Munroe/Canoemates

 




CANOEMATES

A Story of the Everglades.



CHAPTER XXXIII.
AN ADVENTUROUS DEER HUNT.

 

IN answer to Sumner's call, the others sprang up and hurried in the direction of his voice. As they got beyond the circle of firelight they saw that the day was breaking, though in the forest its light was dim and uncertain. It was much stronger ahead of them, and within a minute they stood at the water's edge, where objects near at hand were plainly discernible. Although they more than suspected that the 'Glades had been left behind, they were hardly prepared for the sight that greeted their eyes. Instead of a limitless expanse of grass and water dotted with islands, they saw a broad river flowing dark and silently towards the coming dawn through a dense growth of tall forest trees. But for the direction of its current, it was a counterpart of the one, now so far behind, by which they had entered the 'Glades from the Gulf.

Of more immediate importance even than the river were the objects to which Sumner triumphantly directed their attention. These were the long-unseen canoes and the cruiser, with masts, sails, and paddles in their places, and looking but little the worse for their journey than when their owners had stepped from them nearly a week before. Sumner had discovered them, snugly moored to the bank, a short distance below the landing place, and had towed them up to where the others now saw them. In the bottom of the Hu-la-lah lay their guns and pistols, carefully oiled and in perfect order. Everything was in place, and they could not find that a single article of their outfit was missing.

"I declare!" said the Lieutenant, "those Indians are decent fellows, after all, and though I am provoked with them for their obstinacy in not granting us a single interview, as well as for the way they compelled us to journey through their country, I can't help admiring the manner in which they have fulfilled their share of our contract. They have shown the utmost fairness and honesty in all their dealings with us, and I don't know that I blame them for the way in which they have acted. They have been treated so abominably by the Government ever since Florida came into our possession that they certainly have ample cause to be suspicious of all white men."

Quorum was sent down to watch the canoes and see that they did not again disappear, while the others ate the scanty breakfast that he had prepared. At it they drank the last of their coffee, and Quorum reported that there was nothing left of their provisions save some cornmeal and a few biscuit.

As they talked of this state of affairs, Sumner said that he had started up a deer when he went after the canoes, and Worth was confident that this must be a good place in which to find his favorite game -- wild turkeys.

"It looks as though we would have to stop here long enough to do a little hunting before proceeding any farther," said the Lieutenant.

To this proposition the boys, eager to use their recovered guns, readily agreed.

So, after making sure that their camp was no longer guarded, and that they were at liberty to go where they pleased, it was decided to devote the morning to hunting, with the hope of replenishing their larder. Quorum and the sailor were left to guard camp and the boats, while the others entered the piney woods, going directly back from the river. The Lieutenant carried a rifle and the boys their shotguns, while each had his pockets well filled with loaded shells.

The pine forest was filled with a dense undergrowth of saw palmetto, and the ground beneath these was covered with rough masses of broken coralline rock. It was also so slippery with a thick coating of brown pine needles. Under these circumstances, therefore, it was almost impossible to proceed silently, and whatever game they might have seen received ample warning of their approach in time to make good its escape.

When they at length came to a grassy savanna, on the opposite side of which was a small hammock of green, shrubby trees, the Lieutenant proposed that the boys remain concealed where they were while he made a long circuit around it. He would thus approach from its leeward side, and any game that he ]night scare up would be almost certain to come in their direction, After stationing them a few hundred feet apart, so that they could cover a greater territory, and warning them to keep perfectly quiet, he left them.

The sky was clouded, and a high wind soughed mournfully through the tops of the pines. Every now and then the boys were startled by the crash of a falling branch, while the grating of the interlocking limbs above them sounded like distressed meanings. It was all so dismal and lonesome that finally Worth could stand it no longer, and made his way to where Sumner was sitting.

"Have you noticed how full the air is of smoke ?" he said, as he approached his companion. "My eyes are smarting from it."

"Yes," replied Sumner, "it has given me a choking sensation for some time. I expect the woods are on fire somewhere."

"Really!" said Worth, looking about him, apprehensively. "Then don't you think we ought to be getting back towards the river ?"

