A Story of the Everglades.



THE whole party had come to a halt on first seeing the mysterious smoke, and now, with their boats grouped close together, they watched it curiously. Its several puffs did not last more than a minute, and then it was seen no more. Nobody but Worth mentioned volcanoes, and his suggestion caused a general smile. Quorum uttered the single word, "Injuns," and Lieutenant Carey agreed with him. He said:

"Such a smoke as that must result from human agency, and as I do not believe there is a white man besides ourselves within the limits of the 'Glades, it is probably the work of Indians, and is doubtless a signal of some kind, referring to our presence. I hope it is, for one of the objects of my mission being to reassure the Everglade Indians of the kindly intentions of the Government towards them, I shall be glad to meet them as quickly as possible. Let us go on, then, and have our first interview with them by daylight."

Half an hour later the canoes reached the island, close to which was a wide channel of open water that apparently extended wholly around it.

So dense was its encircling growth of custard apple and cocoa plum bushes, that not until they had cut a passage through these could they reach the dry land behind them.

Anxious to discover the occupants of the island before darkness should set in, the Lieutenant, taking Sumner and the sailor with him, and leaving Worth and Quorum to guard the boats, set out for the mound, which, rising to a height of fifty or sixty feet, seemed to occupy the centre of the island.

Besides being desirous of meeting with Indians, Lieutenant Carey was most curious concerning the formation of this strange mound. Until he had seen the smoke rising from its summit, he had believed it to be merely a growth of tall forest trees surrounded by lesser trees and bushes that grew smaller as they neared the water. This is a common feature of that level Southern country, where the outer lines of vegetation are stunted by the constant high winds. Behind their protection, the inner circles of trees rise higher and higher until they attain a maximum size, and present an appearance of hills and mounds that proves most deceptive to strangers. The character of the smoke rising from the summit' of this one had proved it to be something more than one of these ordinary tree mounds. Consequently the explorers were not surprised, after making their toilsome way through a forest of trees bound together with luxuriant vines, and brilliant with the blossoms of flowering air plants, to find a veritable hill of earth rising before them. The forest encircled it, but ended at its base, and its sides were clothed only with a low growth of shrubs. They had hardly begun the ascent when they ran across a narrow but well-worn path leading to the summit.

On reaching the top they were disappointed to find it as lonely and unoccupied as the forest through which they had just passed. What they did find was a small cleared space from which even the grass had been worn away, and in the centre of which stood a sort of an altar of rough stones. It was about six feet square by four high, and was built of the ordinary coralline rock of the 'Glades. From this, or near it, the smoke must have ascended; but they looked in vain for ashes or other traces of a recent fire. The appearance of the altar showed that fires had been built on it; but there was nothing to indicate that one had burned there within an hour, and the mystery of the smoke became greater than ever.

If they had only been familiar with the Seminole method of making signal smokes, they would not have been so puzzled. A bright blaze of dry grass is smothered for an instant by a thick branch of green leaves. This is lifted and dropped again as often as the operator wishes to make a puff of smoke. Then the grass is allowed. to burn out, and the wind, quickly dispersing the light ashes, removes every trace of the fire.

While disappointed and puzzled at finding no remnants of the fire that they were certain had recently burned there, nor of those who had lighted it, the explorers were enchanted with the beauty of the scene outspread on all sides of them. To the west the sun was sinking in wonderful glory behind the distant belt of cypress forest. Everywhere else the brown 'Glades, dotted with blue islands, seamed with the green threads of interlacing channels, and flashing with bits of open water, stretched beyond the limits of their vision. Over them hung a tremulous golden haze in which all objects were magnified and glorified. The all-pervading silence was only broken by the occasional rush on heavy pinions of flocks of snow-white ibises home-returning from their distant fishing grounds.

"No wonder the Seminoles love this country, and dread the very thought of leaving it," said Sumner, at length breaking the silence in which they had gazed on the exquisite scene.

"Yes, no wonder," replied the Lieutenant; "for in all my travels I don't know that I have ever seen anything more beautiful. But the most interesting of it all to me," he continued, "is this mound. It is evidently a structure of human erection, and must be contemporaneous with the famous earth pyramids of Mexico. Perhaps it was raised by the same wonderful prehistoric race. I have examined many of the well-known shell mounds of Florida, including those of Cedar Keys, and from there at various places down the west coast. I have also seen the great Turtle Mound on the Atlantic side, and those on the St. John's River; but all of them were evidently feast mounds, and showed in themselves the reason for their existence. I have heard of the earth mounds and ancient canals of the upper Caloosahatchie and Fish-eating Creek, but I have never heard it even intimated that similar structures might be looked for in the Everglades. Consequently I regard this one in the light of an important discovery. It is certainly sufficiently so to warrant us in spending tomorrow on this island investigating the mound as thoroughly as our means will allow."

