Munroe/Canoemates

 




CANOEMATES

A Story of the Everglades.



CHAPTER XVII.
AN ENTERTAINMENT ON THE KEY.

 

HOW Quorum managed to tumble out of the Psyche without upsetting her is a mystery, but he did it somehow. Seeing that he was easily making his way to the land, Worth continued on his course to the Transit, which he reached a minute later. The moment he stepped abroad, Sumner threw his arms about the boy with what was intended for a joyful hug. Worth returned it with interest. For a few seconds the two staggered about the deck in what looked decidedly like a wrestling match to the amused spectators of the scene, who had been attracted from below by Sumner's shout. Finally they tripped and rolled with a crash into the cockpit, where they scrambled to their feet, greeted by shouts of laughter from Lieutenant Carey and Ensign Sloe, while even the men forward were chuckling with ill-suppressed mirth.

Had Sumner and Worth been a few years older, they would probably have expressed their joy over this happy and unexpected meeting with a cordial handshake, and a few inquiries after each other's welfare during their separation. That would have been a man's way. Happily, all boys are not men, nor are their ways men's ways. Any genuine boy will understand that nothing short of a wrestling match would have served to express the joy with which these two young hearts were relieved of the load of anxiety that bad weighed so heavily upon them during the past three days.

"But how did you know the canoes were out at the light, Worth ?" inquired Sumner, after the first boisterous greeting was over. "Excuse me! Let me introduce you to Lieutenant Carey and Ensign Sloe. And how did you get there? And how did you know that we were here?" exclaimed Sumner, in a breath, as soon as he had regained his feet.

"The keeper told us," answered Worth, shaking hands with those to whom he had just been introduced. "And I didn't know you were here. How did you get here, and what became of the raft? Did you ever see anything so absurd as Quorum? I don't believe he has opened his eyes since we left the light, and I actually thought he was turning white, he was so scared. Oh, Sumner, I never was so happy in my life!"

"Nor I," answered Sumner; "and if I ever leave you again, you young scamp, before delivering you safe and sound to your lawful guardians, you'll know it."

"And you may be mighty sure I won't be left again," answered Worth. "No, siree! From this time on, you'll think I'm your shadow, I'll stick to you so close."

By this time Quorum had been brought aboard, and Sumner, shaking hands with him, gravely congratulated him upon having formed the habit of taking a plunge bath before breakfast. With a reproachful look at the lad, and without deigning to reply to his banter, Quorum turned away and dived into the little forward galley. Here he quickly made himself at home, and all the time he was drying by the galley stove he could be heard entertaining the colored cook of the Transit with a thrilling description of his recent voyage in "dat an tickly nutshell. Mo' like er washbasin dan er 'spectible boat; an' ef I don't hole her down wif bofe han's till dey done achin', she flop ober like er flapjack. I tell yo', chile, hit's er 'sperience sich as I don't want no mo' ob in all my sailin'."

Around the breakfast table in the tiny after saloon Sumner and Worth were comparing experiences and discussing their plans for the future.

"I tell you what it is, Sumner," exclaimed Worth "I don't know about cruising any farther up this reef, where we are likely at any time to be seized and carried off to sea by some Jew-fish or other marine monster. Seems to me it's taking a big risk."

"Then why not come with us through the 'Glades?" laughed Lieutenant Carey. "There aren't any Jew-fish there. It will be almost the same as cruising on dry land all the way, and we'll bring you out at Cape Florida, the very point you are aiming for."

"I think that would be fine," answered Worth, who had no more idea of the nature of the Everglades than he had of the moon. "What do you say, Sumner?"

"It's the very thing I should most love to do," replied Sumner.

"Then you will go with us?" asked the Lieutenant.

"Yes, sir, we will," answered both the boys.

"Good! That settles it. Now do you suppose we can persuade your old darkey to go along as cook? I think you said he was a good one, Sumner?"

"Indeed he is!" exclaimed Worth; "the very best I ever knew Oh yes, we must have Quorum along by all means."

