IN THE FAR SOUTH.
"REALLY, mother, it doesn't seem as though I
could stand it any longer! Life in this place isn't worth living,
especially when it's a life of poverty, and what people call 'genteel
poverty,' as ours is. Our struggle is for bare existence, and there
doesn't seem to be any future to it. If you'd only let me go to New
York, I'm sure I could do something there that was worth the doing, but
I can't do anything here, and I'd almost rather die than live here any
With this Sumner Rankin flung himself into a chair, and
his flushed face was as heavily clouded as though life held nothing of
hope or happiness for him.
"Why, my dear boy," exclaimed his mother,
standing beside him and smoothing his tumbled brown curls with her cool
hands, "what is the matter? I never knew you to speak so bitterly
Mrs. Rankin still looked so young and pretty that she
might almost be taken for an elder sister of the handsome,
seventeen-year-old boy over whom she now bent so tenderly. To the
casual observer the Rankins' home was a very pleasant one. It was a
pretty, broad-verandaed cottage nestled in the shadows of a clump of
towering coconut palms, on the far southern island of Key West. It
stood on the outskirts of the town, and so close to the beach that the
warm waters of the Mexican Gulf rippling on the coral rocks behind it
made a ceaseless melody for its inmates. Jasmine vines clambered over
it, glossy-leaved myrtles, a hedge of night-blooming cereus and other
sweet-scented tropical shrubs perfumed the air about it.
Through these, looking out from the shaded coolness of the
verandas, the eye caught fascinating glimpses of blue waters with white
sails constantly passing, and stately men-of-war swinging idly at their
moorings. It looked an ideal home; but even in this tropical Eden there
was one very large serpent, besides several that were smaller though
almost equally annoying. The big one was poverty, and it held the
Rankins in its dread embrace as though with no intention of relaxing
it. Mrs. Rankin was the widow of a naval officer who had been stationed
at Key West a few years before. He had sent his wife and only child
north to escape a dreadful summer of yellow fever, while he had stayed
and died at his post. Shortly before his death Commander Rankin,
believing that Key West property was about to increase rapidly in
value, had invested all that he had in the little jasmine-clad cottage,
expecting to be able to sell it at a handsome profit when his term of
service at that station should expire.
Thus it was all that remained to his family, and to this
haven Mrs. Rankin, sad-eyed and well-nigh broken-hearted, had returned
with her boy. The fever had caused real estate to become of so little
value that there was no chance of selling the cottage; so they were
forced to live in it, and the widow eked out her scanty pension by
letting such rooms as she could spare to lodgers. During the pleasant
winter season she rarely had difficulty in filling them, but through
the long, hot summer months desirable lodgers were few and far between,
and the poverty serpent enfolded them closely.
One of the lesser serpents against which the Rankins had
to contend was the lack of congenial society; for, with the exception
of a few government employees and those whose business compels them to
live there, the population of Key West is composed of spongers and
wreckers, Cuban and Negro cigar makers. Another was the lack of good
schools, and the worst of all was the lack of suitable business
openings for Sumner, or "Summer," as his Chinese nurse had called him
when he was a baby, and as he had been called ever since on account of
his bright face and sunny disposition. He would have loved dearly to go
through the Naval Academy and follow the profession that had been his
father's, but the Rankins had no political influence, and without that
there was no chance. He could not go into a cigar factory, and though
his boyish love of adventure had led him to take several trips on
sponging vessels, it was not the business for a gentleman.
Born in China, the boy had, with his mother, followed his
naval father to many of the principal ports of the world. Both his
father and mother had devoted all their spare time to his education,
and thus he was well informed in many branches of which the average boy
knows little or nothing. He loved the sea and everything connected with
it. From his babyhood he had played with and sailed boats; now there
was no better sailor in Key West than he, nor one more at home among
the reefs of those southern waters. He knew the secrets of boatbuilding
from keel to truck, and from stem to stern, while his favorite
employment was the whittling out of models, the drawing of sail plans,
and the designing of yachts. But nobody wanted yachts in Key West, nor
did its sailors care to have improved models for their fishing boats or
So Sumner was considered a dreamer, and people said he
ought to be doing something besides whittling and idling about home.
