A Story of the Everglades.



ON the evening that Sumner left Worth and Quorum, and started on his adventurous voyage towards Indian Key, they watched him until distance and the approaching twilight hid him from their view. Quorum was the first to turn away and begin preparations for supper, while Worth still remained on the point straining his eyes towards the key, on which he fondly hoped that his friend was safely landed. At length it, too, disappeared in the gathering darkness, and he reluctantly turned his steps towards the camp. He was heavy-hearted, and had but little appetite for the bountiful supper that Quorum had so skillfully prepared. Noticing this, the old man tried to cheer him, saying:

"Don't yo' be so down in de mouf, Marse Worf. Dey hain't no 'casion fur worriment. I know Marse Summer Rankin fur a long time, an' I nebber know him in a fix yit what he don't slip outen de same as er eel. I see him git in er plenty scrapes, but I don't see him git stuck. Him all right, and yo' no need to go er frettin' an' er mo'nin'. He be back termorrer bright an' smilin'. Now eat your suppah, honey, 'kase if yo' don't, ole Quor'm t'ink he cookin' no good."

In spite of the negro's consoling words, Worth's sleep that night was broken, and he started at every sound. Towards morning a crash and a smothered cry from the edge of the forest behind the camp caused him to start to his feet in alarm, and wake his companion. Although no further sound was heard, the boy was not satisfied until Quorum, taking a torch, discovered a thieving 'coon, caught and killed by the deadfall that he had prepared for it. This was a simple figure 4 trap, set under a bit of hoard that was weighted with a heavy rock.

As soon as breakfast was over the next morning, Worth returned to his outlook station on the point, and remained there, with his eyes fixed on Indian Key, for several hours. It was nearly noon when he was startled by a shout from Quorum, who called out:

"Here him comin', honey! Here him comin' in er big schooner!"

Running back to the cove, which was not visible from where he had been sitting, Worth saw the schooner at which, Quorum was gazing so eagerly. She was not more than a mile from them, and was bearing rapidly down towards the island, though from a direction opposite to that in which Indian Key lay. Still that did not dispel their hope that Sumner might be on board and coming to their relief. They could see that the schooner's deck was crowded with men, most of whom, as she approached more closely, proved to be Negroes. Among them Worth's keen eyes distinguished, besides the whites composing her crew, one young white man who for a few minutes he was certain must be Sumner. As the schooner dropped anchor, and this person was sculled ashore in a small boat by one of the Negroes, they saw, to their great disappointment, that he was a stranger.

He seemed surprised at seeing them on the key, and still more so when a glance at their camp showed the,use they had been making of the stores they had so unexpectedly found there two days before.

"Oh, sir," exclaimed Worth, as the stranger landed, "have you seen anything of Sumner Rankin? I mean of a boy on a raft?"

"No, I have not," was the answer. "But I see that some one, and I expect it is the boy before me, has been making a free use of my stores."

"Are they yours?" asked Worth, flushing. "We didn't know whose they were or who left them here, and as we were almost starving, we ventured to take what we needed; but I shall be glad to pay for whatever we have used." With this the boy produced a roll of bills, and looked inquiringly at the stranger.

"That's all right," laughed the other. "If you were starving, and had need of them, of course you acted rightly in taking them. I am only too glad that they were of use to you. I see, too, that you have sheltered them from the weather."

"Yes," replied Worth, "and it rained so hard night before last, that if they had not been under cover some of them would have been spoiled."

"Then we are quits," said the stranger; "and you have already more than paid for what you can have used in so short a time. I have bought this key, and intended to get here as soon as those things, which I sent up on the mail boat, hut was unexpectedly delayed. My name is Haines, and yours is --"

"Worth Manton," answered the boy; "and I was cruising up the reef in a canoe with my friend Sumner Rankin. When we got here, some one stole our canoes, or they got lost in some way', and so we were obliged to stay. We found this old Negro Quorum here. Yesterday Sumner went over to Indian Key on a raft, to see if he could find the canoes, or get a vessel to take us off. We haven't seen anything of him since he left, and I am awfully afraid that something has happened to him."

"Oh, I guess not!" said the newcomer; "but if you like you can go over there on this schooner and look for him. The captain is in a great hurry to go on up the reef, as he is already two days late; but I guess he will drop you at the key, and stop there for you on his way back to Key West, if you want him to. But what is it that smells so good?" Here the speaker sniffed at an appetizing odor that was wafted to them from the direction of the little camp.

"I expect it is Quorum's 'coon that he is roasting for dinner," replied Worth.

"'Coon? That is something I have never tasted; but I should be most happy to experiment with it if it is half as good as it smells. Don't you want to invite me to dine with you?"

"Of course I do," laughed Worth; "especially as most of the dinner will consist of your own provisions."

A few minutes later they sat down to dinner together, and Mr. Haines declared it to be the best he had eaten since coming to that part of the country. He also praised the construction of the hut in which they ate, and thanked Worth for having provided him with such comfortable quarters.