When the plan was laid before him, Quorum shook his head doubtfully, and said:

"I allus hear dem Ebberglades is a ter'ble place. Dey's full ob lions an' tigers, sayin' nuffin' ob wild Injuns an' cannonballs " (probably Quorum meant cannibals). "But ef dem two chilluns boun' ter go, I spec' ole Quor'm hab ter go 'long ter look after um, an' see dat dey's kep' outen danger. Hit's er mighty owdacious undertaking fer de ole man; but dish yere er peart looking wessel, an' maybe she take us troo all right."

"But we are not going in this vessel," laughed Sumner. "We couldn't take her through the 'Glades."

"How yo go, den?" asked the Negro, looking up quickly. "Not in them tickly li'l' cooners?"

"Yes, some of us will go in the canoes, but you will have a much larger boat; one that you can't possibly upset."

"When I see him, den I tell yo' ef I er gwine." And this was the only promise that Quorum could be induced to give.

"Very well," said Lieutenant Carey, when this was reported to him; "we will rig up the cruisers, and let Quorum sail one of them in to Lignum Vitae. One of the men shall take the other, you two will sail your own canoes, and I will sail mine, while Mr. Sloe shall follow with the Transit. When Mr. Haines sees us coming he'll think he is looking at a regatta of the Reef Yacht Club."

This plan suited the boys perfectly, and the next two hours were spent in getting all the boats into the water, overhauling sails, spars, etc. When Quorum saw the Barnegat cruiser that was assigned to him, he declared, "Hit done look like er punkin seed, an' I don't beliebe hit fit fer sailin' nohow." It was only with the greatest difficulty that he could be persuaded to try the strange looking craft. When he finally did so, his eyes opened wide with astonishment at her speed and stiffness, and the ease with which she was handled.

Each of the cruisers carried a large sprit sail, and was fitted with a pair of oars. They were provided with centerboards, were fair sailers, easy to row, practically non-capsizable, and capable of carrying heavy loads without materially increasing their draught.

Quorum was a good sailor, and as soon as he became somewhat accustomed to his craft he began to handle her in a way that showed an appreciation of her qualities. When he shot ahead, after a little brush with the other cruiser, the Melon Seed -- as he termed her -- his black face fairly beamed with delight.

"Your man is as tickled with that boat as a child with a new toy," remarked Lieutenant Carey to Sumner, "and I guess there is no doubt now but what he will go with us."

The Lieutenant's open paddling canoe was fitted with a leg-of-mutton sail, but no centerboard. Thus the sail was only available for running before the wind, which on this occasion happened to be fair. The three canoes and the two cruisers, starting on their race to Lignum Vitae, formed a very pretty sight. As they were followed by the Transit, and by the schooner that had carried Worth and Quorum to Indian Key, which came along on her return trip just then, it is no wonder that Mr. Haines regarded the approaching fleet with astonishment.

The race was won by Sumner in the Psyche, with Quorum in his Punkin Seed, and wildly excited, close behind. The other three were well bunched, and the two schooners were worked under foresails only, to keep from running them down.

All hands were made heartily welcome by the proprietor of Lignum Vitae, who was made happy by the information that they proposed to stay there that night. On hearing this he immediately began to plan a grand dinner to which everybody was invited, and an entertainment for the evening. He and Lieutenant Carey spent the afternoon in arranging for the entertainment, the four cooks, with Quorum at their head, spent it in preparing a most elaborate dinner, and the others spent it fishing and sailing match races between the various small boats. As the hours flew busily and happily by, Sumner and Worth wondered how they could ever have felt wretched and forlorn in such a pleasant place.

The dinner, which was served shortly before sunset, was a veritable feast. On its bill of fare appeared oysters, green turtle soup, fish chowder, turtle steaks, baked kingfish, stewed ducks, roasted 'possum, a variety of canned vegetables, an immense plum duff, canned fruits, crackers, cheese, and coffee; while the whole was seasoned with the sauce of hearty appetites and capital digestions. It was a substantial meal, as well as a merry one, and it gave Worth Manton a new insight into the possibilities of life on the Florida Keys.

By hard work Mr. Haines had succeeded in raising the frame of the little one-story house that he intended to occupy, and in getting the floor laid. This was to be the scene of the entertainment, and an hour or so after dinner all hands were collected here. Several large bonfires shed a cheerful light on the circle of expectant faces, and cast wavering shadows over the platform.

