light to the landing-places, and when she stops for a few moments, to put a passenger or a box ashore, the illuminated scene on the levee seems to have been conjured out of chaos and black night for our momentary wonder.
We go ashore at Belair, a plantation celebrated for its careful and systematic field work. The planter is waiting upon the levee for his guests. Two negroes seize our portmanteaux, and we are shown the way to an old-fashioned, square house, completely surrounded on all sides and on both floors by broad galleries supported by columns. It stands in perilous proximity to the menacing yellow flood of the river, and the owner explains its need of repairs by saying that as the water is eating into the land in front of it at the rate of seven feet a year, it must soon fall into the stream, which is a hundred feet deep at this VOL. XXXV.-17.
point. He does not, therefore, think it worth while to spend any money on the old structure. After supper we go to the store. The store is usually the center of the business life and of much of the social life of a plantation. It is owned by the planter, who keeps in it a stock of clothing, provisions, and knick-knacks to supply his laborers. A book account is kept with each head of a family, and a settlement made on every weekly or monthly pay-day. We find a score of negro men and boys in the store listening to the music of an accordion, a fiddle, and a triangle, and with some little coaxing and the promise of a quarter to the best dancer we succeed in getting up an amusing competitive double-shuffle and heel-and-toe dance. The contestants, who have been toiling in the fields all day, throw off their coats and get down to the work with evident relish, amid shouts of "Hi! hi!" "Go in, Jim!" "You, dah, Gawge!" and "Let youssef out, Mose!" and clapping of hands on knees from the delighted sable spectators. When the fun begins to get monotonous I manage to have a talk with an intelligent old negro named Squire, who was a "driver" in slave days and is still a "driver" - not of mules, be it under
stood, but of men. A "driver" is the foreman of a gang of laborers. On some plantations the title of foreman is coming into use, the negroes objecting to the old word. I ask Squire if the field hands do as much work in a day as they did in slave times. "Nuffin like it, boss," he replies; "befo' de wah, de plow gang had to be in de field long befo' sun up, all drawn up in line and ebery man a-hold of his plow, waitin' foh de first daylight to start. And de hoe gang was dah, ebery man a-leanin' on his hoe, ready to start at de word jist as soon as dey could rightly see de rows of cane." "If a man did not keep up his row, what did you do?"
"Give him a lick wid de whip. Dat mostly brought him to his senses. Times is not what dey was, boss." The old man evidently regrets the days when his authority as driver enabled him to give a lazy fellow a whipping. Next morning we are up in good season, but our host has been in the saddle since six, starting the field work
for the day. After breakfast we
all mount and ride out over
the smooth plantation
fenses in front and rear
in the form of strong dikes;
keeping open with constant
labor a checkerboard system of drainage ditches and pumping out into the swamp the water that falls as rain or soaks through from the river. Belair has two protection levees on the swamp side, so that if one is overflowed a defense can be made on the second line. In sugar-culture an enormous amount of labor must be expended in diking and ditching that has no direct result in the production of the crop.
How delightful is a February morning in
these warm lowlands! The atmosphere is like that in Corot's pictures, misty, vague, and dreamy. The gigantic live-oaks seem like ghosts of trees. The figures of men and animals moving across the shrouded fields against the gray sky loom up into strangely exaggerated proportions. A soft breeze blows from the Gulf. The line of faint green on the horizon shows that the cypress-trees in the swamp are beginning to put on their spring colors. Flocks of noisy blackbirds are holding mass meetings on the new-plowed ground and passing resolutions in favor of immediate migration to the North.
Let us follow in their sequence the processes of planting. First is the uncovering with plows of the furrows in which the seed-cane has been
buried since last fall, the pulling it out of the ground with great iron hooks attached to poles, and the loading it into carts. In the "hooking-up" gang I observe two white men working with the negroes. They are Spaniards from the Terre aux Baufs country, the other side of the swamps. There are two others who are neither whites nor negroes. They have a
brown complexion, high cheekbones, regular features, and straight black hair. These are "Manilla men"-natives of the Philippine Islands. The curiously mixed population of lower Louisiana includes two or three thousand of them.
