The Bucket Flower by Donald R Wilson | Everglades

continued from front flap


Bu Flower


ISBN 1-56164-369-6

Bucket Flower

Donald Robert Wilson served in the U.S.
Navy at the very end of World War II
and then became a teacher and school
principal for forty-two years in New
England. Upon retirement he moved to
southwest Florida and turned to writing.
This is his first novel.

“Miz Worthenting tol’ me you is goin’ inter de cypress
“Yes. I study plants.”
Phoebe shook her head without replying
“Why do you ask, Phoebe?”
“Thet’s an all-fired bad place, Miz Sprague. They’s
a heap o’ evil spirits out there. You orter stay put.”
The cook’s eyes grew large and she raised her arms as
she said, “Den dere’s de miasmas dat rise outta de
swamp at night an’ poison a soul.” Even though
Beth tried to put aside this woman’s gibberish,
a chill swept through her which made
her shiver. “Dem evil spirits’ll gobble
up a bucket flower like you.”
“What’s a bucket flower,
Phoebe?” she asked, not sure
she wanted to know.
“You’s a lady, Ma’am,
wif fine dresses and high
fallutin’ ways, an’ no way cud
you wrastle dem evil spirits in de
swamp. . . .”
—from Chapter 11


her for what she discovers lurking
deep in the Glades.
Beth Sprague finds much more
than unique and interesting plants in
the Everglades. She learns that she is a
woman who can face danger of every
sort—from hurricanes and alligators
to wild and desperate men—and hold
her own. She proves she is not just a
“bucket flower,” a pampered person
unfit to face the rigors of the swamp.
She finds her way, one much different
from the one her parents had planned
for her­—and even quite different from
the one she had planned for herself.

Pineapple Press, Inc.
Sarasota, Florida
Pineapple Press, Inc.
Sarasota, Florida

Cover art by Jean Morey
Jacket design by Shé Heaton


781561 643691

Donald Robert Wilson


wenty-three-year-old Elizabeth
Sprague is about to graduate from
Wellesley College with a master’s
degree in botany and wants to leave
her secure life with her parents in
Boston to go to the Florida Everglades
to study the plants—something that
in 1893, no woman has ever done.
Her domineering father has other
plans for her, namely marrying her to
a young man (whom Beth detests) in
order to join his business with that
of a prominent family. Her solution
is to go off to St. Augustine with
her aunt as chaperone. Her family
assumes this will satisfy her Florida
longings, but once in St. Augustine
she figures out a way to head farther
south, wisely carrying a derringer in
her handbag. What she finds there is a
wild and forbidding frontier inhabited
by dangerous animals and even more
dangerous men.
She is warned about the poisonous swamp miasmas, the evil
“night folks,” and especially the
ominous Swamp Ape, a sort of hairy
half-creature–half-man said to roam
there. But none of this will prepare
continued on back flap

The Bucket Flower

The Bucket Flower
Donald Robert Wilson

Pineapple Press, Inc.
Sarasota, Florida

Copyright © 2006 by Donald Robert Wilson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any
information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
Inquiries should be addressed to:
Pineapple Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 3889
Sarasota, Florida 34230
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wilson, Donald Robert,
  The bucket flower / Donald Robert Wilson.-- 1st ed.
       p. cm.
  ISBN-13: 978-1-56164-369-1 (alk. paper)
  ISBN-10: 1-56164-369-6 (alk. paper)
 1.  Women botanists--Fiction. 2.  Florida--Fiction.  I. Title.
  PS3623.I5786B83 2006
First Edition
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America

To Regina



Boston, Massachusetts, March 18, 1893


er knuckles were white as she gripped
the tablecloth. “Papa,” Beth said, “I’ve decided to go to Florida.”

Walter Sprague put down his soup spoon and touched his napkin
to the corners of his moustache before speaking. “What has brought
forth this sudden declaration, Elizabeth?” he asked. He looked at Mama

Mama’s eyes widened with her soup spoon suspended halfway to
her lips. Had it been a mistake not to include Mama in her plans? No.
Between Mama’s fear of upsetting Papa and her adherence to custom,
she would have invented reasons to support him.