The first number on the program was an overture by the Lignum Vitae Band, which consisted of Mr. Haines's banjo, Lieutenant Carey's guitar, Ensign Sloe's violin, and a flute played by one of the Transit's men. Then Worth danced a clog, and was received with immense applause. He was followed by Sumner, who performed a number of sleight-of-hand tricks that drew forth exclamations of astonishment from the Negroes. A mouth-organ quartet by four of the Negro hands, was followed by Mr. Haines's banjo solo. This was of such an inspiring character that all the Negroes patted time to it, and finally Quorum sprang upon the platform and, with his beloved pipe still held tightly between his teeth, began to shuffle a breakdown in such a comical manner that it was received with tumultuous applause and roars of laughter. Solo and chorus singing followed, and the entertainment wound up with the singing of "Annie Laurie" by a quartet of sailors.

Both Sumner and Worth were certain that they had never passed a more enjoyable evening, and were almost sorry that they had promised to leave there and start for the Everglades on the following morning.


QUORUM DANCES A BREAKDOWN.
 
 


CHAPTER XVIII.
OFF FOR THE EVERGLADES

BOTH Sumner and Worth were by this time quite used to being turned out of bed while it was still dark, and told that it was morning and time to make a start. So, when the familiar summons was heard, a few hours after their evening of fun, they obeyed them, though not without some sleepy grumblings and protests. The stars were still shining when they went on deck for a look at the weather, and they shivered with the chill of the damp night air.

There were faint evidences of daylight, however, and the welcome fragrance of coffee was issuing from the galley. They felt better after drinking a cup of it, but did not consider themselves fairly awake until the sails were hoisted, the anchor lifted, and the Transit began to move slowly out from under Lignum Vitae.

Just as they were getting fairly under way, a sleepy hail of "Goodbye, and good luck to you!" came from the edge of the forest on the key where the night shadows still lingered. Then, with answering shouts of "Goodbye, Mr. Haines Goodbye to Lignum Vitae!" they were off.

The, reason for such an early start was that, with four boats in tow, even the Transit could not be expected to make very good speed, and Mr. Carey was anxious to cover the sixty-mile run to Cape Sable before dark.

For the first three hours Sumner was kept constantly at the helm, directing the course of the schooner through a multiplicity of tortuous channels, between coral reefs, oyster bars, and a score of low lying mangrove keys. All this time Lieutenant Carey stood beside him, keeping track of the courses steered and noting on his chart the position of the channels, together with the names of the keys, so far as Sumner was able to give them. The knowledge that the lad displayed of these uncharted waters, and the skill with which he handled the schooner, so excited the lieutenant's admiration that he finally said: "I declare, Sumner, I don't believe there is a better pilot in the whole Key West sponging fleet than you! How on earth do you remember it all?"

"I don't know," laughed Sumner, "I expect it comes natural, as the man said when asked what made him so lazy."

"Well," said the lieutenant, "I am mighty glad to have you along instead of that fellow Rust Norris, though he did intimate that your ignorance of the reef would get us into trouble. He was greatly cut up when I told him that, as you were going with me, I should not require his services, and tried to say some mean things about you; but I shut him up very quickly. He doesn't seem to be a friend of yours, though."

"I don't know why he shouldn't be," replied Sumner, "I am sure I feel friendly enough towards him. I suppose it must be because I wouldn't let him try my canoe the other day, and left him on the buoy that night. I only meant that as a joke though, and was just about to start out for him, when I saw a fisherman pick him up."

Here Sumner related the incident referred to, and the lieutenant said, as Mr. Manton had, that the fellow was rightly served. Then the subject was dropped, and they thought of it no more.

As they were now in open water, with all traces of land rapidly fading in the distance behind them, Sumner laid a course for Sandy Key, the only one they would see before reaching Cape Sable, resigned the tiller, and invited Worth to try his hand at trolling. The Transit being well provided with fishing tackle they soon had two long trolling lines towing astern. Worth said he was going in for big fish, and so attached to the end of his line a bright leaden squid terminating in a heavy, finely-tempered hook.

