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
"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,
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
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
"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 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