PICKED UP IN THE GULF STREAM.
THE snapping of that pole marked the bitterest moment of
Sumner Rankin's life. With it went his only hope of navigating his rude
craft to the friendly shore of the key, past which he now seemed to be
drifting with terrible rapidity. He could make out the dim forms of its
trees, and of the deserted buildings, in one of which he had proposed
to spend the night. He could even hear the rustle of its palm leaves in
the light evening breeze, and the gentle plash of waters on its rocky
coast. It was so near that he could easily have swum to it. He thought
of making the attempt, but a single glance at the phosphorescent
flashes beneath him convinced him of its hopelessness. No, it was safer
to remain where he was, even though he should be carried out to sea
through one of the numerous channels in the outer reef. Supposing his
raft should strand on the reef, what chance was there of its holding
together until daylight, or even for a few minutes? He knew that if a
sea should arise there was none
Now Indian Key was lost to sight behind him, and he was
alone, with only his own unhappy thoughts for company. He knew that
those waters were seldom traversed by vessels of any description in the
night time, most of the reef sailors preferring to come to anchor at
sunset. Above him shone the stars, and far ahead gleamed the white and
red flashes of Alligator Light. All else was darkness and utter
The poor lad sat on the box containing his slender store
of provisions, and buried his face in his hands. How thankful he was
that his mother could not see him now! She was at least spared that
sorrow. He wondered what she was doing. Then his thoughts turned to
those whom he had left but a few hours before. Why had he not been
content to stay with them, and await patiently the relief that must
come to them sooner or later? Perhaps even now the mysterious owner of
those goods had arrived, and Worth was sitting with a merry party
beside the fire, while old Quorum was preparing supper. No, they must
have already eaten supper, and now Quorum was blissfully smoking his
pipe, while Worth was comfortably stretched out on his bed of blankets.
Oh, what a fool he had been to let a false pride in his own strength
and ability get the better of his prudence! He might have known that
there were a hundred chances of being swept past the little rocky key
to one of successfully landing on it. He had known it, but his
obstinate pride in his own superior skill had not allowed him to
acknowledge it, and now it was too late.
At length, feeling faint from hunger, the poor boy roused
himself, and ate a few mouthfuls of food from his provision chest. As
he contrasted this meal and its surroundings with the merry supper of
the evening before, the wretchedness of his situation was forced upon
him more strongly than ever. By this time a breeze that caused little
waves to break upon and occasionally wash completely over the raft had
sprung up in the southwest, and by the changing position of Alligator
Light, Sumner became aware that he was drifting up the reef. The
steadily increasing roar of its breakers informed him at the same time
that he was approaching closer to it with each moment.
Finally he was abreast of the light, and a mile or so from
it, while the sound of the breakers was all about him. He was on the
line of the reef. In a few minutes more he would either have passed
into the open sea beyond it, or his ill-built raft would strand and be
broken to pieces on its cruel rocks. During the succeeding five minutes
he almost held his breath. The strain of the suspense was awful, and
the boy hardly knew which fate he dreaded the most. At the end of that
time it was decided. The sound of the breakers certainly came from
behind him. lie had passed out through some channel, and was now on the
open sea. At the same time the waves that washed over his raft were
larger, so that before long he was thoroughly drenched by them, and sat
shivering in the chill night wind. Now the strong current of the Gulf
Stream aided the wind to bear him up the reef, and after a few hours
the brightness of Alligator Light was so sensibly diminished that he
knew he must be several miles from it.
Once during the night he saw the light of a steamship
passing at no great distance from him; but his frantic cries for help
were either unheard or unheeded, for no attention was paid to them.
Then he began to pray for the daylight that seemed as though it would
never come. How wearily the hours dragged and how cold he was! He was
wet through, and chilled to the bone.
When at length the welcome dawn began to tinge the eastern
sky, it found the lad half-lying on the raft, clinging to the lashings
of the little provision chest, and lost to consciousness in the sleep
of utter exhaustion. In this condition he was discovered by the
keen-eyed lookout of a westbound steamer that was hugging the reef to
escape as much as might be the force of the Gulf Stream. With reversed
engines and slackening speed, the great ship passed within a hundred
yards of him, but he knew nothing of it.