"Doesn't that altar look as though the mound had been used as a place for offering sacrifices?" asked Sumner.

"No; that altar, as you call it, is evidently of recent construction, and was probably built by the Indians now inhabiting this country as a place from which to make signal smokes, or possibly as a sepulcher. We will try to find out which tomorrow. These mounds were undoubtedly erected as places easy of defense, and perhaps this one may yield us some ancient weapons, as the 'kitchen middens,' or feast mounds, of Cedar Keys have so abundantly. I have seen quantities of celts and other stone implements taken from them, while the most exquisite quartz spearhead I ever saw was taken from a Caloosahatchie mound, which from descriptions must be very similar to this one. Oh yes, we certainly must spend another day on this island. Now we'd better be going, for it will soon be dark, and -- "

Here the Lieutenant was interrupted by two shots fired in quick succession from the direction in which they had left Worth and Quorum.

''I am afraid that means trouble of some kind, said Lieutenant Carey, anxiously, after he had fired two answering shots.

Hurrying down the pathway, which they found led to the water on the opposite side of the island from that on which they had landed, they plunged into the forest, and were surprised to notice how dark it had already grown. Its intricacies were so bewildering and its difficulties so numerous that it was nearly an hour after they heard the shots before they came within sound of a voice answering their repeated calls.

At length they reached the place where they had left the boats, and here they found Worth alone, and so panic-stricken that it was with difficulty he could answer their eager questions.

"Why had he fired those shots?"

"Where was Quorum?"

"Where were the boats?"

"I fired them to call you back," answered the boy, "and I don't know where Quorum is nor where the boats are. They were here when I left, and when I came back they were gone. This was all I found here." With this Worth pointed to a bag of hardtack that lay on the ground at his feet. "And I'm afraid poor Quorum has been killed, for I know he never would have left us. I thought perhaps you were killed too, and that I was left here all alone, and I've been getting more and more frightened, until I think I should have gone crazy if you had not come when you did."

"You poor boy !" said the Lieutenant, soothingly, "I don't wonder that you were frightened. I should have been myself. But how did you happen to leave Quorum ? and what was he doing when you left him?"

"He was sitting in the cruiser, and I only left him for a minute, because I heard such a big turkey gobbler right here in the woods close to us. I thought it would be such a pleasant surprise for you to have me get him for supper, and I was sure there weren't any panthers or rattlesnakes here. So I just crept into the bushes to get a shot at him, and he kept going farther and farther off, and I kept following him. I didn't see him at all, and after a while I didn't hear him any more either, so I thought I'd better come back. When I got here, I couldn't find Quorum or the boats, so I fired my gun as a signal."

"And you haven't seen nor heard anything of Quorum since?" inquired Lieutenant Carey, looking puzzled and anxious. of

"No, I haven't heard a sound nor seen a sign a living thing," answered Worth.

"There can't be any doubt of this being the right place," said the Lieutenant, reflectively, " for there is where we cut our way through the bushes."

"And here is the bag of biscuit," added Worth.

"I am not a bit surprised at the disappearance of the canoes," said Sumner. "I am getting used to that. But to have Quorum and the cruiser go too is certainly very strange."

"And leaves us in a most awkward predicament," added the Lieutenant. "If Quorum had only gone with one boat, we might expect to see him back at any moment; but to have them all go looks very suspicious. I greatly fear the poor fellow has been the victim of some foul play. However, it is too dark now to do anything but light a fire and prepare to pass the night where we are as well as we can under the circumstances."



WHEN Worth and Quorum were left alone they sat for some time discussing the mystery of the smoke, and whether or not they had better begin unloading the boats and preparing camp. Worth advised against this. He hoped the others would discover a better camping place than that. He also thought that perhaps they might return with news that would necessitate their leaving the island in a hurry. As he complained of being very hungry, Quorum got out the biscuit bag, and they each took a hardtack from it. It was while they were eating these that the sound of a loud "gobble, gobble, gobble," came from the bushes, apparently but a few rods from where they sat.

Worth's hunting instinct was at once aroused, and slipping a couple of shells into his gun, he whispered: "You sit still, Quorum, and I'll have that fellow in a minute. My! but he must be a big one!"

Then he stepped noiselessly to the shore, and silently disappeared among the trees. Quorum sat with his back to the water, watching the spot where his young companion had entered the forest, and listening eagerly for the expected shot.