While they were occupied with the meal, the black passengers of the schooner landed. Among them Quorum discovered friends who confirmed Sumner's statement that he was no longer suspected of the death of the sponging captain.

After dinner several hours were spent in landing the lumber and other freight with which the schooner was loaded. During this time Mr. Haines learned all the details of Worth's experience in canoeing up the reef, to which he listened with the greatest interest. He advised the boy to remain patiently where he was until Sumner's return ,, or at least until some word should be received from him. He was also anxious to engage the services of such a capital cook as Quorum had proved himself by the preparation of the dinner they had just eaten.

But the boy was so heartsick with anxiety that he could not bear the thought of a further period of inaction, and Quorum declared he could not think of deserting the lad whom Sumner had left in his care.

So when the schooner was again ready to sail, they went on board, taking with them their guns and a supply of provisions with which Mr. Haines kindly provided them. He also insisted upon their taking a couple of blankets, which, he said, they could return whenever they had no further use for them, and he begged them to come back to the island in case they should be disappointed in their search. Thus they parted with an interchange of good wishes, and an hour later Worth and Quorum were set ashore on Indian Key. Although they had seen no sign of Sumner as they approached it, and the captain of the schooner had advised them to keep on with him up the reef, they could not make up their minds to do so until they had made a thorough examination of the key for traces of their lost comrade. Nor were they inclined to leave those parts so long as there was the faintest hope of hearing from him. So they were hurriedly set ashore, and the schooner continued on her way, the captain promising to stop there for them on his return trip.

Of course their search over the key was fruitless, and it was with heavy hearts that they made themselves comfortable for the night in one of its old buildings.

The next morning they wandered aimlessly over the narrow limits of the little island, or sat in the rickety porch of their house watching the column of smoke that, rising above Lignum Vitae, marked the beginning of the cocoa nut planter's operations. Turning from this, they would gaze longingly out to sea without knowing what they hoped to discover. Several schooners, bound both up and down the reef, passed during the morning, but none of them came within hailing distance of the key. At length Worth called out excitedly that he saw a canoe approaching from the direction of Alligator Light. At that distance the sail that he was watching certainly looked small enough to belong to a canoe; but as it came closer it grew larger, until it resolved itself into that of a goodsized catboat.

As' it finally rounded to and came to anchor under the lee of the key, a man who was its sole occupant sculled ashore in a dingy containing several empty barrels. He was Assistant Keeper Albury, of Alligator Light, who had come to the key for a supply of water from its old cistern, the one belonging to the light having sprung a leak, and being nearly empty. He was surprised to find strangers on the key, and inquired at once what had become of their boat. After listening to their story and eager questions, he said:

"Well, if that doesn't beat all! No, we haven't seen anything out at the light of any young fellow floating on a raft: but we have got two canoes out there that answer pretty well the description of them you say you lost. What did you say their names were?"

"Cupid and Psyche," replied Worth.

"Then they are yours, for them's the very names. If you want to go out there with me after I fill my barrels, I've no doubt Mr. Spencer will give them up to you."

This they decided to do. So, after helping the man fill his water barrels, they set sail with him for the lighthouse, which they reached late that afternoon, after some hours of tedious drifting in a calm.



WHILE taking Worth and Quorum out to the light, Assistant Keeper Al bury told them how the canoes had been towed out to sea by a Jew-fish, and described the difficulty he had had in capturing them. Although Worth listened to all this with interest, his pleasure in having the mystery cleared up, and at the prospect of recovering the canoes, was sadly dampened by his increasing anxiety concerning Sumner's fate. What can have become of him? was the question that he asked over and over again, but to which neither of the men could give an answer.

They were cordially welcomed to the light by the keeper, who was always glad to have visitors to his lonely domain, and Worth easily proved his ownership of the canoes by describing their contents.

The lighthouse was a skeleton framework of iron, with its lower platform about twelve feet above water that surrounded it on all sides. On this platform lay the two canoes, side by side, looking as fresh and unharmed as when Worth had last seen them at anchor off Lignum Vitae. If Sumner had only been there, how he would have rejoiced over them! As it was, he gave them but a hurried examination to assure himself that they were all right, and then followed the keeper up the flight of iron steps leading to the house. The portion of this in which the men lived was a huge iron cylinder, surrounded by a balcony, and divided into several rooms. Above it rose a slender iron shaft, in which was a circular stairway leading to the lantern at its top. Worth ascended this with the keeper to witness the lighting of the great lamp, and the movements of the revolving machinery by which the red and white flashes were produced.

From this elevation a long line of keys was visible, while the one they had so recently left seemed quite close at hand. While gazing at it, Worth saw a schooner come down the channel from the direction of Lignum Vitae, and lower her sails, as if for the night, under its lee.

"Oh, Mr. Spencer!" he cried, "there's a schooner come to anchor close to Indian Key. Perhaps her people are looking for us, and perhaps they have brought news of Sumner. Can't we take the canoes now and sail over there?"

