A Story of the Everglades.



AFTER their day of excitement, terror, and anxiety the explorers passed a happy evening around their campfire, and Lieutenant Carey gained a clearer idea of the boys' adventures and escapes. He admitted that the kindness shown them in the Seminole camp gave him a new insight into the Indian character, and wished that be might have had a chance to thank and reward Ul-we for his brave rescue of the young canoemates. He also regretted that he, too, could not have visited that Indian camp, and hoped that the appointment made by the boys with Ul-we might be kept.

In spite of their recent hearty meal of sofkee, a preparation of which they spoke in the highest terms, the boys were able to do ample justice to Quorum's venison steaks, greatly to the satisfaction of the old negro. He would have felt deeply grieved if they had allowed any amount of feasting in an Indian camp to interfere with their enjoyment of a meal that he had cooked, no matter how short an interval might have elapsed between the two.

Although the boys felt rather stiff and lame the next morning, it did not prevent their being ready bright and early to continue their journey. It was a great pleasure to be once more afloat in their own canoes, and this was increased by the fact that they now had a swift current with them. It was a glorious March day, and all nature seemed to share their high spirits as they glided smoothly down the beautiful river. The water swarmed with fish and alligators, and the adjacent forest was alive with birds. Among the innumerable fish that darted beneath them they soon recognized several saltwater varieties, which assured them that the ocean could not be far off.

As the three canoes were moving quietly along abreast of each other and close together, the Psyche suddenly glided over a huge black object that for an instant seemed inclined to rise and lift it bodily into the air. As it was dropped back, there was a tremendous floundering, and all three of the light craft were rocked so violently that only the skill of their navigators saved them from capsizing.

"Was it a waterquake ?" inquired Worth, with a very pale face, as soon as his fright would allow him to speak.

"Yes; and there it goes," laughed the Lieutenant, pointing to a great dim form that could just be seen moving swiftly off through the clear water.

"It must have been a whale," said Sumner. "No," answered Lieutenant Carey; "but it was the next thing to it. It was a manatee or sea cow. I have seen them in the lower Indian River, but did not know they were found down here. I wish you boys might have a good look at him, though, for the manatee is one of the rarest animals in the world. It is warm-blooded and amphibious, lives on water grasses and other aquatic plants, grows to be twelve or fifteen feet long, weighs nearly a ton, and is one of the most timid and harmless of creatures. It is the only living representative of its family on this continent, all the other members being extinct. The Indians hunt it for its meat, which is said to be very good eating, and for its bones, which are as fine-grained and as hard as ivory. In general appearance it is not unlike a seal. It can strike a powerful blow with its great flat tail, but is otherwise unarmed and incapable of injuring an enemy. Several have been caught in nets and shipped North for exhibition, but none of them has lived more than a few weeks in captivity."

"What made that fellow go for us if he isn't a fighter ?" asked Worth.

"He didn't," laughed the Lieutenant. "He was probably asleep, and is wondering why we went for him. I can assure you that he was vastly more scared than we were."

"He must have been frightened almost to death, then," said Sumner.

Soon after this they saw a landing place on the left bank. Stopping to examine it, they discovered a trail leading through a fringe of bushes, behind which was an Indian field covering an old shell mound, and in a high state of cultivation. In it were growing sweet potatoes, melons, squashes, sugarcane, and beans -- a supply of which they would gladly have purchased had the proprietors been present. As they were not, and necessity knows no law, our canoemen helped themselves to what they needed, and when they left, the load of the cruiser was materially increased.

At length they heard the dull boom of surf, and realized that only a narrow strip of land separated them from the ocean. Late in the afternoon they reached the mouth of the river, and the boys uttered joyous shouts as they looked out over its bar and saw a limitless expanse of blue waters, unbroken by islands, glistening in the light of the setting sun.

With light hearts they went into camp on the inner side of the sandy point separating the quiet waters on which they had been floating from the long swells of the open sea. They intended running out of the river and down the coast in the morning, for from their surroundings, as well as from the general course they had taken through the 'Glades, the Lieutenant was satisfied that they must be considerably to the north of Cape Florida.

The boys determined to sleep in their canoes that night, and rigged up the little-used striped canoe tents for that purpose. While they were doing this, and the Lieutenant was pitching his own tent on shore, and the others were collecting driftwood on the beach, there came a hail from across the river.

"Hello there! Bring a boat over here, can't ye?"

It was the first white man they had seen since leaving the Transit, and going over in the cruiser, Sumner brought him back. He proved to be a barefooted boy, a year younger than Worth, and yet he was the mail carrier over the most southerly land route, and one of the most lonesome, in the United States. It is the seventy-mile stretch between Lake Worth and Biscayne Bay, and every week this boy or his younger brother walked the whole distance and back along the beach, with a mail sack on his back. He had to cross the mouths of two rivers, for which purpose he kept an old skiff at each one. It sometimes happened, as in the present case, that some other beach traveler would appropriate his boat, and leave it on the wrong side. Then, unless fortunate enough to find some one to set him across, he would be obliged to brave the sharks and other sea monsters, with which these rivers swarm, and swim over after his own boat. Along his route were three houses of refuge, situated twenty miles apart, and belonging to the Life Saving Service. Each of them contained a single keeper, and these were the only persons seen by the lonely mail boy while on his toilsome tramps.