The boy thought so himself, but what to do and how to set about it were
problems the attempted solution of which caused him many an unhappy
hour. On the perfect winter day that he had come home in such a
despairing frame of mind, his own life had just been presented in vivid
contrast to that of another boy who seemed to have the very things that
Sumner most longed for. He had been down to the wharf to see the
Olivette, the West Indian fast mail steamer from Tampa, come in. There
he had been particularly attracted by a boy somewhat younger than
himself, standing with a gentleman, whom Sumner supposed to be his
father, on the afterdeck. As the steamer neared the wharf this boy
amused himself by flinging silver coins into the water for the fun of
seeing little Negroes dive after them.
"Only think, mother!" exclaimed Sumner in
relating this incident, "he threw money away as I would so many
pebbles, and didn't seem to value it any more. Just imagine a boy
having money to waste like that! And some of those little rascals who
dived for it made more in a few minutes than I have to spend in
"But, Sumner," said Mrs. Rankin, gravely, "I hope your
unhappiness does not arise from jealousy of another's prosperity?"
"Yes, it does, mother," replied the boy, honestly;
"though it isn't only because he could throw money away; it is because
he has the very thing that I would rather have than anything else in
the world -- the prettiest, daintiest, cedar sailing canoe that ever
was built. I never saw one before, but I've read of them, and studied
their plans until I know all about them. She is as different from my
old canvas thing as a scow is from a yacht."
"But you thought your canvas canoe very nearly perfect
when you built her."
"I know I did, but I have learned better since then, and
now it seems as though I should never care to look at it again." Yet
this same despised canvas canoe, which Sumner had built himself the
year before without ever having seen one, had been considered both by
himself and his friends a masterpiece of naval construction, and he had
cruised in her ever since with great satisfaction.
"You have yet to learn, dear, that it is ever so much
harder to be satisfied with the things we have than to obtain those for
which we long, no matter how far beyond our reach they may seem," said
Mrs. Rankin, gently.
"I suppose it is, mother, and I know it is horrid to
come to you with my miserable complainings; but I wish I had never seen
those canoes -- for there were two of them just alike -- and I wish
wealthy people wouldn't come to Key West with such things. They don't
do us any good, and only make us feel our poverty the more keenly. Why,
there they are now! Turning in here too! What can they want with us, I
wonder? I won't see them at any rate. I've no more use for wealthy
snobs than they have for me."
So saying, Sumner left the room by a rear door, and the
steps of the approaching visitors sounded on the front veranda.
THREE CANOES, AND THE FATE OF ONE.
As Sumner's mother opened the door, she saw that the
gentleman who, politely lifting his hat, asked if she were Mrs. Rankin,
was too young to be the father of the boy by his side.
"May I introduce myself as Mr. Tracy Manton, of
New York?" he said, when she had answered his question in the
affirmative; "and my nephew, Master Worth Manton? We have called to see
if we can engage rooms here for a week or so. We will take our meals at
the hotel; but we have two canoes that we propose fitting out here for
a cruise up the reef, and we want to find a place close to the water
where we can keep them in safety, and at the same time be near them.
Mr. Merrill advised us to come here, and it looks as though this were
exactly the place of which we are in search. So if you can accommodate
us we shall esteem it a great favor."
With the remembrance of Sumner's last words, Mrs. Rankin
hesitated a moment before replying; whereupon Mr. Manton added
"I trust you are not going to refuse us, for I
have set my heart on coming here, and will gladly pay full hotel rates
for the accommodation."
"If my vacant rooms suit you I shall be pleased to let
you have them at my regular rate, which is all they are worth,"
answered the widow, quietly, as she reflected on the poverty which
would not allow even a mother's feelings to interfere with honorable
"Will you step in and look at them?"
"We are in luck, my boy, and our little expedition has
begun most prosperously," said Mr. Tracy Manton an hour later, as he
and his nephew sat in one of the two pretty backrooms that they had
engaged, surrounded by their belongings, and looking out on the
sparkling waters of the Gulf.