“It’s . . . it’s about my graduate study,” she replied, having practiced
her words over and over. At that moment the gaslights flickered, reflecting
her own fear of awakening the fire-breathing dragon. Her graduate study
alone was a sore spot, let alone mentioning a long trip. “My mentor, Alice
Katherine Adams, has suggested the Everglades as an excellent resource
for my thesis. I’m required to complete a field study before I receive my
master’s degree.” 

She looked across at Aunt Sarah for support, having waited for
Sunday evening when her aunt customarily came to dinner. With his sister
present, Papa might react less vehemently. Aunt Sarah was concentrating
on adjusting the forks beside her soup plate.

“I allowed your mother to talk me into sending you to Wellesley to
become a better conversationalist at dinner parties, not to become a
scientific bluestocking. I must say, Elizabeth, I cannot see much change.
You’re not very clever with witty repartee. Now you’re involved in this
ridiculous master’s degree when there’s no place for female scientists. A
college degree, much less a master’s degree, for a woman is nonsense.”

“Papa’s right, dear,” said Mama. “You know that men are reluctant to
marry a woman with a college degree. Why must you continue with this
additional time wasting? People will consider you a spinster before you’re

“I’m not interested in marrying yet, Mama. We’ve talked about that,”
she said, trying to keep the sharpness of her tone in check. She had
expected this response.

“Don’t tell me you’re thinking about looking for a position when
you’re all finished with your education,” said Papa. “You have no business
taking a job away from a man with a family to support. A woman’s place
is in the home.” That was his familiar stand when it came to women
acquiring a profession. Then came a mystifying statement: “It’s more
important that you remain in Boston right now.”

“Why is it necessary for me to stay here, Papa?” Staying at home had
never been an issue before, although she had seldom been farther away
from home than Duxbury or Newburyport.

“If you insist upon continuing with your pointless studies, there’s
always the plant life in the Public Garden.” He had yet to return to eating
his soup.

“School children study the flora in the Public Garden, Papa. Botanists
search for and examine new species.”

“Then look in the Berkshires or the White Mountains. There’s no
need to flounce off to Florida.”

She decided not to be sidetracked by the sting of the word flounce.
“The White Mountains have already been scoured by botanists and 

The Bucket Flower
trampled by hikers and campers.” She was still looking at her father,
but sensed Mama and Aunt Sarah watching this exchange with concern.
One did not stand up to Papa without experiencing his gruff retorts and
eventual subjugation by the force of his anger and determination. “Doctor
Adams has suggested Florida’s western Everglades as an excellent area
where very little botanical study has taken place. Florida’s swamps are the
homes for hundreds of plant species still unnamed, some rare, others yet
to be discovered. Mama, remember the lecture you and I attended with
Mr. Cushing last fall? Pliny Reasoner’s trek along the Fakahatchee River in
1887 was what inspired me.”

Papa glared the length of the dining room table at Mama as if this
whole thing were her fault.

Her mother adjusted her chiffon shawl nervously. “People will gossip,
dear. They’ll surmise that you are in confinement. By seeming to go away
to avoid a scandal, you will surround the family with embarrassment.”

“I can’t help what your wicked-minded friends will imagine, Mama.
The only other places to get a similar experience are Africa or South

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Aunt Sarah. Perhaps it had been a mistake
to start this argument in the presence of Papa’s older sister after all.

“What does this woman—your mentor—know about Florida?” asked
Papa. “It’s a distant, uncivilized place where yellow fever and malaria are

“Oh,” said Mama softly, raising a hand to her throat. “Surely you don’t
want to travel to a place where those diseases exist, dear.”

There had been outbreaks of yellow fever, but none in the past two
years. Before she could reply, Papa spoke again.

“This woman sounds like a feather-head to suggest traveling to the
wilds of Florida. I assume she plans to accompany you.”

Beth resented his referring to Dr. Adams as “this woman.” She was
tempted to defend her mentor, but decided to stay on course and gripped
the table again. “I plan to go alone.”

“Unheard of. Young ladies do not travel alone. I forbid it.” His voice
reverberated from the dining room’s black walnut paneling, overriding
Mama’s gasp. Even Aunt Sarah had looked up in alarm. 