Sumner, believing that there would be as much sport and more profit in trying for those that were smaller, but more plentiful, used a much lighter hook, baited with a bit of white rag. Worth would not believe that any fish could be so foolish as to bite at such a bait. His incredulity quickly vanished, however, as Sumner began to pull in, almost as fast as he could throw his line overboard, numbers of Crevallé, or " Jack," beautiful fellows tinted with amber, silver, and blue, and Spanish mackerel, one of the finest fish in southern waters. Seeing that Sumner was having all the fun, while lie could not get a bite, Worth began to haul in his line with a view to putting on a smaller hook, and baiting it with a bit of rag. Suddenly there was a swish through the water, a bar of silver gleamed for an instant in the air, a hundred feet astern, and Worth's line began to whiz through his hands with lightning-like rapidity. With a howl of pain, he dropped it as though it had been a red-hot coal, and began dancing about the cockpit, wringing his hands and blowing his fingers.

"Snub him, Worth, quick! or he'll have your line," cried Sumner, springing to his friend's assistance. "It's a barracuda, and a big one!" He got a turn around the rudder post just in time to save the line, and then began a fight that set the young fisherman's blood to tingling with excitement. In spite of his smarting fingers, Worth insisted upon pulling in his own fish while the barracuda seemed equally intent upon pulling his captor overboard. Such leaping and splashing, such vicious tugs and wild rushes ahead, astern, and off to one side, as that barracuda made, were far beyond anything in the way of fishing that Worth had ever experienced. For ten minutes the fight was maintained with equal vigor on both sides. Every inch of slack was carefully taken in. With the stout rudder post to aid him, Worth was slowly but surely gaining the victory, and the great, steely blue fish was drawn closer and closer to the schooner.

At length he was within fifty feet, and Worth's flushed face was lighting with triumph, when, all at once there came a rush of some vast, white object astern. A huge pair of open jaws, lined with glistening rows of teeth, closed with a vicious snap, and a moment later Worth, whose face was a picture of bewildered amazement, pulled in the head of his fish minus its body.

"Was it a whale, do you think?" he asked, soberly, turning to Sumner.

"No," replied the other, laughing at his companion's crestfallen appearance, "but it was the biggest kind of a shark, and he would have snapped you in two as easily as lie did that barracuda, if you had been at that end of the line."

By noon they had left Sandy Key astern, and before sunset they had passed the stately coconut groves on Cape Sable and Palm Point, and were rounding Northwest Cape. Just at dusk they headed into a creek, not more than twenty feet wide, and directly afterwards came to anchor in the deep, roomy basin to which it was the entrance. The basin was already occupied by a small sloop, and as Sumner's knowledge of those waters did not extend beyond that point, Lieutenant Carey anticipated being able to gain some information from her crew. With this in view he anchored but a short distance from her, and after everything was made snug for the night, he hailed her with:

"Hello on board the sloop!"

"Hello yourself! What schooner is that?"

"The Government schooner Transit, and I should be very glad to see any of you on board."

"Where are you bound?"

"Into the' 'Glades. Will you come over after a while, or shall I go aboard the sloop? I want to have a talk with you."

"I reckon we'll come over."

"Those fellows don't seem inclined to be very sociable," remarked the Lieutenant to Ensign Sloe, as they went down into the cabin to supper. At the same time Sumner was saying to Worth, "I wonder who that fellow is? His voice sounded very familiar."

When they again came on deck after supper, the night was so dark that they could not see the sloop, though they supposed her to be lying close to them.

"Hello aboard the sloop!" again hailed Lieutenant Carey.

There was no answer, nor did several hails serve to bring a reply of any kind.

"Let's take my canoe and go for a look at those fellows, Sumner," said the Lieutenant. "They have quite excited my curiosity."

In a few minutes the canoe was afloat, and its occupants were paddling in the direction of where the sloop was thought to lie. For half an hour they paddled back and forth, and in circles, being guided in their movements by the bright riding light of the Transit. Once they struck a floating oar that seemed to be attached to a cable; but they could discover no trace of the sloop, nor did their repeated hailings bring forth a single answer.