On the grass of the palm-shaded back yard, and in plain
sight from the windows, lay the two canoes that had so excited Sumner's
admiration and envy. They were indeed beauties as they lay there
divested of their burlap wrappings, and that they were fresh from the
builder's hands was shown by their unscratched varnish and gleaming
metal fittings. They were fifteen feet long by thirty inches wide
amidships, were provided with folding metal centerboards, metal drop
rudders, foot- and hand-steering gear, watertight compartments fore and
aft, and were decked, with the exception of their roomy cockpits. These
were surrounded by stout oak coamings three inches high, sharp-pointed,
and flaring outward at the forward ends, but cut down so as to be flush
with the deck aft. Beside them lay the confused mass of paddles, sails,
spars, canoe tents, rubber aprons, cushions, and cordage, that
completed their equipment. They were simply perfect in every detail,
and the most beautiful things Sumner Rankin had ever set his eyes upon.
At least he thought so, as, returning from a long tramp on which he had
tried to walk off his unhappiness, he found them lying. in the yard. In
spite of his surprise at seeing them there, and a return of his
unwelcome feeling of envy, he could not help stopping to ad. mire them
and study their details.
"Hello!" exclaimed Mr. Manton, again looking from
his window. "There's a chap down there staring his eyes out at our
boats. I shouldn't wonder if he were our landlady's son -- the one, you
know, we were advised to engage as a guide. You wait here while I run
down and find out."
So Worth waited and watched from the window to note the
result of his uncle's negotiations.
At a first glance one would have said that Worth Manton
was an effeminate boy, with a pale face, blue eyes, and fair hair. If,
however, the observer looked long enough to note the square chin, the
occasional compression of the thin lips, and flash of the eyes, he
might form a different opinion. He was the son of Guy Manton, the great
Wall Street operator who had made a fortune out of western railroads,
and he had all his. life been accustomed to lavish luxury. He was
rather delicate, and it was largely on his account that his parents had
decided to spend a winter at St. Augustine. The boy had taken but
slight interest in the gaieties of the Ponce de Leon, nor had he gained
.any benefit from the chill rainstorms driven in from the ocean by the
east winds of midwinter. The doctor had advised his going farther
south; and when his uncle Tracy proposed that they make a canoe trip up
the, great Florida Reef, which lies off the most southerly coast of the
United States, Worth had eagerly seconded the proposition, and had
finally won the reluctant consent of his parents. He knew nothing of
canoeing, nor did his uncle know much more; but the latter was a good
yachtsman, and Worth had had some experience of the same kind, so they
felt confident they could manage. They intended to devote some time to
studying their craft, and learning their possibilities in the waters
about Key West; so two canoes, completely equipped, were ordered from
the builder by telegraph. Worth's father promised to charter a yacht,
sail down the coast in it, and meet them at Cape Florida about the
first of April, and the two would-be canoemen started for Key West full
of pleasant anticipations.
Sumner Rankin started at being asked if that were his
name, for he had not heard Mr. Manton's step on the grass behind him,
and answered rather curtly that it was.
"Well," said the young man, plunging into
business at once, as was his habit, "I have been told that you are a
first-class sailor, as well as a good reef pilot. My nephew and I are
going to cruise up the reef, and I should like to engage your services
as boatman and guide. I am willing to pay -- "
"It makes no difference what you are willing to pay,"
interrupted Sumner, with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes.
"My services as boatman are not for hire at any price."
With this assertion of his pride, or, as he imagined, of
his independence, the boy turned and walked into the house.
"Whew!" whistled Mr. Manton, gazing after the
retreating form in amazement. "There's a bit of dynamite for you! Pride
and poverty mixed in equal parts do make a most powerful explosive.
However, I haven't forgotten my own days of poverty, and can fully
appreciate the boy's feelings. I'll try him on a different tack as soon
as this little squall has blown over. He and his mother must be
different from the majority of the people down here, for they are the
first we have met who don't seem to want to make money out of us."
