Part 3 out of 5
Ned got his forked stick and, after a long struggle, in which Dick
had to help with another stick, caught the otter's neck in the fork
and held the creature firmly to the ground. Then putting his left
hand around its neck he held the head down in the mud, and with his
right hand clutched the skin of the animal's back.
"All right, Dick, take off the trap."
"Trouble's goin' to begin. Here goes," said Dick, and the trap was
Like a flash of light, as Ned lifted the little beast, it thrust its
head through the loose skin of the neck and turning backward bit
Ned's hand to the bone four times in something less than a second.
The otter would have been free, but that Dick, who was looking for
trouble, had it by the neck with both hands and in spite of its
biting, scratching and struggling, it was dumped in the box and the
door of its cage closed.
"Been having fun! Haven't we?" said Dick, ruefully, as the boys,
scratched, bitten and bleeding, stood looking at each other, after
their victory. Ned's hand was disabled and so painful that Dick
paddled the canoe, with its cargo of boys and pet otter, to their
"Now, Ned," said Dick, "I'm the surgeon and you are to be respectful
and call me Dr. Dick. Let me see your left hand first. I've got to
decide whether to chop it off, or to try and save some of it."
"You look as if you needed some fixing up yourself, Dick."
"That will be all right. You shall have a chance at me--if you
survive the operation."
Dick got a bottle of carbolated vaseline from their stores, tore up
one of Ned's shirts and put the strips in boiling water. He then
washed Ned's wounds with warm water and soap and dressed and
bandaged them. His own injuries were less serious than Ned's,
although more numerous, and although he spoke lightly of them, his
companion insisted on their having as careful treatment as his own.
When the bandaging was over, Dick said:
"We ought to have a yellow flag to fly over this hospital. I wish we
had a medical book to tell us what we've probably got. The only
things I'm sure of are blood poisoning and hydrophobia. Then there's
enlargement of the spleen. I've got all the symptoms of that."
"Your only danger is from melancholia, Dick. But what are we to do
with the otter? That box is too small for his comfort."
"I'm not losing any sleep over his comfort. I thought I'd take him
out of his cage every morning and lead him around the camp for
exercise until you were ready to begin his education."
"It does not seem quite as easy to tame him as it looked before we
"Guess you mean before he caught us."
"Shouldn't wonder if I did. Couldn't we build a cage of poles, with
some of these big vines woven in basket fashion?"
"That would be all right. We could watch him day times and you could
put him back in the box every night for safe keeping. I don't think
he's an otter at all. He just fits the definition of a white
On the day after his little difference of opinion with the otter,
Ned's left hand and wrist were so sore and stiff that he could
neither hold his paddle nor his gun. Dick, too, was partially
disabled by the soreness of his arms, but he managed to get about in
the canoe and shoot ducks enough for their meals. They could not
induce the otter to eat anything, although it seemed much less
fearful of them. The leg which had been in the trap was broken and
appeared to trouble the animal, but they could do nothing to help
it. Dick did propose to take the otter out of the cage and offered
to set its leg if Ned would hold the creature. On the second day
their wounds continued to be so troublesome that the boys stayed in
their hospital camp. As they sat that afternoon in the shade of a
lime tree, drinking limeade, Dick, the philosopher, began to
"Don't you pity all these folks about here, Ned? Crackers,
alligators, Indians, the whole ignorant lot of 'em. If they had got
hurt as we did, they would have gone right on about their business.
They'd never have found out that they were probably suffering from
appendicitis and microbes and ought to go to a hospital and be
At this moment the bow of an Indian canoe glided silently into the
tiny cove in front of the camp. The boys recognized one of the two
bronzed, bare-legged Seminoles that stood so erect in the canoe, as
from Osceola's camp. His response to Ned's greeting was a question.
"_Whyome_ (whiskey), got him? Want him, _ojus_ (very much)."