"No, not yet. The fire must be a long way off still, and it would never do for us to leave without Lieutenant Carey. He would think we were lest, and be terribly anxious. There he is now! Did you hear that ?"

Yes, Worth heard the distant rifle shot that announced the Lieutenant's whereabouts. Instantly his freshly aroused hunting instinct banished all thoughts of the fire, and he hurried back to his pest. He had net more than reached it before there came a crashing among the palmettoes, and ere the startled boy realized its cause, two deer, bounding ever the undergrowth with superb leaps, dashed past him and disappeared.

"Why didn't you fire ?" cried Sumner, hurrying up a moment later. "It was a splendid shot! I would give anything for such a chance &!"

"I never thought of it," answered Worth, , ruefully. "Besides, they went so quickly that I didn't have time."

"They ought to have stood still for a minute or two, that's a fact," said Sumner, who was rather inclined to laugh at his less experienced companion.

Just then there came another crashing of the palmettoes, and a third deer bounded into sight for an instant, only to disappear immediately as the others had done.

"Why didn't you fire ?" laughed Worth. "It was a splendid shot!"

"Because this is your station," replied Sumner, anxious to conceal beneath this weak excuse the fact that he had been fully as startled and unnerved as his companion. "I do believe, though," he added, "that this last fellow was wounded, and perhaps we may get him yet."

The discovery of fresh blood on the palmetto leaves through which the flying animal had passed confirmed this belief, and without a thought of the possible consequences the boys set off in hot pursuit of the wounded deer.

They easily followed the trail of the blood smeared leaves, and in the ardor of their pursuit they might have gone a mile, or they might have gone ten for all they knew, when suddenly, without warning, they came face to face with the deer. He was a full grown buck, with branching antlers still in the velvet, and by his swaying from side to side he was evidently exhausted. The sight of his enemies seemed to infuse him with renewed strength, and the next instant he charged fiercely towards them.

Worth, attempting to run, tripped and fell in his path. Sumner, with better luck, sprang aside, and sent a charge of buckshot into the furious animal at such short range that the muzzle of his gun nearly touched it. It fell in a heap on top of Worth, gave one or two convulsive kicks, and was dead.

Its warm lifeblood spurted over the prostrate boy, and when Sumner dragged him from beneath the quivering carcass he was smeared with it from head to foot.

"Are you hurt, old man ?" inquired Sumner, anxiously, as his companion leaned heavily on him, trembling from exhaustion and his recent fright.

"I don't know that I am," replied Worth, with a feeble attempt at a smile. "I expect I am only bruised and scratched. But, oh, Sumner, what an awfully ferocious thing a deer is! Seems to me they are as bad as panthers. What wouldn't I give for a drink of water! I can hardly speak, I am so choked with smoke."

With this, Sumner suddenly became aware that the smoke, which they had net noticed in the excitement of their chase, had so increased in density that breathing was becoming difficult. Thoroughly alarmed, he looked about him. In all directions the woods were full of it, and even at a short distance the trees showed indistinctly through its blue haze. Now, for the first time, the boys were conscious of a dull roar with which the air was filled. Their long chase must have led them directly towards the fire.

"We must get back to camp as quickly as possible!" exclaimed Sumner, realizing at once the danger of their situation. "Come on, Worth, we haven't a moment to lose!"

"But what shall we do with our deer'?' asked the blood-covered boy, who could not bear the thought of relinquishing their hard-won prize.

"Never mind the deer, but come along!" replied Sumner. "If I am not mistaken, we shall have our hands full taking care of ourselves. That fire is coming down en us faster than we can run, and we haven't any too much start of it as it is.

 


CHAPTER XXXIV.
HEMMED IN BY A FOREST FIRE.

Which way were they to fly? The terrible roar of the burning forest seemed to come from all directions, and the smoke seemed hardly less dense on one side than en another. But there had been no fire where they came from, and they must retrace their steps along the bloodmarked trail that they had followed, of course. Although the body of the deer lay near the spot where it had ended, they were at first too bewildered to discover it, and lost several precious minutes in searching among the palmetto leaves for its crimson signs. At length they found them, and started back on a run.