She had prepared herself for this. “Papa, this is 1893. Women travel
alone all the time. I’ve seen them on the train to Wellesley.”

“Working women, perhaps,” he said disdainfully. “Common people.
But not ladies, for long distances, overnight, to strange hotels. Certainly
not to Florida’s swamps. This discussion is closed.” He pointed at her.
“Dismiss these insane notions from your mind, Elizabeth.” He returned
his attention to his soup.

She paused for a moment, knowing what turmoil to expect from what
she was about to say. Seldom had she stood up to Papa, and even then
it had been about minor issues that Mama had supported and helped
her win. Now her mother remained silent. “Papa, I’m twenty-three. An
adult. I intend to go whether you approve or not.” The words came out
tremulously, but nevertheless they had been said.

Papa lowered his soup spoon slowly. His hand was shaking and his
face was as red as she had ever seen it. Aunt Sarah’s presence made him
attempt to contain himself. “I am amazed to hear your defiance, Elizabeth,
especially in front of your mother and Aunt Sarah. You will not go. I forbid
it, and will not advance you one penny for such an outlandish venture.”

She had anticipated this threat. “I have my trust fund from Grandfather
Jackson, Papa. I am now of age and intend to draw from it.” Grandfather
Jackson’s portrait, hanging above the marble fireplace behind Aunt Sarah,
looked down with approval.

Papa’s forehead furrowed. “I’ve always been against women handling
money, and tonight you’ve given me a good example why they shouldn’t.
You are naïve and see life through rose-colored glasses, Elizabeth. Some
no-account will steal your money before you are able to turn around. This
is the thanks your mother and I get for sending you to college. You’ve
become headstrong and are jeopardizing your main purpose in life—to
marry and have children.”

“I see Elizabeth as an independent thinker, Walter, but not
headstrong,” said Aunt Sarah, speaking for the first time. “I didn’t realize
you considered me a failure because I never married and had children.”

“Elizabeth is smart and can take care of herself, Papa,” added Mama.
“She has never embarrassed the family.” Papa had overreached himself 

The Bucket Flower
and the women were closing ranks. She saw a slight glimmer of hope for
their support.

Papa sputtered a few times and pulled at his high wing-tip collar, but
held his ground. “I still refuse to allow our daughter to travel alone to the
depths of Florida or any other far away place, Harriet,” he said, looking
at Mama. Then, turning toward his daughter, “If you are suggesting that
I escort you, I cannot. Business is not good right now, and the company
requires my attention here in Boston.”

“Well then,” interjected Aunt Sarah, “Elizabeth can accompany me
when I go to St. Augustine for the cure.” The suggestion came as a
surprise, giving even more support than she had dreamed of. But at what
cost? Was Aunt Sarah to be Papa’s surrogate in Florida?

“The cure?” asked Mama. “I hope you’re not ill.” Mama seldom
mentioned illness, even to her sister-in-law.

“I’ve had a lingering cough for months and this winter has got me
down. I need a change, and Florida’s warm sun will help.” Beth failed to
recall ever having heard Aunt Sarah cough.

“No one goes to Florida except those with consumption or those
who go there to die,” growled Papa. “It’s a silly idea. Besides, the season
is almost over.”

“Nonsense,” replied Aunt Sarah, now sitting ramrod straight like her
brother. “We’ll leave this week and have the whole month of April there.
We’ll stay at Flagler’s new hotel, the Ponce de Leon, and have a grand
time. During the day Elizabeth can search for all the plants her heart

The tension had subsided, but to tell Aunt Sarah that St. Augustine
wasn’t the part of Florida she intended to explore might change all that.
“Thank you, Aunt Sarah,” she said before Papa could object, realizing that
losing so easily was not acceptable to him. “I’d like to go to St. Augustine
with you.”

The conversation had confirmed to her that there were more reasons
to get away than just field studies in botany. Here was her chance to break
away from Papa’s dominance and Mama’s obsession with the family’s
position in Boston society, which was so confining. Her parents’ concern
about offending Boston’s “Ancients and Honorables” by breaking the 

rules of social etiquette was suffocating her.