Ned told them he had no _whyome_, but brought out coffee and sugar
and invited them to make a brew for themselves. He also produced
grits and venison. The Indians sat down to a feast which lasted as
long as any food remained in sight. One of the Indians looked
curiously at Ned's bandages and smiled a little as he pointed to
the box that held the pet otter. Ned nodded and asked the Indian, by
signs, if he had ever been bitten by one of the creatures. The
Indian held out his hand and showed the scar of a bite that must
have nearly taken off his thumb. After the Indians had gone Dick
looked ruefully over the diminished stores and exclaimed:
"There's going to be a famine in this camp if those Injuns hit us
The next day the boys were very much better and ready for work. Ned
could not hold a paddle with his left hand, so they took a trip into
the Everglades, where the water was so shoal that they used their
paddles as poles and he could push with one hand. They left their
stores in camp, for which afterwards they were glad, and pushed out
several miles among the keys of the Glades, where Dick got a shot at
a deer which was running from one key to another, but made a clean
miss. They saw several alligators and in the afternoon chased one
with the canoe. The boys could go faster than the 'gator, but the
reptile could turn more quickly. At last the canoe was right behind
the quarry and within a few feet of it.
"Give it to her!" yelled Ned, as he seized his paddle in both hands
and threw his weight upon it.
"Here goes!" shouted Dick, as he threw his weight on his paddle,
which, unfortunately, slipped from the point of coral rock on which
it first struck. Dick landed on his back in the water, capsizing the
canoe as he fell. When the young canoemen had picked themselves up,
righted the canoe, and found the rifle, it was too late to look for
the missing alligator, and they plodded slowly home to camp. They
found their captive much tamer. He drank a little water, although he
refused to eat. His leg was badly swollen and they were anxious
about him, and with good reason, for when they awoke in the morning
he was dead.
Ned's last, reckless thrust with his paddle had broken open his
wounds and they became very painful. Dick dressed them again and
warned him that he wasn't to use his hand until he had Dr. Dick's
permission. They explored the creeks around their camp in the canoe,
Dick doing most of the paddling, while Ned helped as well as he
could, with his unhurt arm. The clear water of these little streams
abounded with baby tarpon and other small fish, while often, in the
deeper pools, turtles could be seen scurrying along the bottom. Dick
had never told Ned of the turtle-catching that Johnny had taught
him, so when he said, very casually, "Ned, I think I'll go overboard
and pick up that turtle for supper," Ned replied:
"Don't be an idiot. You couldn't catch that thing in the water in a
"Just hold the canoe steady and watch me." And Dick, resting his
hands on the gunwales, threw himself overboard.
The splash frightened the turtle, which made off up the creek, but
the boy was on his trail and, after a few futile grabs, had the
reptile in his hand.
"Think that will do for supper, Ned, or shall I pick up a few more?"
said Dick, as he put the turtle in the canoe.
"I'd like to know who taught you that, you rascal, playing roots on
your poor old chum, who never had your chance to see the world."
While they were waiting for Ned's hand to get well, Dick got out the
fly-rod and cast-net that came with his canoe and spent all his
spare time trying to learn to throw the net. Johnny had given him a
few lessons, until he thought he had learned to cast it. It was the
kind of net which is used by the Florida Cracker, to the knowledge
of which he is born, which he can cast when he leaves his cradle.
The net was conical, six feet long with a ten-foot mouth, lined with
leaden sinkers. The top of the net was closed, excepting for a small
hole in which was fitted a small ring, through which puckering
strings led from the mouth of the net to a 25-foot line, which was
to be fastened to the fisherman's wrist.
For casting, about half of the net is thrown over each wrist and one
of the sinkers held between the teeth. The net is then swung behind
the fisherman, thrown forward with a whirling motion, the sinker in
his mouth released at exactly the right instant and the net falls in
an almost perfect circle wherever, within thirty feet, the fisherman
wishes. That is the way the net behaved when Johnny threw it. And
when Johnny arranged the net on Dick's arms, told him just what to
do and watched him, Dick made some respectable throws, and thought
he had learned the game; but now, away from his teacher, when he
tried to cast it, net and leads went out in a solid mass that never
could have caught anything, though it might have killed a fish by
knocking it in the head. Dick, however, was bound to learn, and
practiced by the hour, without seeming to make any progress, when
suddenly the net began to go out in circles and his casts became
creditable. He was so fearful of losing his new-found facility that
he practiced for the rest of that day, and lay down at night with
what he called the toothache in every muscle.