It was exhausting work trying to run through the thick scrub, ever its leglike roots, and among the rough rock masses strewn in the wildest confusion between them, and their speed was quickly reduced to a walk. Sumner went ahead, and, with arms uplifted to protect his face from the sawlike edges of the stout leaf stems, forced a way through them, with Worth close behind him.

They had not gene far when Sumner suddenly stepped and, with a despairing gesture, pointed ahead. The flames were in front of them, and could be distinctly seen licking the brown tree trunks, and stretching their writhing arms high aloft towards the green tops.

"We are going right into the fire!" the boy exclaimed, hoarsely. "The deer must have seen it, and been curving away from it when we over took him!"

So they turned back, and rushed blindly, without trying to follow the trail, in the opposite direction. Before they had gone half a mile Worth's strength became exhausted, and he sank down on a palmetto root gasping for breath.

"I can't go any farther, Sumner! Oh, I can't!" he cried, piteously.

"But you must! You can't stay here to be burned to death! We are almost certain to find a slough with water in it, or a stream!" and grasping his comrade by the arm, Sumner pulled him again to his feet.

As he did so, the hammers of Worth's gun became caught in something, and the next instant both barrels were discharged with a startling explosion.

"That's a good idea!" exclaimed Sumner. "Let's fire all our cartridges as fast as we can. Perhaps they are out looking for us, and will hear the shots."

So saying, he fired both barrels of his own gun into the air, and quickly reloading, fired again. Worth followed suit; but just as Sumner was ready to fire for the third time he was startled by a sharp crackling sound close beside him. He turned quickly. There was a bright blaze within ten feet of him. The first accidental discharge of Worth's gun, as it lay pointed directly into a mass of dry grass and dead palmetto leaves, had set this on fire. Worth instinctively sprang towards it with the intention of trying to stamp it out, but, with a joyful cry, Sumner restrained him.

"It's the very thing!" he shouted. "A back fire! Why didn't I think of it before? We must set a line of it as quick as we can!"

Worth did not understand, and hesitated; but seeing Sumner, with a bunch of lighted leaves in his hand, rush from one clump of palmetto to another, touching his blazing torch to their dry, tinderlike stalks, he realized that his companion knew what he was about, and began to follow his example.

Within five minutes a wall of flame a hundred yards in length was roaring and leaping in front of them, fanned into such fury by the high wind that they were obliged to retreat from its blistering breath. They could not retreat far, however, for during their delay the main fire had gained fearfully upon them, and its awful roar seemed one of rage that they should have attempted to escape from it. Mingled with this was the crash of falling trees and the screams of wild animals that now began to rush frantically past the boys. A herd of flying deer nearly trampled them underfoot; and directly afterwards they were confronted with the gleaming eyes of a panther. With an angry snarl he too dashed forward. Great snakes writhed and hissed along the ground, and Worth clutched Sumner's arm in terror.

Seizing his gun, the latter began shooting at the snakes; nor did he stop until his last cartridge was expended.

It was horrible to stand there helplessly awaiting the result of that life-and-death race between those mighty columns of flame; but they knew not what else to do. Now they could no longer see in which direction to fly. The swirling smoke clouds were closing in on them from all sides, and only by holding their faces close to the earth could they catch occasional breaths of fresh air.

Sumner's plan was to remain where they were until the last moment, and then rush out over the smoldering embers of the fire they had set. The main body of this was now rapidly retreating from them. At the same time a fringe of flame from it was working backward towards them. Though they made feeble efforts to beat this out, their strength was too nearly exhausted for them to make much headway against it. The heat was now so intense that their skin was blistering and their brains seemed almost ready to burst.

Worth had flung away his gun, just after loading it, when he began to set the back fires, and now the sound of a double report from that direction showed that the flames had found it. The noise of these reports was followed by a loud cry, and out of the smoke clouds a strange, wild figure came leaping. It was a human figure. As the boys recognized it, they echoed its cry. Then by their frantic shouts they guided it to where they were crouching and making ready for their desperate rush into the hot ashes and still blazing remains of the back fire.

The figure that sprang to their side, and, seizing Worth's arm, uttered the single word "Come!" was that of Ul-we, the young Seminole, though the boys, having never seen him, did not, of course, recognize him.