The boy was greatly interested in the canoes, which he declared were the neatest little tricks he ever did see, but he scouted the idea of sleeping in them. "Why," said he, "some of them sharks or porpusses what uses round here nights will run inter ye an' upsot ye quicker'n wink."

He was amazed that they should cruise in such tiny craft, and begged them not to think of attempting to run down the coast in them. On the whole he regarded our young canoemates as being particularly daring and reckless fellows, and they regarded him in much the same way, though he made light of his lonely beach tramps, on which he often met bears, panthers, or other wild animals.

He told them that they were about twenty-five miles north of Cape Florida; that there was a "station" on the beach six miles north of them; that turtle were beginning to lay eggs, and bears to frequent the beach in search of them; that sharks grew larger in those very waters than anywhere else on the coast; and that an easterly wind would blow in the morning, which would prevent their crossing the bar. Having delivered himself of this information, and saying that he must make the station that night, the boy slung his mail sack over his shoulders, and started off at a brisk pace up the soft shelving beach.

After what he had told them about sharks, Sumner and Worth concluded not to sleep in their canoes that night. They might have done so with perfect safety, however, for no shark was ever known to overturn a boat for the sake of getting at a human being inside of it.

The next morning the mail boy's prediction in regard to the east wind was verified. It was blowing briskly at sunrise, and already a big sea was rolling in, combing and booming on the bar. Their boats would not live in it a moment, and consequently they must stay where they were until the wind changed.

After breakfast the Lieutenant sat in his tent writing, the sailor was repairing a torn sail, Quorum was taking a nap, and the boys were left to their own devices for amusement. An hour or so later Lieutenant Carey, the sailor, and Quorum were startled by loud calls for help from the beach, and hurried in that direction to see what new scrape the "young rascals," as the Lieutenant called them, had got into now.



IN strolling along the outer beach, picking up curious sponges and bits of coral, the attention of the boys was also attracted to the shadowy forms of great fish that they could distinguish every now and then darting along the green base of the combers just before they broke.

"Do you think they can be sharks?" asked Worth.

"Yes," replied Sumner; "I am almost sure they are."

"My! but I wish we could catch one! I have never seen a shark out of water."

"I shouldn't wonder if we could. I've got a shark hook in the Psyche, and our Manila cables, knotted together, will make just the kind of line we want."

Fifteen minutes later the hook and line had been prepared. For bait, they took one of a number of fish that Quorum had caught that morning.

The shark hook was a huge affair, over a foot long and made of steel a quarter of an inch thick. To it was attached by a swivel several feet of chain terminating in a ring to which the line was made fast.

Sumner had caught many sharks off Key West wharves, but they had been comparatively small, and with the monsters of the reef he had hitherto had no dealings. Consequently, he was almost as ignorant of their strength as was Worth. Therefore, without reflecting on the folly of the act, and fearing that the line might be jerked from his hands, he made its inner end fast about his waist.

Then whirling the heavy hook above his head, he cast it far out in the breakers. Within a minute it was tossed back to the beach, and had to be thrown again. This operation was repeated So many times without any result that the boys were beginning to tire of it, when all at once there came a jerk on the line that nearly threw Sumner off his feet. "Hurrah!" he cried. "We've got him at last! ,, Catch hold, Worth, and help me haul him in.

But it was soon evident that instead of their catching the shark, he had caught them. In spite of all their efforts, and no matter how deeply they dug their feet into the sand, the boys found themselves being dragged slowly but surely towards the water. At first they did not realize their danger; but when they were within a few yards of the creamy froth churned up by the breakers, it flashed over them, and they began to utter those shouts for help that attracted the attention of their companions in the camp.

Although Worth could have let go of the line at any minute, the thought of doing such a thing never entered his head. Even when the water was about his feet and the wet sand was slipping rapidly from beneath them, the plucky little chap held on and struggled with all his might to avert the fate that threatened his friend.

They were nearly hopeless before the three men reached them, and, rushing into the water, seized the line with such a powerful grasp that its seaward motion was instantly arrested. Not only that, but they walked away with it so easily that a minute later the shark was landed high and dry on the beach, where the sailor dispatched it with an axe.

It was a white shark of moderate size, being not more than seven or eight feet long. For all that, it was a monster as compared with those Sumner had been in the habit of catching, and he gazed with a curious sensation at its wicked eyes, and the row upon row of curved gleaming teeth with which the gaping mouth was provided.

"It was a close call for you, my boy," said the Lieutenant, gravely, "and has taught you a lesson that I am sure you will never forget. You may thank your lucky stars that the hook was taken by this little fellow instead of by one of his grandfathers or uncles. Now that we have started in this business, I am going to try and show you what might have happened."