All at once a slight jar of the boat caused him to start; but before he could turn his head it was enveloped in a thick fold of cloth that effectually prevented his seeing or calling out. In a few seconds two active forms had bound his hands and feet, and slid him into the bottom of the boat, where he lay blinded, helpless, and nearly smothered. One of his captors picked up the biscuit bag from which the prisoner had just been eating, and tossed it ashore with a low laugh.

In the mean time two others had been unfastening the canoes, and dragging them cautiously backward through the Opening cut in the bushes to the channel, where lay the craft in which they had come. It was a large and well-shaped cypress dugout, capable of holding a dozen men. In less than three minutes from the time of Quorum's capture it was being poled rapidly but silently along through the twilight shadows, with the stolen boats in tow.

At a point about half a mile from the island these were skillfully concealed ill a clump of tall grasses, and Quorum was bundled into the dugout. A choking sound from beneath the cloth that enveloped his head caused one of the strange canoemen to loosen it somewhat, so as to facilitate the prisoner's breathing. Then, propelled by four pairs of lusty young arms, the dugout shot away up one of the watery lanes leading directly into the heart of the 'Glades.

An hour later it was run ashore on one of the numerous islands whose purple outlines had so charmed the observers from the top of the mound. Here it was greeted by the barking of dogs and the sound of many voices. The thongs that bound Quorum's legs were cut, he Was lifted to his feet, and, led by two of his captors, he was made to walk for some distance. At length he was halted, his wrists were unbound, and the cloth that enveloped his head was snatched from it.

The bewildered negro was instantly confronted by such a glare of firelight that for a minute his eyes refused to perform their duty. As he stood clumsily rubbing them, he heard a titter of laughter and the subdued sound of talking. As his eyes gradually became accustomed to the light, he saw, first, a fire directly in front of him, then, several palmetto huts, and at length a dozen or more Indian men, besides women and children, grouped in front of the huts, and all staring at him.

Until that moment he had not known who had made him prisoner, nor why he had been carried off; and even now the second part of the question remained as great a mystery as ever. There was no doubt, however, that,for some purpose or other, he had been captured by a scouting party of Seminoles, and though Quorum had met individuals of this tribe while cruising on the reef, he had never visited one of their camps nor been in their power. He therefore gazed about him with considerable trepidation, and wondered what was going to be done with him.

As he did not recognize any of the dusky faces gathered in the firelight, he was amazed when one of the men, addressing him in broken English, said:

"How, Quor'm! How! Injun heap glad you come. You hongry? Eat sofkee. Good, plenty."

At the same time the speaker pointed to a smoking kettle of something that a squaw had just lifted from the fire and set close to the negro. A great wooden spoon was thrust into it, and its odor was most appetizing. Having fasted since early morning, Quorum was very hungry. Not only this, but under the circumstances he would have eaten almost anything his entertainers chose to set before him rather than run the risk of offending them. Therefore, without waiting for a second invitation, he squatted beside the kettle of sofkee, and began sampling its contents with the huge spoon. To his surprise, he bad never in his life tasted a more delicious stew. After the first mouthful, he had no hesitation in eating Such a meal as made even the Indians, among whom a large eater is considered worthy of respect, regard him with envious admiration.

It is no wonder that Quorum found this Indian food palatable, for the Seminole squaws are notable cooks, and sofkee is the tribal dish. It is a stew of venison, turtle, or some other meat, potatoes, corn, beans, peppers, and almost anything else that is at hand. It is thickened with coontie starch, and a kettleful of it is always to be found over one of the village fires, at the disposal of every hungry comer. The one drawback to its perfect enjoyment, according to a white man's fastidious taste, is that, besides the sofkee, the wooden spoon with which it is eaten is equally at the disposal of all comers, and is in almost constant use. This fact was not known to Quorum at the time of his introduction to sofkee. If it had been, it would hardly have lessened his relish of the meal, for Quorum was too wise to be fastidious.

He was so refreshed by his supper, as well as emboldened by the fact that no one seemed inclined to harm him, that something of his natural aggressiveness returned. After laying the sofkee spoon down, he turned to the Indian who had already spoken to him, and said:

" Why fo' yo' call me Quor'm? I 'ain't hab no ; 'quaintance wif you."

For answer the Indian only said, "Tobac, you got um, Quor'm?"

"Yes, sah. Tobac? I got er plenty ob him back yonder in de boat wha' yo' tuk me frum. Why fo' yo' treat a 'spectable colored gen'l'man dish yer way, anyhow? Wha' yo' mean by playin' sich tricks on him, an' on de white mans wha' trabblin' in he comp'ny?"