Big stout carts with broadtired wheels haul the resurrected canes to the field prepared for planting. Here a gang of women called "droppers" take up the canes by armfuls and drop them in heaps at intervals beside the furrows. They are placed in the furrows by other women called "planters." Another gang passes along the furrows and chops up the canes with rude hatchet-like knives. The object of this is to give the weak eyes a chance to draw strength from the stalk which would otherwise be absorbed by those which have already a good start. About six tons of cane go to the planting of an acre. One acre of seedcane will plant three acres, and as the planting must be done every third year, one-ninth of the crop average of a plantation must be given up to seedcane. When the seed-cane is cut in the fall, the stalks are
DROPPING AND PLANTING.
After the canes are laid and cut, they are covered with plows or with a machine called a rotary hoe, and the ground is then rolled to press the dirt close to the sprouting eyes. The first crop is called plant-cane. Next year the cane sprouts from the stubble, and is called first ratoons. The second year it sprouts again, and is called second ratoons. The third year the stubble is plowed up and the ground sowed with field peas, which recuperates the land, as clover does Northern farms. The fourth year it is again put in plant-cane. A good yield to the acre is 25 tons of plant-cane, 20 of first ratoons, and 15 of second ratoons. On the Upper Coast, above New Orleans, it is customary to let the stubble ratoon but once. In Cuba it often ratoons six successive years, but the cane becomes constantly more woody and poorer in saccharine matter.
In the stubble-fields the first spring, work consists in "barring off," or moving the dirt away from the roots of the cane with plows and hoes, to permit the light and air to hasten
dle of April there should be a good "stand" of the young sprouts. Then the dirt is worked back toward the rows, and there is constant cultivation with the plow till about the 1st of July, when the crop is "laid by." No more work is done on it till the cutting begins in September. Now the cane is so high that a man driving a mule is lost to sight between the rows. Soon it will be tall enough to swallow up a man on horseback. The rows are usually seven feet apart and always run parallel with the ditches that is, from the river or bayou toward the swamp. July and August was formerly the time for cutting wood in the swamps to run the sugar-mill during the grinding season, but now most plantations burn coal. The crop being "made," the planter feels that he can relax his vigilance, and if he has the means, he goes off to the North with his family to escape the two hottest months of the year in Louisiana and build up his health in a less enervating climate.
The field hands work steadily, but in a rather leisurely way. I am struck by the strong mus
cular build of many of the men and women and the easy, cheerful way in which they go about their tasks. The women only do field work during the planting and grinding seasons. The rest of the time they look after their simple household duties. There is a good deal of light work on a plantation for the children, so that they become helps to their parents as soon as they are eight or ten years old. The ordinary wage of a man is 75 cents per day, and of a woman 65. But during the cutting and grinding period, which embraces three months of a year, the men earn $1 to $1.25 for regular hours and usually make extra pay by overwork. In no part of the South do the negroes seem to be as well off as on the sugar plantations: there is a common saying that it takes fourteen months' work in a year to make a sugar crop. An industrious man can actually earn fourteen months' wages between the 1st of January and the 31st of December. Each family gets a house and a garden-patch rent free, and on many plantations is allowed to keep chickens and pigs. Their fuel is cut in the swamp or picked up from the abundant driftwood cast ashore by the river. The climate is so warm that not much money need be spent for clothes. A thrifty negro family will always manage, however, to have presentable garments for Sunday wear, and the women can usually gratify their love for bright ribbons and cheap flashy jewelry.