For a moment, silence echoed around the high-ceilinged dining room
while everyone waited for Papa to react. Papa’s face was still red and his
mustache bristled, but his voice was much softer as he spoke. “If you two
insist upon this foolish venture, then I will make arrangements for the
two of you to have a first-class stateroom aboard the City of Providence,
which sails on the thirtieth for Jacksonville and Key West. A sea voyage
will be healthful and invigorating.” This was Papa’s way of maintaining
control in defeat. The Providence was one of his ships, and the crew
answered to him; she was doomed to be under his influence.

“Oh, no,” said Aunt Sarah, raising her hands. “I will never go anywhere
by ship again. When I went to Europe I was deathly sick during both
crossings. I would have walked home if I had that choice. We’ll take the
train, Walter. It goes all the way to St. Augustine now.”

Papa glared at Aunt Sarah. “A stateroom is a much more civilized way
to travel. You never know what common people you will encounter on a
train, mostly drummers. They don’t just sell their wares, they’re a wanton
lot. The cars are dirty, noisy, too hot or too cold, and the food, when
available, is inedible.”

“We’ll get reservations for a stateroom in a hotel car,” said Aunt Sarah
bravely. “They have all the modern conveniences at hand, including
meals, all in one car, and we won’t have to move about the train once we
leave Jersey City.” Aunt Sarah had traveled before, but it mattered little to
Elizabeth whether they went by Papa’s steamer or by train as long as they
were able to go.

Sunday was the maid’s night off, and Mrs. Faraday, the cook, had
cleared the soup dishes. The dinner had continued without further
upset. Papa was unusually quiet while Mama and Aunt Sarah engaged in
small talk. Their conversation gave her the opportunity to absorb what
had taken place. That she was accompanying Aunt Sarah to Florida in a
few days was hard to believe. She hadn’t won, exactly, but she hadn’t lost,
either. Aunt Sarah, in her mid-sixties, had certain limitations as a traveling
companion. Once they were in Florida she planned to find out how close
to the Everglades they were. How to arrange a few days away from Aunt 

The Bucket Flower
Sarah for exploration was a problem, but this evening was not the time to
worry about that.

“You know, Sarah,” said Papa, ending the quiet moment while Mrs.
Faraday had served the Indian pudding, “I expect you to be the perfect
chaperone and never let Elizabeth out of your sight. Louts will be attracted
to her like bears to honey.” He pointed that threatening finger again. “If
anything happens to her, anything at all, I will hold you responsible.”

“Papa, I know how to deal with untoward gentlemen. You forget all
the Harvard men I’ve had to fend off at cotillions.”

“These men will not be from Harvard, Elizabeth, and they will not be
gentlemen requesting a place on your dance card. If you insist upon going,
you will encounter all kinds of riffraff, and you will not be treated like a lady.
If you ever need help, don’t expect to receive any. Distrust any man who
attempts to be friendly. They’ll be after your money—or worse.” This was
the closest her father ever came to admitting that sexual drives existed. “At
best, you’ll be ignored. You will find the train schedules to be unreliable.
You’ll have to change trains frequently, stay over in questionable hotels,
and often take a ferry or cross a city to reach the next railway line. And
these are unsettled times. Grover Cleveland will be inaugurated within a
few days, and who knows what vermin that will bring into office. I predict
that you will return to Boston within a week—if you get back at all.”

“It’s a man’s world out there, dear,” said Mama vaguely.

“We’ll be able to take care of ourselves,” said Aunt Sarah. “You’d think
I have never traveled before.”

As they rose from the table, Papa asked, “Elizabeth, have you told
Edward Cushing about your travel plans?” The thought of Mr. Cushing
caused her to shudder. He competed with Papa in the shipping business.
Mama had included the obnoxious man in their social plans more
frequently as of late.

She paused, puzzled. “Why need I discuss anything with Mr. Cushing,

“He might be slighted by your leaving Boston just now.”

“Why is that?”

“I believe he will be making a proposal of marriage to you very

The Bucket Flower
Donald R. Wilson

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