A Story of the Everglades.



"LOOK here," said Sumner, sternly, to the Negro, after his excitement had somewhat subsided, "didn't you try to steal one of our guns last night?"

"Yes, honey, I's afeared I did," confessed the black man, humbly. "But I didn't know hit war you, Marse Summer, an' I did want er gun so powerful bad."

"I'm glad that mystery is cleared up, at any rate," said Worth, with a relieved air. "And I'm glad to find out that I was right about some one being in the camp, too. Now I wonder if lie doesn't know something about our canoes?"

"Do you, Quorum, know anything about the canoes that we came here in?" asked Sumner.

"No, I don't know nuffin' 'bout no cooner. I's bin wonderin' what sort of er boat you'll come in, an' er lookin' fer him, but I don't see him nowhere."

"I suppose you would have stolen it if you had found it?"

"Maybe so, maybe so. Ole Quorm not 'sponsible fer what him do when be bein' hunted like er 'possum or er 'coon. Yo' like 'possum when he roasted, Marse Summer?"

"Indeed I do when you roast him, Quorum. Why ? Have you got one?"

"Yes sah, cotch him in er trap dis berry mawnin'. I jist settin' hit agin when yo' come er trompin' troo de trees an' scare de pore ole niggah 'mos' to def. Now, if yo' say so, we go roas' him, and hab berry fine suppah."

"Certainly I say so. You lead the way, and we'll follow you. I tell you what, Worth, we've struck it rich in falling in with one of the best cooks on the reef."

"I don't know how I shall like 'possum," replied Worth, "for I have never eaten any; but I am sure it will make fully as good a meal as raw coconut. I do wish, though, that we had some bread, or at least some crackers, and a little butter."

And sugar and coffee and bacon, and a cooking outfit," laughed Sumner. "I wouldn't mind spending a few days here if we had all those things."

"Wouldn't it be fine?" replied the boy, who had all his life reveled in luxuries that he hardly cared for, but would now have appreciated so highly the commonest of what are generally regarded as necessities.

As they talked in this strain, they followed the negro through the narrow trail leading back from the coconut grove to his camp. It was but a short distance from the place where Sumner had taken his header into the ty-ti bush. Here Quorum had built himself a snug palmetto hut in a place capitally concealed from observation, and had managed to surround himself with a number of rude comforts. A fire was smoldering in a rough stone fireplace, and from an adjoining limb hung the 'possum that they were to have for supper.

"Well," exclaimed Sumner, looking about him, "I don't see but what you are living like an African King, Quorum. Have you had plenty to eat since you came here?"

"Yes, sah. Plenty such as hit is -- 'possum, 'coon, turtle, fish, oyster, conch, coconut, banana, limes, lemons, an' paw-paw; but no terbakker. I tell yo', sah, dat a berry pore place what hab no terbakker."

"So you want tobacco to make you happy, and Worth wants bread and butter, and I want coffee. It seems that we all want something that we haven't got, and aren't likely to get in this world, doesn't it? But, Quorum, what on earth are you throwing all that iron into the fire for? It won't burn."

"No, him won't burn," answered the negro, chuckling at the idea, "but him good to bile do wattah."

As neither of the boys had the least idea what he meant, they watched him curiously. The iron that he had thrown into the fire, which he now heaped with wood, consisted of a number of old bolts that be had obtained from some wreckage on the beach. While these were heating, he filled a small hollow place in the rocks with water, and when the bolts were red-hot he dropped them into it. In about two seconds the water was boiling. Throwing a few handfuls of ashes into the boiling water, he soused the 'possum in it and held him there several minutes. After this he scraped the animal with a bit of iron hoop, and to the surprise of the boys, its hair came off almost without an effort.

In a minute it was as bare as a suckling pig, which it greatly resembled. Shortly afterwards it was cleaned, washed, and ready for roasting. Just here Sumner proposed that they return to their own camp, and do the roasting there, as from where they now were they had no chance of seeing any boats that might pass the island.

As Quorum no longer felt the necessity for hiding, he readily agreed to this, and carrying with them the few articles belonging to him that were worth removing, they started through the woods towards what the boys already called home. The afternoon was nearly spent when they entered the clearing and came in sight of their own little lean-to.

Sumner, who was some distance in the lead, was the first to reach it. The others saw him suddenly stop, gaze at the hut as though fascinated by something inside of it, and then, without a word, start on a run towards the beach. This curious action excited Worth's wonder; but when he reached the hut he did exactly the same thing.

When Quorum, who came last, reached it, he gazed in open-eyed wonder, but did not move from the spot. A smile gradually overspread his face, and, with a long-drawn sigh of happy anticipation, he uttered the single word, "Terbakker."
"Do you see it?" asked Worth, breathlessly, as he joined Sumner on the beach.

