A Story of the Everglades.



To find themselves once more in their canoes, and to be gliding over unknown waters, with new scenes unfolding at every turn, was so exhilarating to the boys that they started up the river at racing speed, shouting and laughing as they went. They were about to disappear from the sight of the others around a bend of the stream when they were checked by a shout from Lieutenant Carey. As he joined them he said:

"We must keep together, boys, and regulate our speed by that of the cruiser, for, in case of unforeseen difficulties or dangers, it won't do for us to be separated. I wouldn't make any more noise than is necessary either. There is no knowing what the Indians, whose country we are entering, may take it into their heads to do. While I do not anticipate any serious trouble from them, I would rather avoid them as much as possible, and by proceeding quietly we may escape their notice-at least for the present."

For the first mile or two the river-banks were hidden beneath a dense growth of mangroves, though above these they could catch occasional glimpses of the tops of pines and tall palmettoes. The mangroves grew smaller and thinner, until finally they disappeared entirely, and on tasting the water over which they floated our voyagers found it to be fresh and sweet.

"There is no danger of our suffering from thirst on this trip whatever may happen," said Sumner.

They were close to one of the banks as he spoke, and from it there suddenly came a rushing sound, followed by the floundering splash of some huge body in the water, so close at hand that their canoes were violently rocked by the waves that immediately followed. The suddenness of the whole proceeding drew a startled cry from Worth.

"What could it have been?" he asked in a low tone, and with a very white face. "Was it a hippopotamus, do you think?" He had seen the "hippos" splash into their tank in Central Park.

"Not exactly," laughed Sumner, who, after a slight start, had quickly regained his composure. "It was a big alligator, and he went so close under my canoe that I could have touched him with the paddle."

"Suppose he had upset us?"

"There wasn't any danger of that; he was more scared than we were, but he knew enough to dive clear of us."

"But if he should take it into his head to attack us?"

"lie won't, though. Mr. Alligator is a great coward. If he is disturbed while taking a sunbath on shore, he makes a blind rush for the water in spite of all obstacles, but it is only because he is too frightened to do anything else. Once safely in the water, he is glad enough to sink quietly to the bottom without seeking the further acquaintance of his enemies. That has always been my experience with them, but then I have only known them where they were hunted a good deal. The fellows where we are going may be bolder, but I have never heard of alligators being anything but awful cowards."

Partly reassured by this, Worth regarded the next alligator that he saw with greater composure, and before the day was over he hardly minded them at all. He certainly had an opportunity of becoming familiar with them, for they fairly swarmed in the river. Nearly every sandspit showed from one to a dozen of them, of all sizes, lying motionless in the warm sunlight.

Worth declared that some of them were twenty feet long; but Sumner laughed at him, and said that twelve or thirteen feet at most would be nearer the mark. In this statement he was supported by Lieutenant Carey, who said that even a fifteen-foot alligator would be a monster, and he doubted if one of that length had ever been seen.

Most of the scaly brutes, after finding themselves safely in the water, would rise to the surface for one more look at the cause of their fright. In thus rising, they only displayed the tops of their heads, and as the canoes approached these would imperceptibly sink until only four black spots, indicating the eyes and nostrils, were visible. Then these, too, would disappear without leaving the faintest ripple to mark the place where they had been. Often a quick spurt would take the canoes to the spot in time for the boys to look down through the clear water and see the great black body lying motionless on the bottom, or darting swiftly away towards some safer hiding place.

Sometimes they saw tiny fellows, brightly marked with yellow, and but recently hatched, Sunning themselves on broad lily pads. These were never found in company with their elders, which, Lieutenant Carey said, was because their papas were too fond of eating them.

When Sumner spoke of alligators' eggs and nests, Worth asked, innocently, if the mother alligators sat on their eggs like hens.

At the mental picture thus presented Sumner laughed so heartily that he could hardly wield his paddle, but Lieutenant Carey explained that an alligator's nest is built of sticks, leaves, and grass, very like a muskrat's house. "In the middle of this," he said, "are laid from twenty to forty thick-shelled, pure white eggs, about the size of the largest goose eggs. These are left to be hatched by the heat of the sun and of the decomposing mass surrounding them. When they break their shells, the little fellows immediately scramble for the nearest water, where they are left to care for themselves without a suggestion of parental guidance or advice. In fact, they are wise enough from the very first to keep out of the way of their elders, whose only love for them seems to be that of an epicure for a dainty dish."

"Aren't there crocodiles, too, in Florida ?" asked Sumner.

"Yes. Professor Hornaday mentions genuine crocodiles as being found in Biscayne Bay, on the east coast, where I hope we shall get a look at them. They are described as differing from alligators in the head, that of the crocodile being narrower and longer. The snout is sharper than that of an alligator, and at the end of the lower jaw are two long canine teeth or tusks that project through holes in the upper lip."

"Him big fighter, too," remarked Quorum from the cruiser. "Him heap mo' wicked dan de 'gator. De Injun call him 'Allapatta hajo,' an' say hit mean mad 'gator."