Nor did he awake until he heard a gruff, but pitying voice
close beside him, saying, "Poor fellow, he must be dead!" The next
moment two pairs of powerful arms had dragged him into the boat that
had been lowered for him, and as he sat up in its bottom rubbing his
eyes, he seemed to have just awakened from a hideous nightmare. A few
minutes later the boat with its crew had been hoisted to the deck, the
steamer was again pursuing her way towards Key West, and Sumner,
wrapped in hot blankets, was occupying a berth in a vacant stateroom,
surrounded by the sympathizing faces of those who were anxious to
anticipate his every want.
He was sound asleep when, half an hour from that time, the
steamer neared Alligator Light, and a small boat was seen pulling off
from it so as to intercept her. At the sight of this boat the first
officer immediately began to collect such late papers and magazines as
the passengers were willing to contribute, and tying them into a
package. This he lashed to a bit of wood, which he intended to toss
overboard for the lightkeeper to pick up. In this way the reef lights
are kept supplied with New York papers only three or four days old. The
same papers, passing through the mails, do not reach the scattered
dwellers on the keys for ten days or two weeks from the date of their
As the steamer neared the boat from Alligator Light its
occupant was seen to hold up a small package wrapped in canvas, which
was at once understood to contain dispatches that he wished to send to
Key West. So the end of a light line was flung to him, he skillfully
made the package fast to it without delaying the ship a moment, and it
was hauled aboard. Among the letters that it contained was one directed
to the editor of the only daily paper in Key West, and this was
delivered promptly on the steamer's arrival at that port.
Late that afternoon, when Mrs. Rankin was slowly regaining
her composure after the shock of Sumner's sudden and unlooked-for
appearance at home, and was listening with breathless interest to an
account of his recent adventures, a copy of the evening paper was left
at the house. Sumner was too busy assuring his mother that he was not
suffering the slightest ill effect from his exposure of the night
before, to look at it then. When, an hour later, he found time to do
so, the leading item on the first page at once attracted his attention.
It was headed, "A Mystery of the Reef," and after glancing hastily
through it, the boy sprang to his feet, shouting:
" Hurrah, mother! The disappearance of the canoes is
explained at last, and they are safe and sound, after all."
TWO PAIRS OF POWERFUL ARMS DRAGGED HIM INTO THE BOAT.
A MYSTERY OF THE REEF.
As Mrs. Rankin came into the room, on hearing Sumner's
exclamation, he read aloud the article in the Daily Equator that had so
excited him, and which was as follows:
"A MYSTERY OF THE REEF.
"By the steamship Comal, which arrived in this port
today, we receive a curious bit of news from Keeper Spencer, of
Alligator Light. On the evening of the 15th, as he was in the lantern
of the tower preparing to Tight the lamp, he noticed two small craft of
a most unusual description rapidly approaching from the direction of
the keys. One appeared to be in tow of the other, but in neither could
a human being be discovered. There were no signs of oars, sails,
paddles, or steam, and yet the movement of the boats through the water
was at the rate of about ten knots an hour. It was also very erratic,
and though their general course was towards the reef, they approached
it by a series of zigzags, now taking a sharp sheer to port, and
directly another to starboard. As the keeper could not leave the tower
at that moment, he directed Assistant Albury to take the lighthouse
skiff, intercept the craft, if possible, and investigate their
With great difficulty, and after an exciting chase, Mr.
Albury succeeded in getting alongside the leading boat of the two, and
in making fast to it. It proved to be a decked canoe, of exquisite
workmanship and fittings, completely equipped for cruising, bearing the
name Psyche in silver letters on either bow. The second canoe,
which was a counterpart of the first, was named Cupid. Both
were in tow of an immense Jew-fish, which had succeeded in entangling
itself in the cable with which the Psyche had evidently been
anchored. It is probable that one of the flukes of the anchor caught in
the creature's gills, though just how it happened will never be known,
as Mr. Albury, being unable to capture the monster, was obliged to cut
the cable and let him go. Nothing is known as to the fate of the owners
of these canoes, and they are now at the lighthouse awaiting a claimant.
"Just as we go to press we learn that early this morning
the Comal picked up a young man in the Gulf, not far from Alligator
Light. We were unable to obtain his name in time for insertion in
today's paper, but will give it, with full particulars concerning him,
in tomorrow's issue. He may be able to throw some light on the mystery
of the canoes."