"Bless you, no, lad! I wouldn't for anything have it on my conscience that I'd let you go sailing around these waters at night in those cockleshells. There's no doubt but what she'll stay there till morning, and if the weather is good, you can make a start as soon after daylight as ever you like; but you'll have to content yourself here till then. I couldn't think of letting you go before."

To this decision Worth was forced to submit, and after the lamp was lighted he followed the keeper to the living rooms below. Here he found Quorum hard at work at his favorite occupation of cooking. He was preparing a most savory fish chowder, and when they sat down to supper both the keepers declared that in all their experience they had never tasted its equal. The second assistant keeper was then absent on the two-weeks' vacation, to which each of them was entitled after two months of service in the light. They only regretted that Quorum could not remain until his return, that he too might learn the possibilities of a fish chowder.

Worth was so charmed with his novel surroundings, and by the quaint bits of lighthouse experience related by the keepers, that until bedtime, he almost forgot his anxiety. When he bad gone to bed in the scrupulously neat and clean guest chamber, after charging the keepers to waken him at the earliest dawn, it returned in full force, and for a long time drove sleep from his eyes. As he lay listening to the keeper on watch making his half-hourly trips up to the lantern, and to the lapping of the waves about the iron piling of the foundation, he imagined all sorts of dreadful things as having happened to Sumner, and even after he fell asleep his. dreams were of the same character.

From this unhappy dreaming he was awakened while it was still quite dark, though the keeper, who was standing beside his bed, assured him that day was breaking. At this, and remembering his cause for haste, the boy sprang out of bed and quickly dressed himself. In the outer room he found Quorum already up and waiting for him, and he also found a steaming pot of coffee. Fortified by a cup of this and a biscuit, he declared himself ready for the voyage back to Indian Key.

As they stepped outside, the light was sufficiently strong for them to dimly discern the distant line of keys, and preparations were at once made to place the canoes in the water. Worth's was the first swung from the platform davits and lowered, while he, descending a rope ladder, one end of which touched the water, was ready to cast off the falls and step into her. Then Quorum was invited to do the same thing with the Psyche; but the old Negro drew back apprehensively, exclaiming:

"No, sah, gen'l'men. De ole niggah am a big fool, but him no sich fool dat him t'ink hese'f er monkey, an' go climbin' down er rope wha' don' lead nowhar, 'cep' to er tickly eggshell wha' done copsize de berry instink he tetch foot to um. No, sah, gen'l'men; ole Quor'm too smart fo' dat."

"Well, then, sit in the canoe where she is, and we'll lower you down in her."

To this plan the old man was finally induced to agree, and with great trepidation seated himself in the frail craft. The moment the men began to sway away on the falls, he would have jumped out if he could. As he was already swinging in mid-air, it was too late to do aught save remain where he was. Clutching the sides of the cockpit tightly with both hands, he closed up his eyes and resigned himself to his fate. His face assumed an ashen tinge, and his lips moved as though he were praying. He gave a convulsive start as the canoe dropped into the water, but he did not open his eyes nor relax his clutch of the coamings.

"Come, Quorum, get out your paddle. I'll show you how to use it," shouted Worth, after he had cast off the falls.

But he might as well have addressed the lighthouse for all the notice the old man took of him. Finally, realizing that Quorum was utterly helpless, and incapable of action, from fright, Worth took the Psyche in tow, and paddling out from the lighthouse, bade the friendly keepers a cheery goodbye, and started on his laborious trip to Indian Key.

Although the sea was perfectly smooth, paddling two deeply laden canoes proved heavy work for one person, and Worth would have doubtless become exhausted long before reaching his destination had not a light breeze sprung up at sunrise. Aided by this, he made such good progress that in less than an hour he was rounding the point of Indian Key, behind which the Transit lay at anchor.

Sumner, who had just turned out, was gazing wistfully back at Lignum Vitae, as though it still held the young comrade whose loss caused him to feel so depressed, when he started as though he had been shot, at the sound of his own name, uttered with a joyous shout but a short distance from him.

He could hardly credit his senses, or believe that he saw, sailing merrily towards him, the long-lost canoes, bearing the very friends on whose account he had been so anxious but a moment before. At the same time Worth was equally bewildered and overcome with joyful emotions.



"Hurrah! Glory hallelujah!" shouted Sumner, in the fulness of rejoicing.

At this sound Quorum 'started as though from a trance, and opened his eyes for the first time since leaving the light. Whether he tumbled out of the canoe accidentally or on purpose, no one, not even himself, ever found out; but the next instant he was in the water, puffing like a porpoise, and swimming towards the land. Fortunately the distance was short, so that in a few minutes he reached the rocks and pulled himself out on them. There, scrambling to his feet, and with the water pouring from him, he shook his fist at the craft he had so unceremoniously deserted, exclaiming:

"Dat's de fustes an' de lastes time ole Quor'm ebber go sailin' in er baby cradle! Yes, sah, de fustes an, de lastes!"


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

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