As tile party advanced up the stream the current became so much stronger that the boys began to feel the effects of their steady paddling against it, and were no longer inclined to shoot ahead of the others. The foliage of the banks changed with each mile, and by noon the pines had given place to clumps of palmetto, bay, water oak, wild fig, mastic, and other timber. Here and there were grassy glades, in more than one of which they caught tantalizing glimpses of vanishing white-tailed deer.

The water began to assume an amber tint, and was so brilliantly clear that in looking down through it they could see great masses of coral rocks that often overshadowed the yawning mouths of dark chasms. Above these, whole meadows of the most beautiful grasses -- red, green, purple, and yellow -- streamed and waved with the ceaseless motion of the current. Schools of bright-hued fish darted through and over these, and turtles, plumping into the water from stranded logs or sunny sandspits, could be seen scuttling away to their hiding places among them.

The noontide heat of the sun was intense as the signal for a halt was given. The boats were turned in towards a bank where a grass plot, shaded by a clump of rustling palmettoes, offered a tempting resting place.

As they landed, Worth was certain that he saw a flock of turkeys disappear in a small hammock back of the clearing. With his new-born hunting instinct strong within him, he seized his gun and crossed the glade, in the hope of getting a shot. He had practised constantly on the call given him by his instructor, and now felt competent to deceive even the most experienced gobbler. Advancing cautiously within cover of the hammock, and seating himself on a log that was completely concealed by a screen of bushes, he began to call, "Keouk, keouk, keouk." For ten minutes or so he repeated the Sounds at short intervals without getting a reply. Suddenly, a slight rustle in the bushes behind him caused Worth to turn his head. Within a yard of him glared a pair of cruel green eyes.

With a yell of terror the boy dropped his gun, Sprang to his feet, burst from the bushes, and fled wildly towards camp. Reaching it in safety, but hatless and breathless, he declared that a tiger had been crouched, and just about to spring at him.

"Perhaps it was a 'coon," suggested Sumner.

"'Coon, indeed ?" cried Worth, hotly. "If you had seen the size of its eyes, you would have thought it was an elephant!"

"What has become of your gun?" inquired the Lieutenant.

"I haven't the slightest idea," replied the boy; "and I don't care. I wouldn't face those eyes again for a thousand guns."

Finally, however, he was persuaded to return with Lieutenant Carey and Sumner, both well armed, and point out the scene of his fright. They found his hat, the gun, and the log on which he had been sitting. Then in the soft earth close behind it they also found a double set of huge panther tracks -- one made while cautiously approaching the supposed turkey, and the other while bounding away in fright at Worth's yell.

"I don't wonder that you were both frightened," said the Lieutenant, with a smile; "but now that your skill as a turkey-caller is established, I wouldn't go out on a hunting expedition alone again if I were you."

"Indeed I won't, sir. I'd rather never see another turkey than risk being stared at by such a pair of eyes as that panther carries round with him."



WHILE they were returning through the grassy glade, the Lieutenant, who was a few steps in advance, suddenly stopped and sprang back. The boys barely caught a glimpse of a fiat, wicked looking head, from which a forked tongue was viciously thrusting, and heard a sound like the whir-r-r-r of an immense locust, when Lieutenant Carey fired, and the head disappeared in the tall grass.

"It was a snake, wasn't it ?" asked Worth.

"Worse than that," replied the Lieutenant. " It was a diamondback rattler, the most venomous snake known to this country, and with another step I should have been on him. I'd rather face your panther unarmed than to have stepped on that fellow."

"What would you have done if you bad met it without a gun in your hand?" asked Sumner, curiously.

"Hun," answered the Lieutenant, laconically, as he grasped the lifeless body of the snake by the tail, with a view to dragging it into camp.

"B But if he had caught and bitten you?"

"He wouldn't have caught me, because, in the first place, he would have been content to be let alone, and wouldn't have chased me. In the second place, the rattlesnake is such a sluggish reptile that I could run faster than he, and could easily have kept out of his way."

"Well, then, what would you do if you were bitten?"

"If it were on an arm or a leg, I should tie my handkerchief above the wound, and twist it with a bit of stick as tightly as possible, so as to impede the circulation. Then I should enlarge the wound with my knife, and, if I could reach it with my mouth, I should suck it for five minutes, frequently spitting out the blood. After that I should get to camp as quickly; as possible, put a freshly-chewed tobacco plaster on the wound every ten minutes for the next hour, and at the same time drink a tumblerful of whiskey or other alcoholic liquor. If I could do all that, and the fangs had not struck an artery, I should feel reasonably sure of recovery."

" Suppose they had struck an artery, what would you do?"

"Reconcile myself to death as quickly as possible, for I should probably be dead inside of three minutes," was the grim reply.

Worth shuddered as he gazed at the scaly body that, marked with black and yellow diamonds, trailed for more than five feet behind the Lieutenant, and remarked that the sooner they got away from the haunts of panthers and rattlesnakes, and back among the good-natured alligators, the better he should like it.