We ride back in the rear of the plantation to see the huge drainage-wheel driven by steam, lazily lifting the yellow water from the canal on its broad arms up to the level of the bayou that leads to the swamp. We pass a group of houses inhabited by Spaniards, where moss is drying on the palings and yellow-faced children are tumbling about the dooryards,-"Built for tenant farmers who worked ground on shares," explained the planter, pointing to the cottages, "but the system did not succeed. The tenants were not willing to share the hardships of a bad
year, and when they got less money by reason of a short crop, they accused me of cheating them. I now let the cottages to white laborers employed for wages on the place."
"Is there much white labor seeking employment on sugar estates ?"
"More and more every year-principally Germans and Italians. Thrifty people they
are too; very poor when they come from the old country, but soon getting ahead."
Now the tones of the big plantation-bell are heard across the broad, level fields. All the gangs stop work, and people and animals go trooping to the quarters for dinner, the foreman of each gang going ahead to prevent the men from racing the mules. As we ride homewards, the planter talks of the great part religion plays in the lives of the negroes, and of the survival of old heathen superstitions. Some time ago the negroes took a dislike to the overseer, and sent to the city for a conjurer to come down and "Voodoo" him. The conjurer undertook to rid them of the overseer for $30, but finally came down in his demand to $2.50. An investigation showed
that the only thing he did was to place at night on the doorstep of the overseer's house some white powder with two black hairs crossed upon it. The negroes questioned would not say whether they expected the overseer to die, or only to leave the place. The Voodoo man had merely told them that they would "get shut of him."
Our next visit was to Magnolia plantation, the sugar estate farthest down the river of
any now worked. Below it all the cultivated land is in small rice-farms.
The Magnolia sugar-house is generally known in Louisiana as having the best machinery and all the new processes. It is not much imitated, for two reasons: First, the conservatism of the older class of planters, which leads them to stick to the methods they understand, and second, the fact that the business of sugar-making has not been sufficiently profitable in recent years to enable planters of moderate capital to purchase new apparatus. They are obliged to hold on to their old pans and kettles, for want of money to buy new. Let us now go into the great irregular brick building, with its three tower-like chimneys and its general big-factory air, which contains the sugar making plant, promising at the start to go through hastily, and not to bore the reader with details about machinery, or with the fine scientific points of the business. A sugar-planter will talk to you by the hour, about percentages of sucrose, and glucose, inverted crystallization, degrees of vacuum, and polariscope tests, until your brain takes in only a confusion of words and figures. First the owner of "Magnolia" calls attention to his bagasse-burner, which makes more than half the steam used to run the mill. Formerly the bagasse, which is the cane after it has parted with as much of its juice as the mill will extract, was either burned in a furnace to get rid of it, or thrown out on the levee to help fight off the river from eating away the bank. Now every economically managed mill burns it to make steam, by the aid of the draught of an enormous chimney. The best method
is to burn it on grates, under which air is forced by a blower.
The canes, hauled in the big carts from the fields, are dumped upon an endless band and carried into the mill, usually direct to the big iron rollers, but at Magnolia first to a "shredder." There are only two shredders in the State, the machine being a new invention. Its revolving teeth chew up the cane into pulp. The pulp and juice fall upon a rubber apron which carries them to the mill; grinding is simply squeezing between three or four sets of iron rollers. Now the juice runs in a trough to a strainer, where a woman gathers up now and then the shreds of cane remaining and takes them back to the mill. Next the juice is pumped into an iron cylinder called the "juice-heater," and heated with exhaust steam to 190°. This is a new process, not much in use. Next it runs into the clarifiers or defecators, which are large iron vats with rows of steam pipes at the bottom. Here slacked quicklime is added, which brings to the top all impurities, to be skimmed off into a division of the pan at the end. The juice is then boiled and "brushed" with a long paddle until the bubbles become white, when it is allowed to settle for fifteen minutes. There is a side operation for saving the sugar in the skimmings by putting them through filter presses.
In the advanced process at Magnolia the juice next goes through bone-black filters instead of to the ordinary settling-tanks, to settle for six or seven hours. A filter is a big iron drum containing ten thousand pounds of animal bone black. The "char" must be washed with