At length, greatly perplexed by such unaccountable behavior on the part of the sloop's crew, and nearly devoured by the clouds of mosquitoes that swarmed above the lagoon, they returned to the schooner, and thankfully sought the shelter of her wire-screened cabin.

 


CHAPTER XIX.
THE CANOES ARE AGAIN LOST, AND AGAIN FOUND.

IN that snug harbor there was so little chance of danger that no watch was kept, and all hands turning in, after a pleasant evening spent in smoking and discussing plans, slept soundly until morning. Although the sun had gone down in a blaze of ominous glory the evening before, and the breeze had died out in an absolute calm, no one was fully prepared for the wonderful change of scene disclosed by the morning. While their landlocked harbor was still as placid as a millpond where they were anchored, it was blackened and roughened by the gusts of fierce squalls but a short distance from them. The continuous roar of breakers outside denoted a furious sea, the cause of which was shown by the lashing treetops and the howlings of a gale overhead The sky was hidden behind masses of whirling clouds, while after the tropical weather to which they had become accustomed, the air seemed very cold, though the mercury had not fallen below 50°. The gale was a typical Norther, that, sweeping down from Texas prairies, had gathered strength in its unchecked progress across the Gulf, and was now hurling itself with furious energy against the low Florida coast.

"Whew! What a day!" cried Sumner, as he emerged from the warm cabin and stood shivering in the cockpit. "I tell you what, old man, I'm glad we are in this snug haven, instead of outside."

"So am I," said Worth, who had followed Sumner, and to whom these remarks were addressed. "I'm afraid canoes would stand a pretty sorry chance out there just now."

"Canoes! Well, I should say so! They'd be -- Great Scott! Where are the canoes and the cruisers?"

Sumner had just taken his first glance astern, and as he uttered this exclamation lie sprang to the little afterdeck, and stared about him. The three canoes and the two cruisers had been left for the night attached to a single stout line which was made fast to the Transit's rudder post. Now they were gone, and not a sign of them was to be seen as far as the eye could reach.

"If that doesn't beat anything I ever heard of!" exclaimed Sumner, in bewilderment. -- "I should think a jew-fish big enough to take them all might just as well have taken the schooner, too," said Worth.

"Yes, I expect she will be stolen from under us the next thing we know," replied Sumner, "and I expect if we ever get our canoes again we'd better put them into a burglar-proof safe and hire a man with a dog to watch them nights. I never heard of anybody losing canoes as easily as we do. Where do you suppose they can have gone to, sir?"

This question was addressed to Lieutenant Carey, who, together with Ensign Sloe, had been attracted to the deck by Sumner's first dismayed exclamation.

"I've no more idea than you have," replied the Lieutenant, gravely. "The jew-fish is not to blame this time, at any rate, for there was no anchor down that he could get hold of, and this rope has evidently been cut." Here the speaker displayed the end of the rope that had hung over the stern, and pointed to the clean cut by which it had been severed. "It is evident that some human agency has been at work," he continued, "and I am inclined to connect it with the strange behavior of the fellows on that sloop; though what their object in stealing our boats was, I can't imagine. It is a very serious matter to us, however, and one that calls for prompt investigation. As this wind must have sprung up early in the night, it is hardly probable that the boats can have been taken out to sea , and if they were not they must be somewhere in this lagoon, perhaps concealed in the mangroves, or in one of the sloughs that empty into it. It is lucky that we have the canvas boat left, for I should hate to try and navigate the Transit in these unknown waters with such a gale blowing."

The canvas boat, of which the Lieutenant spoke, was, a folding affair that was stowed under the cockpit floor, and was a part of the schooner's regular outfit. Although it was very light, it could easily accommodate three persons, and was a capital thing to fall back on in an emergency like the present.

Mr. Carey ordered it to be got out and put in shape at once. After breakfast lie and Sumner, with one of the crew to row, stepped into it and started on their search. They skirted the shore as closely as possible, both to escape the force of the wind, and that they might the more carefully examine the dense mangrove thickets that, with occasional stretches of white beach, formed the coastline.