"I should rather think he could!" laughed Sumner, as he
finished reading. "But did you ever hear of such a thing, mother? The
idea of a rascally Jew-fish running off with our canoes! I never
thought of such a thing as that happening. And how wonderfully it has
all turned out! I should have looked everywhere for them rather than at
Alligator Light. I should never have dared attempt to navigate the raft
that far, either. To think, too, that I should have been picked up by
the very steamer that brought the news! How dreadfully you would have
felt on reading it, if I hadn't got here first! Wouldn't you, mother
"Indeed I should, my boy; and I shall never be able to
express my gratitude for your wonderful preservation."
"But poor Worth!" exclaimed Sumner. "How I wish he knew
all about it, and how awfully anxious he must be! I only hope he won't
attempt to go to Indian Key to look for me before I can get back there.
That's something I must see about at once, and I must take the very
first boat that goes up the reef. Just think how I should feel if
anything were to happen to him, when Mr. Manton placed him in my care,
too! If it wasn't for the way things have turned out, I should feel
guilty at having left him there. I wouldn't have done it, though, if
Quorum hadn't been on hand to look after him. He surely will keep him
out of harm's way until I can get back."
"I hate to think of your going back there again," said
Mrs. Rankin, with a sigh, "though of course it is your duty to do so.
But you will be careful, and not run into any more such dreadful
perils, won't you, dear ?"
"Yes, mother; I promise not to run into a single peril
that I can help, and if I meet one, I will try my best to get out of
its way," laughed the boy, whose high spirits had quickly returned with
the prospect of recovering his beloved canoe.
"Well," sighed Mrs. Rankin, "so long as you must go, I
shouldn't be surprised if Lieutenant Carey would take you in the Transit.
he intends to leave tomorrow morning for a trip up the reef,
and to make some kind of a survey in the Everglades. He has been
staying here for a few days, and is up in his room now."
"Oh, mother!" cried the boy, springing to his feet, "the
Everglades! How I should love to go!"
"Now, Sumner -- " began Mrs. Rankin, in a tone of
expostulation; but the boy had already left the room, and was on his
Lieutenant Carey was an old friend, who had served under
Commander Rankin, and had known Sumner ever since the boy was twelve
years old. He had heard of his unexpected return, and only waited until
the first interview between the young canoeman and his mother should be
ended before going down to greet him. Now he listened to Sumner's story
with the deepest interest, and when it was ended, he said:
"Of course I will take you up the reef as fat as
Alligator, my boy, and shall be glad of your company. I only wish you
would go with us as far as the mainland, and act as pilot through the
Keys. They are not charted, you know, and as I have never been through
them, I was on the point of engaging a fellow named Rust Norris as
pilot, but I'd much rather have you. What do you say? Can't I enlist
you in Uncle Sam's service for a week or so?"
"I should like nothing better," answered Sumner, "only,
you see, I am bound just now to look
after Worth Manton, and take him up the reef to Cape
Florida, where we are due by the first of April."
"Perhaps we can persuade him to go along too. It won't be
much out of your way, and you've lots of time to finish your trip
between now and the first of April. I'll risk it anyhow, for I don't
like the looks of that fellow Norris, and am only too glad of an excuse
for not engaging him."
"Then there is Quorum, the cook," added Sumner,
reflectively. "I wonder what will become of him?"
"A cook, do you say? What sort of a cook? A good one?"
"One of the best on the reef," replied Sumner. "Then he is
just the man I want to get hold of for our trip. I am only waiting now
for a cook, and should start this evening if I had found one to suit
me. If you will guarantee him, we'll get away at once, and make the old
Transit hum up the reef in the hope of capturing him
before he makes any other engagement."
"There is not much chance for him to make an engagement
where he is now," laughed Sumner. "And, at any rate, I'm sure he
wouldn't leave Worth until I get back. I shall be only too glad to
start tonight though, for poor Worth must be terribly anxious, and the
sooner I get to him the better."
Thus it was settled, and as soon as supper was over, after
a loving, lingering farewell from his mother, who repeated over and
over again her charges that he should shun all perilous adventures, the
boy found himself once more afloat. Mrs. Rankin had promised to write a
long letter to the Mantons that very evening, assuring them of Worth's
safety up to the date of the day before, and being thus relieved from
this duty, Sumner set forth, with a light heart on his second cruise up
The Transit was a comfortable, schooner rigged
sharpie, about sixty feet long, built by the Government for the use of
the Coast Survey in shallow southern waters. She had great breadth of
beam, and was a stanch sea boat, though she drew but eighteen inches of
water, and Lieutenant Carey had no hesitation in putting her outside
for a night run up the Hawk Channel.