THE ORDEAL OF FIRE LASTED BUT A MINUTE.
With thankful hearts and implicit faith they followed him as he dashed back into the thickest of the smoke clouds that still hung low over the newly burnt space before them. They choked and gasped, and their feet became blistered with the heat that penetrated through the soles of their boots. Worth would have fallen but for the strong hand that upheld him, and dragged him resistlessly forward. The ordeal of fire lasted but a minute, when they emerged in a grassy glade at one end of the burnt space, and ran to a clump of water-loving shrubs that marked a slough beyond it.

The vanguard of the main fire raced close after them, flashing through the brittle grass as though it were gunpowder; and as they dashed into the bushes, and their feet sank into the mud and water of the slough, its hot breath was mingled with theirs.

In the very centre of the thicket Ul-we threw himself down in water that just covered his body, and held his head a little above its surface. The boys followed his example, and experienced an instant relief from the cool water. In this position they could breathe easily, for the smoke clouds seemed unable to touch the surface of the water, but rolled two or three inches above it.

Here they lay for what seemed an eternity while the fire fiends raged and roared on all sides of them, and in the air above. The heat waves scorched and withered the green thicket, the water of the little slough grew warm and almost hot, the air that they breathed was stifling, and for a time it almost seemed as though they had escaped a roasting only to be boiled alive like lobsters.

After a while, that appeared to the poor boys a long, weary time, the fiercest of the flames swept by, and their roar no longer filled the surrounding space. There were rifts in the smoke clouds, and perceptible intervals of fresh air between them. Finally the boys could sit up, and at length stand, but not until then were they certain that the danger had passed.

Then Sumner grasped the young Indian's right hand in both of his, and tears stood in the boy's eyes as he said: "I don't know as you can understand me; I don't know who you are, and I don't care. I only know that you have saved us from a horrible death, and that from this moment I am your friend for life."

As for poor Worth, the tears fairly streamed down his smoke-begrimed, blood-stained cheeks, as, in faltering words, he also tried to express his gratitude.

The Indian seemed to understand, for he smiled and said: "Me Ul-we. Quor'm know um. You Summer. You Worf. Me heap glad find um. 'Fraid not. Hunt um; hunt um long time, no find um. Bimeby hear gun, plenty. Hunt um, no find um. Bimeby hear one gun, bang! bang! quick. Then come, find um. Hindleste. If me no find um, fire catch um pretty quick, burn up, go big sleep. Holewagus! Ul-we feel bad, Quor'm feel bad, all body feel bad. Now all body heap hap, dance, sing, eat 'leap, feel plenty glad."

All of which may be translated thus: "I am very glad to have found you, for I was afraid I shouldn't. I hunted and hunted a long time, but couldn't find you. At last I heard guns fired many times, and hunted in that direction, still without finding you. Finally I heard both barrels of a gun fired at once, not far from where I was, and then I found you. It is good. If I had not found you just when I did, the fire would have caught you and burned you to death, which would have been terrible. I should have felt very badly. So would Quorum and all your friends. Now everybody will rejoice."

Ul-we had been ordered to watch the camp of the white men by the river until they left it, but to remain unseen by them. He had noted the departure of the hunting party, and had also been aware of the approach of the forest fire while it was still at a great distance. When, some hours later, the Lieutenant came back full of anxiety concerning the boys, and immediately started off again to hunt for them, Ul-we also started in another direction, with the happy result already described.

They remained in the slough two hours longer, before the surrounding country was sufficiently cooled off for them to travel over it. Then they set out under Ul-we's guidance, though where he would take them to the boys had not the faintest idea.

 


CHAPTER XXXV.
THE BOYS IN A SEMINOLE CAMP.

ALTHOUGH Ul-we started out from the slough that had proved such a haven of safety in one direction, he quickly found cause to change it for another. This cause was the lameness of the boys, for their blistered feet felt as though parboiled, and each step was so painful that it seemed as if they could not take another. They were also faint for want of food, and exhausted by their recent terrible experience. The young Indian was also suffering greatly. The moccasins had been burned from his feet, and the act of walking caused him the keenest pain; but no trace of limp or hesitation betrayed it, nor did he utter a murmur of complaint.