But from that day fish was on the bill of fare of the young
When Ned's hand was well enough to be used a little, he began by
fishing, sitting in the bow of the canoe, with the fly-rod, while
Dick paddled. He caught several of the big-mouthed black bass, often
called in the South fresh-water trout, and other small fish which
they saved for the pan. Then the line was carried out with a rush by
a fish that twice jumped one or two feet in the air.
"Got a tarpon, sure," said Ned, who had never taken one, and he
became most anxious lest the fish escape.
For nearly half an hour he carefully played the fish, which never
jumped again. When the tired fish was ready to be landed Ned found
that his prize, instead of a tarpon, was a ten-pound fish which he
did not recognize, but which he afterwards learned was a ravaille.
"Well, it was mighty good fun, almost as exciting as if it had been
a tarpon," said Ned, who didn't know how foolishly he was talking.
They were down the river bright and early the following morning but,
for the first hour, failed to hook any of the fish that struck. Then
the hook was snatched and instantly a silver, twisting body shot ten
feet up in the air. As it fell back in the water, the reel began to
buzz and Ned's fingers were burned where the line touched them.
Again and again the great fish leaped high in the air, while the
line ran low on the reel.
"Paddle, Dick, paddle all you know," shouted Ned.
But Dick was already doing his very best. The tarpon changed his
course, came back a little, leaped once more and again started off.
But Ned had got a good many yards of line back on his reel, and was
getting hopeful of landing his first tarpon. He was beginning to
lose line again, when the tarpon turned around and, swimming
straight for the canoe, leaped against Ned with such fury that the
craft was nearly capsized, and when Ned had recovered from the shock
his line was nearly out and the fish headed for a little creek that
was almost overgrown with trees and vines. The first jump of the
tarpon as he entered the stream carried him up among the bushes
that hung over the water, but fortunately the line did not catch in
the branches and, as the fish swam slowly up the little channel, the
canoe was close behind him. Ned held the point of his rod low, that
it might not catch in the bushes, but his heart was up in his mouth
every time the tarpon sprang in the air.
[Illustration: "THE TARPON LEAPED AGAINST NED WITH FURY"]
"It's no use, Dick, we've got to lose him. He isn't a bit tired and
the tangle is getting worse. Then if he turns back I won't have room
for the rod and you can't turn the canoe."
"Never say die, Ned. If he gets away from you, I'll go overboard and
pick him up."
"The creek's opening out into a big river, Dick. We may land him
The tarpon stayed in the big river, swimming a mile or so and then
turning back, while Ned put all the strain he dared on rod and line
and, excepting when the tarpon made a rush, Dick held his paddle
still and let the fish tow the canoe by the line.
"We've got all the scales we want," said Dick, "and I move we don't
gaff another tarpon. When we have tired this one so it's through
jumping, let's turn it loose. We don't need it to eat and I hate to
feed sharks with such a beautiful creature."
"Sure!" said Ned. "And if it is as tired as I am it will give in
pretty soon or die."
The tarpon grew weaker, his leaps lower and soon the canoe was held
close to him, while Ned even laid his hands on the tired fish.
"Think we can take him aboard, Dick?"
"I think you can swamp the canoe and break the rod, all right."
"I don't mind swamping the canoe and we can take care of the rod. If
you'll take the rod now, I'll hang on to his jaw and take out the
hook, which I can see in the corner of his mouth. Then, if you will
look out for the rod and balance the canoe, I'll slide that tarpon
over the gunwale--"
"And we will all go overboard together," added Dick.
"No, we won't, but just as soon as we have fairly caught him and got
him in the canoe, we'll slide him overboard again."