"No; but perhaps it is behind the point. Let's go and take a look." But when they reached the point there was no sign of the vessel that they fully expected to find there. More greatly puzzled than they had ever been before in all their lives, even at the mysterious disappearance of their canoes, the boys slowly retraced their steps towards the hut. It was completely filled with barrels, boxes, and various packages, most of which evidently contained provisions.

"There is a sack of coffee," remarked Sumner. "And a box of crackers. And, yes, here is butter!" cried Worth, lifting the cover of a tin pail.

"Dat ar am sholy a box oh terbakker," put in Quorum, pointing to the unmistakable box, from which his eyes had not wandered since they first lit upon it.

"It certainly is," replied Sumner, in a voice expressive of the most unbounded amazement. "And there, if my eyes do not deceive me, are cases of milk, canned fruit, baked beans, and brown bread."

"Hams and bacon," added Worth.

"Kittles and pans," said Quorum.

"In fact," concluded Sumner, "there is a bountiful supply of provisions for several months, and a complete housekeeping outfit into the bargain There is no doubt as to what these things are. The only unanswered questions are, Whom do they belong to, and how did they get here?"

"Perhaps whoever stole our canoes has left them here in part payment," suggested Worth.

"You might just as well say that Elijah's ravens had brought them," laughed Sumner.

"Marse Summer, sah, 'scuse me, but do hit 'pear to yo' like hit would be stealin' to bang de kiver offen dat ar box, an' let de ole man hab jes one smell oh dat terbakker?" asked Quorum, humbly.

"No, Quorum, under the circumstances I don't believe it would," replied the boy, who forthwith proceeded to attack the box in question with his hatchet.




THE display of layer upon layer of black plug tobacco such as Quorum had been accustomed to using for longer than he could remember caused the negro's eyes to glisten as though they saw SO many ingots of pure gold. For more than two weeks he had longed unavailingly for a fragment of the precious weed. Now to have an unlimited quantity of it placed before him so very mysteriously and unexpectedly seemed to him the climax of everything most desirable and best worth living for. He sniffed at it eagerly, inhaling its fragrance with long, deep breaths. Then, producing a stubby black pipe from some hidden recess of his tattered clothing, he asked, pleadingly, for "jes one lilly smoke."

"After supper," said Sumner. "Get supper ready first, and then you shall smoke as much as you want to."

At this Quorum's countenance fell, and seating himself on the ground, he remarked, stubbornly: "No, sah. Ole Quor'm do no cookin' wifout him hab a smoke fust. No smoke, no cookin', no cookin', no suppah. Why yo' no gib one plug ob terbakker fur dat 'possum, eh? Him monstrous fine 'possum, but I willin' to sell him fur jes one lilly plug oh terbakker. Yo' can't buy him so cheap nowliar else, specially on dis yer oncibilized Niggly Wity Key."

"But it is not my tobacco," laughed Sumner, greatly amused at the old man's attitude and arguments.

"Who he b'long to, den?" demanded Quorum, quickly.

"I'm sure I don't know," answered the boy.

"Den he yourn. You fin' him. You keep him. Hit all de same like er wrack. Yo' catch him, nobody else want him, yo' keep him. Jes one lilly smoke, Marse Summer -- jes one; den de ole man go to cookin' de berry bestes yo' ebber seen. Come, Marse Summer, jes one; dat's a honey bug."

There was no resisting this pleading appeal, and cutting off enough for a single pipeful from one of the plugs, Sumner handed it to the negro, saying: "Well, then, if you must have it, take that, and hurry up with supper the very minute you have finished your smoke. I never was so hungry in my life, while Worth begins to look dangerously like a cannibal. Come, Worth, we must fly round, and build another palmetto shanty before dark. At this rate we'll have a town here before long."

Two hours of hard work found a second hut, much more pretentious than the first, nicely roofed in. By this time the sun was setting, and what was of infinitely more importance to the young canoemates, Quorum announced that supper was ready.

And what a feast he had prepared! Had there ever been one hall so good before? In the opinions of the boys, there certainly had not. Quorum had felt no scruples about helping himself to the provisions so liberally provided, and if the boys had noticed what he was doing, they had not possessed the moral courage to interfere. As a result, he had baked the 'possum stuffed with cracker-crumbs, bits of pork and onions cut up fine, and well seasoned with salt and pepper, in a Dutch oven. The oven had been set on a bed of coals, and a fire of lightwood knots built on its heavy iron lid. The 'possum had been surrounded with sweet potatoes, and both were done to a brown crisp. Then there was coffee, with sugar and condensed milk, toasted hardtack with butter, and bananas for dessert.

"Talk about eating!" said Sumner.

"Or Delmonico's!" added Worth.

As Quorum sat and watched them, a broad grin of happiness overspread his features, while wreaths of blue smoke curled gently upward above his woolly head. His pipe was again full, and he now had possession of an entire plug of tobacco, for which he felt profoundly grateful to some unknown benefactor.