He had intended leading them directly to their own camp; but that was miles away, and seeing that they would be unable to reach it in their present condition, he changed his course towards a much nearer place of refuge. He soon found that to get Worth even that far he must sup port and almost carry him. As for Sumner, he clinched his teeth, and mentally vowing that he would hold out as long as the barefooted Indian, he strode manfully along behind the others with his gun, which he had retained through all their struggles, on his shoulder.

In this way, after an hour of weary marching, they entered a live oak hammock, into which even the fierce forest fire had not been able to penetrate. Here they were soon greeted by a barking of dogs that announced the presence of some sort of a camp. It was that of the Seminole party which had been detailed to conduct our explorers across the Everglades, and act as guards about their halting places. There were about twenty men in this party, and as they bad brought their women and children with them, and had erected at this place a number of palmetto huts, the camp presented the aspect of a regular village. Poor Worth had just strength enough to turn to Sumner, with a feeble smile, and say, "At last we are going to see one," when he sank down, unable to walk another step.

A shout from Ul-we brought the inmates of the camp flocking to the spot. Both the boys were tenderly lifted in strong arms and borne to one of the huts, where they were laid on couches of skins and blankets. They were indeed spectacles calculated to move even an Indian's heart to pity. Their clothing was in rags, while their faces, necks, and hands were torn by the saw palmettoes through which they had forced their way. Worth was found to have received several cuts from the sharp hoofs of the wounded deer, and he was bloodstained from head to foot. Besides this, they were begrimed with smoke and soot until their original color had entirely disappeared. They were water-soaked and plastered with mud and ashes. Certainly two more forlorn and thoroughly wretched-looking objects had never been seen there, or elsewhere, than were our canoemates at that moment.

But no people know better how to deal with just such cases than the Indians into whose hands the boys had so fortunately fallen, and within an hour their condition was materially changed for the better. Their soaked and ragged clothing had been removed, they had been bathed in hot water and briskly rubbed from head to foot. A salve of bear's grease had been applied to their cuts and to their blistered feet, which latter were also bound with strips of cotton cloth. Each was clad in a clean calico shirt of gaudy colors and fanciful ornamentation. Each had a gay handkerchief bound about his head, and a pair of loose moccasins drawn over his bandaged feet. Each was also provided with a red blanket which, belted about the waist and hanging to the ground, took the place of trousers.

Thus arrayed, and sitting on bearskin couches, with a steaming sofkee kettle and its great wooden spoon between them, it is doubtful if their own parents would have recognized them. For all that they were very comfortable, and by the way that sofkee was disappearing, it was evident that their appetites at least had suffered no injury. They at once recognized sofkee from Quorum's description. They also knew the history of the wooden spoon; but just now they wee too hungry to remember it, or to care if they did.

At length, when they had almost reached the limit of their capacity in the eating line, and began to find time for conversation, Worth remarked, meditatively:

"I believe, after all, that I like fishing better than hunting. There isn't so much excitement about it, but, on the whole, I think it is more satisfactory."

"Fishing for what?" laughed Sumner. "For bits of meat, with a wooden spoon, in a Seminole sofkee kettle, and looking so much like an Indian that your own father would refuse to recognize you?"

"If I thought I looked as much like an Indian as you do I would never claim to be a white boy again," retorted Worth.

"I only wish that I could hold a mirror up in front of you," replied Sumner; and then each was so struck by the comical appearance of the other that they laughed until out of breath; while the stolid-faced Seminole boys, stealthily staring at them from outside the hut, exchanged looks of pitying amazement.

After this, Sumner still further excited the wonder of the young Indians by performing several clever sleight-of-hand tricks, while Worth regretted his inability to dance a clog for their benefit. Then calling Ul-we into the hut, Sumner presented him with his shotgun, greatly to the "Tall One's" satisfaction. Worth was distressed that he had nothing to give the brave young fellow; but brightened at Sumner's suggestion that perhaps Ul-we would go with them to Cape Florida, where Mr. Manton would be certain to present him with some suitable reward for his recent service.