Mr. Tracy Manton had no idea of giving up his purpose of
engaging Sumner to accompany them on their trip, for he was the kind of
a man who wins his way by sticking to whatever plan be has decided
upon, in which respect his nephew Worth strongly resembled him. So the
next time he met the lad, which was in the afternoon of the following
day, he held out his hand and said:
"I beg your pardon for my unintentional rudeness
of yesterday, and my forgetfulness of the fact that a gentleman is
such, no matter where he is found. Now, I want you to forgive me,
forget my offense, and do me a favor. I can't make head or tail of our
sails, and they don't seem tome right somehow. If you will come and
look at them I shall be greatly obliged."
By this time Sumner was so heartily ashamed of his conduct
of the day before that he was only too glad to accept this overture of
friendship, and a few minutes later the two were busily discussing the
sails of the Cupid and Psyche, as the Mantons' canoes
were named. The spars were much heavier than they need be, while the
sails were of the ill-shaped, unserviceable pattern generally furnished
by canoe builders, and these defects were quickly detected by Sumner's
experienced eye. When he pointed them out to Mr. Manton, the latter
readily comprehended them, but was at a loss how to make the
improvements that were evidently demanded.
In order to explain more thoroughly the idea that he
wished to convey, Sumner dragged out his own canvas canoe, stepped her
masts, and hoisted her sails. They were of a most ingenious and
effective lateen pattern, such as Mr. Manton had never before seen.
"Where did you get hold of that idea " he asked,
after studying them carefully a few moments. "It is a capital one."
"I got it partly from an Arab dhow that I once saw off
Madagascar, and partly from the feluccas at Civita Vecchia."
"Madagascar and the Mediterranean!" repeated Mr. Manton,
in astonishment. "If you have visited both of those places you must
have traveled extensively."
"Yes," answered Sumner, quietly, but with a twinkle of
amusement in his eye. "The son of a naval officer who attempts to
follow his father about the world is apt to see a good bit of it before
he gets through."
Mr. Manton, who had known nothing of Sumner's history, no
longer wondered that he had been offended at being taken for a boatman
whose services could be hired. He was, however, too wise to make
further mention of the subject, and merely said,
"Then you have had a splendid chance to study
sails." And again turning to the subject under consideration, he asked,
"Would you be willing to help us cut out some for our canoes after your
Sumner answered that he would not only be willing but glad
to lend every aid in his power towards properly equipping the two
canoes for their trip.
In the mean time the sun had set, and the sky was black
with an approaching squall that caused them to watch with some
uneasiness for Worth's return. He had gone out in one of the canoes, an
hour before, for a paddle, and had not since been seen. Just as the
storm broke he appeared around a point and headed towards the little
landing place near which they were standing. As his course lay directly
in the teeth of the wind, his struggle was long and hard. They watched
him anxiously, and more than once Sumner offered to go to the boy's
assistance; but his uncle said he wished Worth to learn self-reliance
more than anything else, and this was too good a lesson to be spoiled.
Finally the young paddler conquered, and, reaching the landing place in
safety, sprang ashore. He was either too exhausted or too careless to
properly secure his canoe, and as he stepped from it a spiteful gust of
wind struck it full on the side. In another moment it was beyond reach
and drifting rapidly out to sea.
Both the Mantons were confused by the suddenness of the
mishap. Before they could form any plan for the recovery of the
runaway, Sumner had shoved his own canvas canoe into the water, jumped
aboard, and was dashing away in pursuit of the truant. He was almost
within reach of his prize, and his tiny sail was almost
indistinguishable amid the blackness of the squall, when the watchers
on shore were horrified to see another and much larger sail come
rushing down, dead before the wind, directly towards it. Then the tiny
canoe sail disappeared; and as the larger one seemed to sweep over the
spot where it had been, the Mantons gazed at each other with faces that
betokened the dread they dared not put into words.
WITH THE NEXT SEND OF THE SEA
THE CANVAS CANOE
WAS CRUSHED BENEATH THE PONDEROUS BOWS.