The especial duty now to be undertaken was an exploration
of the Everglades to ascertain their value as a permanent reservation
for the Florida Seminoles. T These Indians, hemmed in on all sides by
white settlers, were being gradually driven from one field and hunting
ground after another. In consequence they were becoming restive, and
the necessity of doing something in the way of assuring them a
permanent location had for some time been apparent. Thus a survey of
the 'Glades was finally ordered, and Lieutenant Carey had been detailed
for the duty, with permission to make up such a party to accompany him
as he saw fit.
His present command on the Transit consisted of
Ensign Sloe, and six men forward. It was intended that three of these
should be taken into the 'Glades, while Mr. Sloe, with the other three,
was to take the sharpie, from the point where the exploring party left
her, around to Cape Florida, and there await their arrival.
On the deck of the schooner and towing behind her were
three novel craft, in which Lieutenant Carey intended to conduct his
explorations of the swamps and grassy waterways of the interior. One of
these was an open basswood canoe built in Canada, shaped very much like
a birch bark, and capable of carrying four men. The others were the
odd-looking boats, with bottoms shaped like tablespoons, that are so
popular as ducking-boats on the New Jersey coast, and are known as
Barnegat cruisers. One of these was named Terrapin and the other
Gopher, while the open canoe bore the Seminole name of Hul-la-lah (the
Before a brisk southerly breeze, in spite of the boats
dragging behind her, the Transit made rapid progress. Ere it
was time to turn in, Key West Light was low in the water astern, while
that on American Shoal shone steady and bright off the starboard bow.
The wind held fresh all night, so that by morning both American Shoal
and Sombrero had been passed, and the sharpie was off the western end
of Lower Metacumba, with Alligator Light flashing out its last gleam in
the light of the rising sun.
WORTH AND QUORUM ARE MISSING.
As Sumner was anxious to reach Lignum Vitae by the
shortest possible route, the Transit was headed in through the
channel between Lower Metacumba and Long keys. Both tide and wind being
with her, the nimble-footed sharpie seemed to fly past the low reefs
and sandspits on either side. Now she skimmed by the feeding grounds of
flocks of gray pelicans, whose wise expressions and bald heads gave
them the appearance of groups of old men, and then passed an old sponge
crawl, or the worm eaten hull of some ancient wreck, both of which were
covered with countless numbers of cormorants, gannets, and gulls.
Waiting, with outstretched necks and pinions half spread, until the
schooner was within a stone's throw, these would fly with discordant
cries of anger, wheel in great circles, and return to the places from
which they had been driven the moment the threatened danger had passed.
Even after the sharpie was well inside the bay, and the
island they sought was in sight, they could not lay a direct course
towards it on account of a reef several miles in length that presented
an effectual barrier to anything larger than a canoe. But one narrow
channel cut through it, and this was away to the northward, close under
a tiny mangrove key. Towards this then they steered, with Sumner at the
tiller, for he was the only one on board familiar with the intricate
navigation of those waters.
"You are certain that you are right, Sumner?" inquired
Lieutenant Carey, anxiously, as they seemed about to drive headlong on
the bar, and an ominous wake of muddy water showed that they were
"Certain," answered the boy, quietly.
"All right, then; I've nothing to say."
Inch by inch the great centerboard rose in its trunk, and
the slack of its pennant was taken in, as the water rapidly shoaled.
Now she dragged so heavily that it seemed as though she were about to
stop. Again the lieutenant looked at Sumner, and then cast a
significant glance at the man stationed by the foresheet. But the boy
never hesitated nor betrayed the least nervousness. An instant later
the tiller was jammed hard over, there was a sharp order of "Trim in!"
and, flying almost into the teeth of the wind, the light vessel shot
through an Opening so narrow that she scraped bottom on both sides, and
in another moment was dashing through deep water on the opposite side
of the bar.
From here the run to Lignum Vitae was a long and short leg
beat, with numerous shoals to be avoided. In spite of being kept busy
with these, Sumner found time to note and wonder at a great column of
smoke that rose from the island. What could Worth and Quorum be about?
It looked as though they had managed to set the forest on fire. Filled
with an uneasy apprehension, he jumped into a boat the moment the Transit's
dropped in the well-remembered cove, and sculled himself
ashore. To his amazement he heard the sound of many voices, and
discovered a dozen or so of men hard at work apparently cutting down
the forest and burning it.