When Ul-we was made to comprehend what was wanted of him, he explained that it would be impossible to go with them then, but that he would meet them at Cape Florida on any date that they might fix. So Sumner fixed the date as the first night of the next new moon, and Worth added a request that he should bring with him all the occupants of the present camp, which he promised to do, if possible.

Although the boys had no idea of where they were, they felt confident that somehow or other they would be able to keep the appointment thus made, and also that the Mantons' yacht would be on hand about the same time. They tried to find out from Ul-we how far they were from Cape Florida at the present moment; but he, having received orders not to afford any member of Lieutenant Carey's party the slightest information regarding the country through which they were passing, pretended not to understand the boys' questions, and only answered, vaguely, "Un-cah" to all of them.

By this time the day was nearly spent, and it was sunset when the boys' own clothes were returned to them, dried, cleaned, and with their rents neatly mended by the skillful needles of the Seminole squaws. Then Ul-we said he was ready to take them to their own camp, and though they would gladly have stayed longer in this interesting village, the boys realized that they ought to relieve Lieutenant Carey's anxiety as soon as possible. So they expressed their willingness to accompany Ul-we, but hoped that the walk would not be a long one.

"No walk," replied Ul-we, smiling. "Go Injun boat. Heap quick."

Accompanied by half the camp, and shouting back, "Heep-a-non-est-cha," which they had learned meant goodbye, to the rest, they followed their guide a short distance to the head of a narrow ditch that had evidently been dug by the Indians. Here they entered Ul-we's canoe, and after a few minutes of poling they realized, in spite of the darkness, that they were once more on the edge of the Everglades.

After skirting the forest line for some time, they turned sharply into a stream that entered it, and again the boys found themselves borne rapidly along on a swift current through a cypress belt. An hour later they saw the glow of a campfire through the trees, and their canoe was directed towards it. Stepping out as the canoe slid silently up to the bank, the boys, wishing to surprise their friends, stole softly in the direction of the circle of firelight. On its edge they paused.

At one side of the fire sat Lieutenant Carey, looking worn and haggard; Quorum stood near him, gazing into the flames with an expression of the deepest dejection, while the sailor, looking very solemn, was toasting a bit of fresh meat on the end of a stick.

"No," they heard the Lieutenant say, "I can't conceive any hope that they have escaped, for the only traces that I found of them led directly towards the fire. How I can ever muster up courage to face Mrs. Rankin or meet the Mantons with the news of this tragedy, I don't know."

"Hit's a ter'ble ting, sah. Ole Quor'm know him couldn' do hit."

"Then it's lucky you won't have to try!" exclaimed Sumner, joyously, stepping into sight, closely followed by Worth.

"Oh, you precious young rascals! You villains, you!" cried the Lieutenant, springing to his feet, and seizing the boys by the shoulders, as though about to shake them. "How dared you give us such a fright? Where have you been?"

"Out deer hunting, sir," answered Sumner, demurely.

Quorum was dancing about them, uttering uncouth and inarticulate expressions of joy; while the sailor, having dropped his meat into the fire, where it burned unheeded, gazed at them in speechless amazement.

They told their story in disjointed sentences, from which their hearers only gathered a vague idea that they had killed a deer in the burning forest, been rescued from the flames by an Indian, and borne in his arms to a Seminole village in the Everglades, from which, by some unseen means, they had just come.

"I'll bring him up, and he can tell you all about it himself," concluded Sumner, turning towards the landing place, to which the Lieutenant insisted on accompanying him, apparently not willing to trust him again out of sight.

But neither Ul-we nor his canoe was there. He had taken advantage of the momentary confusion to disappear, and the Lieutenant said he was thankful their canoes had not disappeared at the same time.

When they returned to the fire, they found Quorum hard at work cooking venison steaks.

"Then you did get a deer, sir, after all?" queried Sumner.

"No, I only wounded one, and he escaped. This fellow was one of a herd that, terrified by the fire, came crashing right into camp, and was shot by the sailor."

"That's the way I shall hunt hereafter," exclaimed Worth -- "stay quietly and safely in camp, and let the game come to me!"


SUMNER AND WORTH IN THE SEMINOLE CAMP.

 


 


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