Dick took the rod, Ned removed the hook from the mouth of the tarpon
and hoisted its head over the gunwale. The canoe canted over until
water poured over its side, and the attempt would have failed but
for the tarpon which, with a blow of its tail, threw itself up in
the air and fell on top of Ned, who had tumbled into the bottom of
the canoe. The sight of Ned hugging the big fish, which was spanking
his legs with its tail, was too much for Dick, who sat down on the
gunwale of the canoe in a spasm of mirth, and of course the craft
was capsized. Ned clung to the fish for a few seconds until his
captive had bumped him with its head and slapped him with its tail a
few times, when he was glad to let it go. He then joined Dick, who
was holding the rod with one hand and clinging to the canoe with
the other, as he swam to the bank.
On the way back to camp Dick had several fits of laughter that made
him stop paddling for a minute at a time and caused Ned to say:
"It's all right to laugh now, but that was my tarpon. I had him safe
in the canoe and if you hadn't tipped us all into the river I'd have
hung on to him."
"I'm awful sorry, Ned, but if only you could have seen yourself,
you'd have had to laugh or bust. Besides, you had your fun. You
caught your tarpon and you wouldn't have done any more if you had
lain in the bottom of the canoe and let it spank you all night."
EDUCATING AN ALLIGATOR
The boys wished to explore the Whitewater Bay country, and spent
several days following to their sources streams that led in that
direction, until satisfied that no stream connected the two regions.
Returning to Tussock Bay, they crossed it and entered a branch of
Shark River, which led to Little Whitewater Bay. As they neared the
bay a loggerhead turtle rose near them and Dick wanted to hunt it.
"We need the meat," said he. "We can smoke it and then it is as good
as jerked venison."
"We haven't time to smoke it. We are in a salt-water country with
only two or three days' supply of fresh water. We may not find any
more for a week. We've just got to keep moving. I wish we had a keg
of water. If we were to spill what we've got in that canoe we would
have to hike in a hurry, back to the Glades or some other place
where we knew there was fresh water."
On the eastern side of Little Whitewater Bay, the boys found a
straight and narrow creek which led to Whitewater Bay. Paddling for
six miles, east-southeast, across the bay, they were fortunate
enough to strike the narrow mouth of what soon proved to be a broad
river. They paddled long and late without Finding the fresh water
they looked for, and camped on ground so wet that they had to cut
branches to sleep on. As they kept on in the morning, the river they
followed forked and they took the deeper branch. This in turn split
in two and again they followed the deeper branch. Near the close of
a day of hard work the stream they were following opened out on a
beautiful park-like prairie, while beside the canoe was an ideal
camping site fitted by Nature to that end.
It was a circular bit of high ground, surrounded by big trees whose
spreading branches, draped in moss, shaded it on all sides, while an
immense growth of wild grape-vine canopied it overhead. The water
that flowed past the camp was pure and sweet, fresh from the
Everglades. There was heavy timber about the camp and more than once
during the night the boys heard the tread of a wild animal. Once it
seemed to be the step of a deer in shallow water near the camp, then
it was the soft footfall of some catlike animal and when Ned raised
himself on his elbow to listen to a heavier tread, the "_wouf_" of
the startled beast told that Bruin had caught the offensive scent of
the white man's camp. As the boys lay awake and talked while they
watched the stars peeping through the canopy of vines above them,
they heard the distant bellowing of a Bull alligator.
"Dick," said Ned, "do you s'pose we could find that 'gator? He must
be fifteen feet long, from the noise he makes. I'd like mighty well
to rope him. We could stake him out so he'd never, never get away
and he would live for weeks if it took us that long to get him
carried to Fort Myers. Dad would sure be delighted and pay all the
bills like a major."
"Don't you think he'd throw in new rifles with silver plates and our
names on 'em?"
"He sure would."
"Well, we haven't got the big alligator yet, but we'll hunt for him
Just as Dick spoke the distant report of a gun was heard.