AS HE STEPPED ASHORE A PLEASANT-FACED
YOUNG MAN ADVANCED TO MEET HIM.
As he stepped ashore, and looked in vain for the familiar
figures of his friends, a pleasant-faced young man advanced from where
the laborers were at work to meet him.
"Can you tell me, sir, what has become of a boy named
Worth Manton and an old colored man whom I left here the day before
yesterday?" Sumner inquired, anxiously.
"If you mean the two whom I found camped here, and helping
themselves to my provisions, I think I can," answered the young man,
with a smile. "They went over to Indian Key last evening on the boat
that brought me here yesterday. They were very anxious concerning the
fate of a friend who left them the evening before, and went over there
on a raft, I believe they said. Can it be that you are the person they
"Yes, sir, I am."
"Then you are Sumner Rankin, and I am very happy to meet
you. My name is Haines. I have bought this key, and am clearing it,
preparatory to having it planted with coconuts. The provisions and camp
outfit that appeared here so mysteriously to you and your companions
belong to me, and were left here by the mail schooner on her way up the
reef. I expected to arrive, with my men, about the same time, but was
detained. I am very glad, however, that they came in time to relieve
your distress. I am also much obliged to you for affording them a
shelter from the rain, without which some of the things would have been
injured. Now will you pardon my curiosity if I ask how you happen to
arrive here in a schooner from that direction when your friends said
you had gone the other way, and were confident of finding you on Indian
When Sumner had given a brief outline of his recent
adventure, Mr. Haines said: "You certainly have had a most remarkable e
experience, and I am glad your friends did not know of it, for young
Manton was worried enough about you as it was. However, you will soon
rejoin them, and when you have recovered your canoes, if you feel so
inclined, I should be pleased to have you return here as my guests for
as long as you choose to stay."
Sumner thanked him, and said he should be happy to stop
there on his return from the mainland. Then, begging to be excused, as
he was impatient to go in search of his comrades, he jumped into his
boat and returned to the Transit.
Lieutenant Carey was perfectly willing to proceed at once
to Indian Key, but the tide was still running flood, and the breeze,
which was each moment becoming lighter, was dead ahead for a run out
through the channel. Under the circumstances, it would be useless to
lift the anchor, and the impatient boy was forced to wait for the tide
to turn. When it finally began to run ebb, the breeze had died out so
entirely that there was not even the faintest ripple on the water, and
another season of waiting was unavoidable.
By the lieutenant's invitation Mr. Haines came off and
dined with them. He proved a most charming companion, and laughed
heartily at Sumner's description of the amazement with which he, Worth,
and Quorum had discovered the mysterious godsend of provisions. Mr.
Haines declared that it was one of the best jokes he had ever known;
though he was in doubt as to whether it was on him or on them. He
appreciated Sumner's impatience to be off, and when, late in the
afternoon, a fair breeze sprang up, he made haste to take his leave
that their departure might not be delayed.
It was nearly sunset when the Transit approached
Indian Key so closely that objects the size of a man could be
distinguished on it. Sumner was again at the helm, and he tried not to
neglect his steering; but he could not keep his eyes from scanning
anxiously every discernible foot of its surface. To his great
disappointment not a soul appeared.
"They may be on the other side, keeping a lookout for
passing vessels," suggested Lieutenant Carey.
Hoping that this might be the case, but still
heavy-hearted and anxious, Sumner went ashore, accompanied by the
lieutenant. For an hour they searched over every foot of the key, and
through its deserted buildings, shouting as they went, but their search
was in vain. Nothing was seen of the lost ones, nor had they left a
trace to show that they had ever been on the island.
"It's no use," said Sumner at length; "they evidently are
not here, and must have gone on in the boat that brought them when they
failed to find me. Now, I don't know of anything to do but to go out to
the lighthouse after the canoes, and then come back here and wait. If
Worth has gone on up the reef, he must pass here on his way back, while
if he has gone the other way, he will hear of me at Key West and come
back here again. I'm awfully sorry that I can't go with you to the
mainland, but I don't see how I possibly can under the circumstances."
Although the boy tried to speak cheerfully, and to take
the brightest possible view of the disappearance of his young comrade,
he was filled with anxiety, and it was with a heavy heart that he
turned into his berth on board the schooner Transit that night.
© 2001 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
May not be reproduced without my permission.
Go scan your own damn