Among other things in the hut, which the boys now called the storehouse, they had discovered a bale of blankets. These they did not hesitate to appropriate to their own use, and as they lay stretched on them, under their new roof, blinking sleepily at the fire, their comfort and happiness seemed almost to have attained perfection.

"Except for our canoes," said Sumner. "If we only had them, I, for one, should be perfectly happy; and tomorrow I am going to make preparations for finding them."

"How?" asked Worth; and for an hour or so they talked over their plans for the future. The intervals between their remarks became longer and longer, until finally, when Worth asked, "Whom do you suppose all those provisions belong to, anyway, Sumner?" the latter answered: "Give it up. I'm too sleepy to guess any more riddles tonight."

The boys slept almost without moving until sunrise; but Quorum was frequently aroused to repel the invasions of certain coons that, but for his watchfulness, would have made free with the contents of the storehouse. He also had to protect the fire against a heavy shower that came on towards morning; and on each of these occasions he rewarded himself with a few whiffs of smoke from his black pipe.



The next morning the two boys, leaving Quorum to devise traps for the capture of the 'coons and prepare dinner, started out to collect some of the planks they had seen the day before. With these Sumner proposed to build a raft on which they could drift over to Indian Key with that afternoon's ebb tide. Once there, he anticipated no difficulty in hailing some passing craft that could be chartered to search for their canoes, and carry them back to Key West in case the search proved fruitless.

As the channel from Lignum Vitae, through which the strongest tide currents flowed, led directly pa,st Indian Key and close to it, this plan seemed feasible. By noon the boys had towed around to the cove in front of their camp two heavy squared timbers and a number of boards. These they lashed together in the form of a rude raft. They had no nails, and but a limited supply of line for lashing, so that the raft was by no means so strong as they could wish. Neither was it very buoyant, the material of which it was built being yellow pine, already somewhat water-soaked and floating very low. To their dismay, when it was completed, the boys found that instead of supporting three persons, as they hoped it would, it was awash and unsafe with but two of them on board.

"There's only one thing to be done," said Sumner, when this state of affairs became evident, "and that is for me to go alone. When I get hold of a craft of some kind, I can bring her here after you two; and if I don't find one, it will be an easy matter for me to come back on a flood tide."

"But, Sumner, it seems awful for you to go 'way off there alone on such a crazy raft at this. Do you think it is absolutely necessary?"

"Yes," answered the other, whose mind was now intent only upon recovering his beautiful canoe, "I do think it is necessary for one of us to go. We can't stay here forever, living off of some unknown person's provisions. Besides, supposing those canoes should be wrecked and discovered in that condition, and the report that we were lost should reach Key West, how do you think our mothers would feel? Yes, indeed, it is necessary that I should go, and I mean to start the minute the tide serves."

Neither Worth nor Quorum could move Sumner from this determination, and it was with heavy hearts that they watched him, about four o'clock in the afternoon, step aboard the raft and shove out into the current, that had just begun to run ebb. He was provided with a long pole and a small box of pro visions, the latter being placed in the middle of the raft.

Its movement was at first heavy and sluggish, but as soon as it felt the influence of the current, it was borne along with comparative speed. Thus a few minutes served to take the solitary voyager beyond earshot of his companions. For some time he could see them waving their hats, but at length their forms faded from his sight, and he realized that he was beyond reach of their assistance in case his undertaking should fail. Now that he could no longer note the speed with which he had left the island, his progress seemed irritatingly slow.

The channel was very crooked, and his clumsy craft frequently grounded on the projecting sandbars at its many turns. In each case valuable time was lost in pushing it off and getting it again started. From this cause his rate of progress was so slow that Indian Key was still some distance ahead when the sun sank from sight in the western waters. Now, for the first time, Sumner experienced a feeling of uneasiness, and a doubt as to the success of his venture. He strove to add to the speed of his raft by poling, but as the depth of water was generally too great for him to touch bottom, nothing could be accomplished in that way.

Now he began to notice the numbers of sea monsters that were going out with the tide and using his channel as their pathway to deeper waters. On all sides were to be seen the triangular fins of huge sharks rising above the surface so close to him that he could have touched them with his pole. He also saw hundreds of sawfish, stingarees, devil-fish with vampirelike wings, the vast bulks of ungainly jew-fish, porpoises, and other evil looking creatures of great size and phenomenal activity. He shuddered to think what would be his fate if a slip or a misstep should precipitate him into the water among them. At length their forms were hidden from him by the darkness, and only their splashings and the gleaming trails of their progress through the phosphorescent water denoted their swarming presence.

Suddenly, while his attention was fixed upon these, he became aware that he was abreast of Indian Key and passing it. There was a shoal on the opposite side, and plunging his pole into it, he made a mighty effort to direct his raft towards land. All at once, without the slightest warning, the brittle pole snapped, and only by a violent effort did he save himself from plunging into the cruel waters.




© 2001 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
May not be reproduced without my permission. Go scan your own damn stuff.

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