While speaking the negro had mechanically produced his black pipe, and instead of answering his questions, the Indian said: "Tobac. You no got urn. Me got um, plenty. You take um, smoke um, bimeby talk heap."

With this he handed a plug of tobacco to the negro, who understood the action, if he had not fully comprehended the words that accompanied it. As he cut off a pipeful and carefully crumbled it in his fingers, he began to think that his position was not such a very unpleasant one, after all. He only wished he could imagine his fellow explorers as being half so comfortable as he was at that moment. Realizing from the Indian's last remark that there would be no talk until after the smoke, he assumed as comfortable a position as possible, and gazed curiously about him.

The little village, or camp, of half a dozen huts, was nearly hidden in the black shadows of the forest trees that surrounded it on all sides. Its huts were built of poles, supporting roofs of palmetto thatch, and were open at the sides. Each was provided with a raised floor of split poles, thickly covered with skins, and every hut contained one or more cheesecloth sleeping canopies. Each hut had also several rifles and other hunting gear hanging in it, while canoe masts, sails, paddles, and push poles leaned against its walls.

The men, who lay smoking on the furs inside the huts, or stretched in comfortable attitudes on the ground outside, were tall, clean-limbed, athletic-looking fellows clad in turbans of bright colors, gay calico shirts, and moccasins of deerskin; the women wore immense necklaces of beads, calico jackets, and long skirts, but were barefooted and bareheaded; and the children were clad precisely like their elders, with the exception of the turbans, which are denied to the boys and young men until they reach the age of warriors. Besides the Indians, Quorum saw that the camp was occupied by numbers of fowls, dogs, and small black pigs, that roamed through it at will. Everybody and everything in it, animals as well as humans, looked contented and well fed.

At length Quorum's smoke was finished, and he knocked the ashes from his pipe. As if this were a signal, the Indian men laid aside their pipes, and it was evident that the time for talking had arrived.



THE four explorers left on the mound island were very far from spending so pleasant an evening as that enjoyed by Quorum in the Seminole village. They were full of anxiety both as to his fate and their own. In some respects their position was not so bad as if they had been cast away on a desert island in the ocean, while in others it was worse. In the latter case they might hope to sight and signal some passing vessel, but here there was no chance for anything of that kind. At the best, they would not see anything except Indian canoes, and, under the circumstances, they could have little hope of obtaining aid from these.

Their revolvers were still loaded, and they had between them half a dozen cartridges for their guns, but thus fat they had discovered no traces of game on the island. They would not lack for fresh water, but with only a single bag of biscuit, the food question was likely to become a serious one within a short time. They had no knowledge of any white settlements within less than a hundred miles of where they were. These could only be reached by wading and swimming through the trackless 'Glades and bewildering cypress swamps. Undoubtedly some of the 'Glade islands were occupied by Indians, but they might explore as many of these as their strength would permit them to reach without finding one thus inhabited. Their situation was certainly a most perplexing one, and as they sat around a fire, eating a scanty supper of hardtack and discussing their prospects, these appeared gloomy in the extreme.

Still, the Lieutenant well knew that he must, if possible, keep up the spirits of his little party, and that the worst thing they could do was to take a hopeless view of the situation. So he said:

"Well, boys, though we seem to be in a nasty predicament, it might be a great deal worse, and we have still many things to be thankful for. I once drifted for a week in an open boat in the middle of the South Pacific. There were seven of us, and only one man of the party had the faith and courage to continue cheerful and hopeful through it all. On the very day that we swallowed our last drop of water, and while the rest of us were lying despairingly in the bottom torn of the boat, he sat up on watch, and finally discovered the trading schooner that picked us I up."

"I," said Sumner, "do not feel nearly so badly now as I did when drifting out to sea in the dark on that wretched raft a couple of weeks ago. I expected every minute to be washed off and be snapped up by sharks; but, after all, the loneliness was the worst part of it."

"Right you are, Mr. Sumner," said the sailor. "A man can stand a heap of suffering along with others, that would throw him on his beam ends in no time if be was compelled to navigate by himself. I mind one time that I was lost in a fog, in a dory, on the Grand Banks. As we had grub and water in the boat, I didn't worry much, till my dorymate fell overboard and got drownded. The weight of his 'ilers and rubber boots sunk him like a shot. After that I well nigh went crazy with the loneliness. I couldn't seem to eat or drink; and though I was picked up the very next day, that one night of loneliness seemed like a year of torment. Oh yes, sir, men can save themselves in company, when they won't lift a hand if left alone."

"I don't think I was ever in a worse fix than this one," remarked Worth, dolefully.