Under his direction a hole some five feet deep was dug, a heavy timber, selected from those with which the beach was strewn, was thrust into it, and the sand was repacked solidly about it. To this, instead of to Sumner's body, the end of the line was attached, and the fishing for sharks was resumed. While the post was being set, Lieutenant Carey brought his rifle from the camp. Several sharks, some smaller and some larger than the first, were caught; but not until the hook was seized by one that dragged the entire party clinging to it slowly down the beach did the Lieutenant express himself as satisfied.

"Hold on to it!" he cried. "Brace yourselves! Snub him all you can!"

The strain on the line was tremendous, and it hummed like a harp string. But for the post to aid them, they must have let go. At length, even the enormous strength at the other end of the line began to be exhausted. Foot by foot the slack was gathered in and held at the post. Then a great ugly-looking head could be seen in the edge of the breakers, and the next minute a rifle ball crashed into it.

In the flurry that followed the line snapped, and the boys uttered a cry of dismay. But the bullet had done its work, and a few minutes later the huge carcass was rolling like a log in the surf. The sailor managed to get a bight of the line over its tail, and by their united efforts the great fish was drawn partly from the water; but beyond there they could not move it. It was nearly fifteen feet long, and Sumner shuddered as he realized how easily and quickly such a monster as that could have dragged him out to sea.

"It seems to me," said Worth, "that some kinds of fishing are as dangerous as deer hunting, and just as exciting."

While they were still looking at the big shark their attention was attracted to a loud barking in the beach scrub behind them, and by a man's voice shouting: "Wus-le! Wus-le! You, sir! Come here!" It was evident that Wus-le was a dog, and that he was engaged in some absorbing occupation that forbade him to pay any attention to the calls of his unseen master.

Going to the place from which the barking came, the shark fishers were in time to witness a most interesting performance. A small brindled bull terrier was tearing in a circle round and round a coiled rattlesnake. The former was barking furiously, and the sound so enraged the snake that the angry whir-r-r-r of its rattles was almost continuous. At the same time it was dazed by the rapidity of the dog's motions. At length it sprang forward, struck viciously, and missed its mark. At the same moment the dog dashed in, seized the snake by the back, gave one furious shake, and jumped away. The snake was evidently injured, for it re-coiled slowly. Once more, enraged beyond endurance, it struck at its agile adversary, and then the dog had him. in an instant the snake's back was broken, and a minute later it lay motionless and dead.

As soon as he was certain of his victory, the dog paid no more attention to his late enemy, but with panting breath and lolling tongue that betrayed the energy of his recent exertions, he ran to meet his master, who appeared at that moment from the direction of the river.

He was a powerfully built man, dressed partly as a hunter and partly as a sailor. He carried a rifle, and introduced himself as the keeper of the house of refuge a few miles up the coast. He upbraided the dog as though it were a human being for tackling a rattlesnake, and then remarked apologetically to the spectators of the recent fight: "I have to scold him on general principles, but it don't do any good. He is bound to fight and kill snakes till they kill him, which I am always expecting they will. They haven't done it yet, though, and he has killed more than twenty rattlers, besides more Of other kinds than I can count. He's a good dog, Wus-le is, and he's a terror to snakes."

The man said he had learned of the Lieutenant and his companions being in the river from the mail carrier, and, feeling lonely, had come to invite them to go to the station and stay with him until the wind changed. As he assured them that this was not likely to happen for several days, and as they were ahead of the time set for their arrival at Cape Florida, Lieutenant Carey accepted the invitation.

On their way up the river their guide pointed out a grove of coconut palms, marking the site of a fort erected during the Seminole War, the name of which was at one time familiar to all Americans. It was the scene of the treacherous seizure of the famous chief Osceola, who was lured into it under the pretense of considering a treaty. From there he was hurried to Fort Moultrie, in Charleston Harbor, where he soon afterwards died of a broken heart.

They found the station to be a low, roomy structure, surrounded by broad piazzas, built in the most solid manner so as to withstand hurricanes. It stood on top of the beach ridge, and commanded a glorious view of the ocean, as well as of the low-lying back country. At one end was a small separate house containing a great cistern, in which a supply of water was collected during the rainy season of summer, to last through the long winter drought. At the opposite end stood a building in which was kept a metallic lifeboat and a quantity of canned provisions for the use of sailors who might be wrecked on that lonely coast.

Here the exploring party remained for nearly a week, while the wind still held steadily to the east, and they all declared it to be the happiest and most interesting week of their cruise.

They hunted, fished, and sailed on the inland waters behind the beach ridge to their hearts' content. Quorum was kept constantly busy cooking on the station kitchen stove the venison, fish, turtle, ducks, quail, 'possum, and other food supplies with which the surrounding country abounded.

Worth felt that his reputation as a hunter was fully restored when he shot a; wildcat that Wus-le had treed, and Sumner was more than proud over the killing of a black bear, which the same enterprising dog discovered one night digging for turtle eggs on the beach but a short distance from the station. The Lieutenant worked at the report of his expedition, while the sailor and the keeper labored at the frame of a light-draught, seagoing boat, which the latter wished to build for his own use, and for which Sumner furnished the plans and model.

At length the wind, which in that country always boxes the compass, worked around to the westward, and as it was the end of March, the canoes were again loaded, and the pleasant life at the station came to an end.



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

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