"There goes your fifteen-foot alligator and both of our new rifles
with silver plates and our names on them. Good-night."
The boys started out across the meadow in the morning on the hunt
for the big 'gator. They carried a rope for the 'gator and Ned took
his rifle to be ready for the bear that spoke to them in the night.
There was no more danger of their losing their camp, for Ned had
made a chart every night, of their course during the day, until his
memory had learned to map every scene his eyes looked upon. As they
crossed a bit of wooded swamp, they heard the step of some heavy
animal in a jungle near them, but they could get no sight of the
creature and the slushy mud through which it had waded left no
prints that inexperienced eyes could read. They found little ponds
from which small 'gators rose to their calls, but none of a size
worth thinking of. They saw one big alligator sunning itself on a
dry bank, and spent an hour in creeping near it only to find that it
was not over ten feet long. As it grew late and they turned
homeward, Dick said:
"Ever since that otter of yours died I've wanted a pet in camp. We
need one for a watchdog. 'Most any night we might be eaten up for
want of one. Let's take home a young alligator and I'll train it.
These ponds are full of 'em."
"I don't want you to go wading in any more ponds, Dick."
"That's all right. Don't have to. There are 'gator caves all round
these ponds. You find one of 'em and I'll do the rest."
The boys hunted around several ponds till Ned found a hole in the
bank of one, just under the surface of the water. Dick handed Ned a
pole, which he had cut in the last bit of woods they had passed, and
then made a noose on the end of the harpoon line which he carried.
He arranged the noose around the hole in the bank and stood a little
back of it holding the line in his hands.
"Now, Ned, just poke that pole down in the mud, all around, about
fifteen feet back of this hole, and pretty soon you'll punch
something. Then, you'll see fun."
Ned poked around in the soft ground for awhile, then:
"Look out, Dick! Something is wiggling."
"I'm all here. Let her come!"
Out came the reptile's head from the cave, straight through the
noose which tightened around the alligator's neck, as Dick threw his
weight back on the line. At first it tried to back into the cave,
but the line held it. Then it plunged into the pond, but Dick soon
yanked it out on the prairie. It scuttled over the prairie like a
great lizard and when the boy jerked it back it ran toward him, but
he side-stepped quickly out of reach of that open mouth. When the
reptile became a little quiet, Dick dragged it to the pole which Ned
had left sticking in the ground and walking twice around it had the
alligator's head fast to the pole. Then stepping quickly up to the
creature he seized it by the head, holding its jaws firmly together
with both hands.
[Illustration: "OUT CAME THE REPTILE'S HEAD FROM THE CAVE"]
"Now, Ned, if you'll tie these jaws together, he'll be gentle as a
lamb and we'll have a real pet that won't get away like a manatee or
die like an otter."
"I'll tie it, and bully for you, Dick, boy! You did that in great
shape. I shouldn't wonder if it made a pretty good pet, and I don't
care how big its mouth is, it couldn't have a bigger bite than that
otter of ours."
The 'gator was less than five feet long and quite babyish in its
ways, but it gave Dick a lot of trouble as he was leading it toward
"Just boost him up on my back, Ned. He's only a baby and wants to
Ned found it a pretty vigorous baby when he tried to boost it and he
got some spanks from its tail that made him think of his tarpon of a
few days before. Finally Ned stood in front of his companion, and
with his help the reptile was dragged up Dick's back with its
forepaws on his shoulder. Dick hung onto the paws, in spite of the
sloshing about of his pet's tail for about a quarter of a mile, when
he dumped it on the ground and addressing it, said:
"There! You uneasy little cuss, you've got to walk. I don't mind
your wiggling your tail, but you tickle my ribs with your hind claws
and you pound my head with your hard old jaws. Now come along
straight, or instead of being toted you'll get a lickin'."