"Probably not, my boy," said the Lieutenant, cheerily. "You are young yet, and have just made a start on your career of adventure. All things must have a beginning, you know. The next time you find yourself in an unpleasant situation, you will take great satisfaction in looking back and describing this one as having been much worse. No adventure worth the telling can be had without a certain degree of mental or physical suffering, and the more of this that is endured the greater the satisfaction in looking back on it. Now that we can do nothing before daylight, I propose that we make ourselves as comfortable as possible, and sleep as soundly as possible. By so doing we shall be able to face our situation with renewed strength and courage in the morning. Tomorrow we will explore the island, discover its resources, and perhaps find traces of Quorum and the boats. Failing in this, I propose that we construct as good a raft as we can with the means at hand. With it to carry our guns, besides affording us some support, we will make our way back to the place where those cowboys were camped this morning. From there we can follow their trail until we overtake them, or reach some settlement."

Cheered by having a definite plan of operations thus outlined, all hands set to work to gather such materials for bedding as they could find in the darkness, and an hour later the little camp was buried in profound slumber.

To their breakfast of hardtack the following morning Sumner added a hatful of cocoa plums that he had gathered while the others still slept. Soon after sunrise they divided into two parties -- the Lieutenant and Worth forming one, and Sumner and the sailor the other -- and set out in opposite directions to make their way around the island.

"I don't want any one to fire a gun except in case of absolute necessity;" said Lieutenant Carey. "And if a shot is heard from either party, the others will at once hasten in that direction."

"Can't we even shoot my gobbler if we meet him ?" queried Worth.

"No, I think not," replied the Lieutenant, with a smile; "that is, unless he shows fight, for I expect your gobbler would turn out to be a turkey without feathers, and standing about six feet high. I mean," he added, as Worth's puzzled face showed that he did not understand, "that the call by which you were led away from Quorum was, in all likelihood, uttered by an Indian for that very purpose."

So difficult was their progress through the luxuriant and densely-matted undergrowth of that Everglade isle that, though it was not more than a couple of miles in circumference, it was nearly noon before the two parties again met. They had discovered nothing except that the island was uninhabited, and they were its sole occupants. Nor had they seen anything that would give a clew to the fate that had overtaken poor Quorum.

"While I don't for a moment suppose that the fellow has deserted," said the Lieutenant, "I wish, with all my heart, that we knew what had become of him."

"Indeed, he has not deserted," replied Sumner, warmly. "I'll answer for Quorum as I would for myself, Wherever he is he will come back to us if he gets half a chance.'

"Yes, I believe he will; and I only hope he may get the chance. Now let us go to the top of the mound for one more comprehensive look at our surroundings, and then we will begin our preparations for leaving the island."

From the summit of the mound the same tranquil scene on which Lieutenant Carey and Sumner had gazed with such pleasure the evening before, only more widely extended, greeted their eyes. It was as devoid of human life now as then, and its present beauties failed to interest them.

"I said that we would probably spend today here," remarked the Lieutenant. "But I must confess that my present interest in this mound lies in getting away from it as quickly as possible. I have no longer the least desire to investigate its mysteries, and so let us descend to our more important work."

Returning to their landing place, and eating a most unsatisfactory lunch of hardtack, they began to search for materials from which to build their raft. These were hard to find, and still harder to prepare for the required purpose. There was plenty of timber, but it was green, and they had no weapons with which to attack it except their sheath knives. Neither had they any nails nor ropes, and their lashings must be made of vines.

After a whole afternoon of diligent labor, a nondescript affair of different lengths and jagged ends lay on the ground at the water's edge ready for launching. With infinite difficulty and pains they got it into the water, only to have the mortification of seeing it immediately sink.

"Well, boys," said the Lieutenant, in a voice that trembled in spite of his effort to make it sound cheerful, "that raft is a decided failure. Unless we can find some wood better suited to our purpose, I am afraid we must give up the idea altogether, and try to reach the cypress belt without any such aid."

"If we only had a few sticks of the timber that is so plenty along the reef!" said Sumner, thinking of his own previous efforts in the raft line.

" We might as well wish for our canoes, and done with it," said Worth, despondently.

Just then they thought they heard a faraway shout in the forest behind them. Instinctively grasping their guns, they stood in listening attitudes It was repeated, this time more distinctly, and they looked at each other wonderingly.

At the third shout Sumner exclaimed, joyously: "It's Quorum! I know it is!" He would have plunged into the forest to meet the newcomer, but the Lieutenant restrained him, saying: "Wait a minute. Let us be sure that this is not another trap."

A few moments later there was no longer any mistaking the voice, and their answering shouts guided Quorum, his honest face beaming with joy and excitement, to the place where they were awaiting him.




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

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