"I shouldn't think Indians would care to live in such a rattlesnaky country," he added.

"They don't mind them," laughed the Lieutenant. "Their keen eyesight generally enables them to discover a snake as soon as he sees them. Then, too, they have an infallible antidote for snake bite, the secret of which they refuse to divulge to white men."

"How many rattles has this fellow?" asked Sumner.

"Only seven," answered Lieutenant Carey, counting them.

"Then he was a young fellow. I thought from his size that he must be pretty old, and would have twelve or thirteen rattles and a button at least."

"The number of rattles does not indicate a snake's age," said the Lieutenant, smiling. "They get broken off, as do long fingernails. I have seen very large snakes with fewer rattles than others that were smaller and evidently younger.

While they were eating lunch Quorum skinned the snake, rubbed the beautiful skin thoroughly with fine salt, and rolled it into a compact bundle, in which condition it would keep for a long time.

After lunch and the hour's rest that followed it the little fleet was again got under way, and proceeded up the swift river. About the middle of the afternoon they entered the broad belt of cypress timber that borders the Everglades on the west. Here the serried ranks of tall trees, stretching away as far as the eye could reach, held out their long moss-draped arms until they met overhead, and formed a dim archway for the passage of the rushing current. The water flowed with strange gurglings against the gray trunks, and the whole scene was one of such weird solitude, that on entering it the explorers shivered as with a chill. Through the semi-twilight fluffy night herons flitted like gray shadows, and the harsh scream of an occasional waterfowl, startled by the dip of paddles, echoed through the gloomy forest like a cry of human distress.

The atmosphere of the place was so depressing that no one spoke, but each bent to his paddle or oars with redoubled energy, the quicker to escape into the sunshine that they knew must lie somewhere beyond it.

Quorum, who had been sitting in the stern of the cruiser while the sailor rowed, was finally made so nervous by his uncanny surroundings that he begged his companion to change places with him. He wished to row that his thoughts might be occupied with the hard work. The sailor complied, though laughing at the negro's fears as he did so. While Quorum was working with desperate energy to catch up with the other boats, there came an incident of so startling a nature that in relating it afterwards he said: "I tell yo, sah, de ole niggah so skeer dat him come de neares' in he life to tu'nin' plumb white!"

It was a volley of rifle shots that flashed and roared from the forest on the right bank of the river like thunder from a clear sky. A second volley followed almost immediately, and then succeeded such a din of yells, whoops, and howlings as would have dismayed the stoutest heart.


For an instant each one of the explorers imagined himself to be the sole survivor of a wholesale massacre, and the surprise of the volleys was fully equalled by that of seeing his companions still alive.

While the echoes of the first volley were still reverberating through the dim arches of the forest, Quorum whirled the cruiser around as on a pivot, and despite his companion's remonstrances, started her down the river with a rush. The canoemen sat for a couple of seconds with uplifted paddles as though paralyzed, and in that space of time the powerful current did for them what Quorum had done for the cruiser. There seemed nothing to do but to fly from those crashing rifles and demoniac yells. So fly they did, paddling furiously, and casting fearful glances over their shoulders to note if they were pursued. It must he stated, however, that the Lieutenant tried repeatedly to rally the fugitives, and when he found this to be impossible, he held his own canoe in check until certain that 'no immediate pursuit was being undertaken.

It was nearly sunset when he overtook the others at a place beyond the lower edge of the cypress belt, where they had halted to wait for him. He found them still badly demoralized, and ready to continue their flight at the first intimation of further danger.

"Well, boys," he cried, cheerily, as his canoe swept down beside them, "I suppose we might as well call this the end of our day's work, and go into camp."

"Camp?" almost gasped Worth. "You don't mean, sir, that you propose to go into camp while the whole country is simply swarming with savage Indians?"

"I certainly do," replied the Lieutenant. "We shall be safer in camp, where we can work together, than on the river, where we must necessarily be separated, especially in the dark. Moreover, I don't believe we shall be molested here. The mere fact that they have not pursued us so far is, to my mind, an indication that they don't intend to. Indeed, boys, in thinking over this matter, I am inclined to believe that the Indians, or whoever fired those shots, for I didn't see a human being, only intended to frighten us, in the hope that we would give up our undertaking. I believe that the cartridges they fired were blanks. Certainly some of us would have been hit if they had been loaded. I cannot remember seeing a bullet strike the water or anywhere else; can you?"

No; none of them had noticed anything of the kind.

"That they have not pursued us is another indication that they do not desire our lives," continued the Lieutenant. "Besides all this, the Seminoles are fully aware of the consequences to themselves in case they should kill a white man, and I have no idea that they desire a war or anything like it. Thus J say that they only meant to frighten us, and I must acknowledge that they succeeded. I, for one, was never more startled and scared in my life. Now I propose that we camp here, without lighting a fire to betray our presence, or let them know that we have stopped running, until towards morning. Then I intend to try the passage of that cypress swamp again."




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

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