The mangrove, which here attains the size of oaks, is one of the most curious of trees, and in one particular closely resembles the banyan. Its small yellow blossom, which is eagerly sought by honey bees, forms a long brown seed about the size and shape of a cigar. This, falling off, readily takes root in mud flats, beneath shallow salt or brackish water, and shoots up a straight slender stem having numerous branches. Some of these branches bend downward to the water, sending their tips into the mud, where they in turn take root. At length the tree is thus surrounded by a circle of woody arches that soon become strong enough to support the weight of a man. As the tree increases in height, the upper branches send down long straight shoots that also take root and form independent trunks. Mangroves grow with marvelous rapidity, and quickly cover large areas, where their thickly interlaced, arching roots hold all manner of drift and seaweed, until finally a soil is formed in which the seeds of coarse grasses and other vegetation sprout and flourish. Thus, in the course of time, an island of dry land appears and is lifted above the water. In this way the coral reefs of the Florida coast are gradually transformed into verdant keys, the mangrove taking up and continuing the work of island building just below the surface of the water, where the coral insect leaves off. The mangrove is covered with a thick foliage of small glossy leaves, that is such a favorite haunt for mosquitoes, that wherever mangroves grow, mosquitoes are found in countless millions.

Skirting this wonderful mangrove forest, and occasionally penetrating shallow bayous in which herons, cranes, ibises, pelicans, and curlews swam and waded, the occupants of the canvas boat searched for several hours in vain. Finally, as they were on the opposite side of the broad lagoon from their starting point, and exposed to the full force of the wind, Sumner called out that he saw something that looked like masts on the edge of a distant clump of mangroves. It was no easy task to navigate successfully through the heavy sea running at this point; but when they had accomplished it, they were rewarded by seeing the entire missing fleet piled up in the greatest confusion among the mangroves, which at this place extended far out into the water. Before they reached them both the Lieutenant and Sumner were obliged to jump overboard in water above their waists, to prevent the canvas boat from swamping in the breakers.

The picture presented by their stranded fleet looked like one of utter ruin. Sumner trembled for the fate of his precious canoe, and the Lieutenant wondered if his expedition had thus been brought to an untimely end. There was a small beach but a short distance away, to which the sailor took the canvas boat, and then returned to help them clear the wrecks. One by one the several craft, all of them full of water, were extricated from the tangled mass, and dragged to the beach for examination. The three canoes were found to be badly scratched, and damaged so far as looks went; but still sound and seaworthy. This was undoubtedly owing to their lightness, and the exceeding care with which canoes are built. In their construction the question of expense is not considered; consequently, being built of the best material, by the most skillful workmen, they are stronger than ordinary craft many times their size.

Their sails were muddied and torn, and some of their slender spars were broken; but as most of their cargoes had been transferred to the Transit before leaving Lignum Vitae this was the extent of their injury. Sumner was jubilant when a careful examination of every part of them revealed this fact; but Mr. Carey, who was devoting his attention to the cruisers, looked very grave. Both of them were badly stove, and it was evident that only extensive repairs could render them again fit for service.

"Who could have done this thing, and why was it done?" he repeated over and over again in deep perplexity; while Sumner, equally at fault, tried to recall whose voice it was that had seemed so familiar when they had exchanged hails with the sloop.

After emptying the canoes, and hauling the cruisers high up on the beach, where they were to be left for the present, the party set forth on their return trip. The Lieutenant went in his own canoe, Sumner in his, while the sailor in the canvas boat towed the Cupid.

As they neared the schooner they saw her people pointing eagerly towards a bit of beach near the head of the creek through which they had entered the lagoon the evening before. Looking in that direction, they saw a white man beckoning to them and shouting, though they could not distinguish his words.

Headily understanding that he was in distress of some kind, the Lieutenant and Sumner headed their canoes in his direction. As they neared him, they saw that he was hatless, and clad only in a shirt and trousers that were torn and watersoaked. The first words they could distinguish were:

"Our boat is going to pieces outside, and Rust Norris is in her with a broken arm."

"Rust Norris!" That was the name Sumner had been racking his memory for, and his was the voice that had come to them from the sloop on the preceding evening.

 


 

 


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

Go to: • Canoemates TOC • the Cheap Pages • Canoe Sailing Resources 2010 •