When they reached camp Dick staked the pet out with a line long
enough to let it get into the river when it chose. He took the rope
from its jaws, leaving them free, and the 'gator never took
advantage of it by trying to bite. At first the pet got very much
excited when he was dragged out of the water and up on land, but
after awhile he got used to it and seemed to almost enjoy it. Dick
caught fish for his pet which always refused to eat them. Then Dick
cut the fish in pieces and while Ned held the little 'gator, stuffed
them in its mouth and then held its jaws together till it swallowed
"See the baby 'gator sit up, Ned," said Dick one day, after he had
been training it for some time. "I'll have him eating with a fork
and drinking from a cup in a week."
[Illustration: "SEE THE BABY 'GATOR SIT UP, NED!"]
ENCOUNTER WITH OUTLAWS
One day, just after the boys had returned from an unsuccessful hunt
for deer and Dick was at his usual occupation of training his pet,
they heard the sound of oars, and a skiff, rowed by a man who looked
like a product of the swamp, landed beside the camp.
"Kin you fellers let me have a little salt to save my hides? 'Gators
are pretty thick 'nd my salt's gi'n out."
"We have only about a bushel of salt, but you can have half; yes, we
can spare you three-quarters of it. We only use it for specimens and
there'll be enough left for us," said Ned.
"That's mighty kind o' you, 'nd I won't fergit it, tho' that won't
be any use t' you, bein's ye ain't likely t' see me ag'in."
"Why not? You go to Myers, I suppose. We might meet you there and
we'd be glad to see you."
"Thar's other folks 'd be glad t' see me thar, perticiler the
sheriff. Ain't you fellers skeered, now yer know yer talkin' t' an
"Not much," laughed Ned. "If you are an outlaw you have probably
had all the trouble you want."
"You bet I hev."
"Then you aren't looking for any more. So what is there to scare
"Not a blame thing. But you boys is plucky. There's men 'd fight shy
o' staying 'round here."
"Well, it doesn't worry us. We didn't suppose there was any one
around here, though, and we wondered who it was we heard shooting
last night and we are glad to find out. Did you get any big
"'Twasn't me shootin'. I didn't shoot las' night. Say! You've gotter
look out! I know them fellers. One on 'em's bad and you boys ain't
safe. I'm goin' ter hang 'round, 'n if you smell trouble jest fire
two shots 'nd trouble'll cum a-humpin' fur them fellers,"
"All right and much obliged, and if anything does come that we can't
manage we'll remember you, sure."
Whenever the boys passed a pond on the prairie they stopped and
grunted till the young 'gators came to the surface. One day Dick
fired a shot near enough to splash one that had come up, but in ten
minutes the reptile had forgotten his scare and again answered the
call. Dick was disposed to wade in the pond and catch the little
'gator, but Ned coaxed him out of the notion and proposed that they
find a cave and rope another 'gator to cheer up Dick's pet, which he
said was getting lonesome. This pleased Dick and the boys spent
half a day finding an inhabited cave, when they secured its occupant
with no trouble excepting that, as the alligator came out of his
hole, Dick slipped on the muddy turf and was dragged into the pond.
The 'gator was soon brought out on the prairie and its jaws tied. It
was larger than the one first captured, and Dick didn't try to carry
it on his back, but led and dragged it the entire distance.
As the boys approached their camp they saw a skiff, with two
rough-looking men in it, just being pushed from the bank. Ned called
to the men, but received no reply, and the skiff was rowed rapidly
"That spells trouble," said Ned. "Those are the fellows that our
outlaw warned us against."
The boys found their stores in some confusion and a lot of them had
disappeared, and with them had gone Ned's rifle, which he had left
in camp. Ned was quite too angry to speak and walked quickly to the
canoe, followed by Dick.
"What are you going to do, Ned?"
"Going to get that rifle."
"All right. I'm with you."
"Dick, I'm going alone. It's a fool's errand and I don't want you
mixed up in it."
"Maybe it is a fool's errand, I guess it is, and that's the very
reason I'm going with you, Ned. You know I'm going, that I wouldn't
miss going with you for the world and you haven't any right to ask
me to be a sneak and crawl out of the trouble, for it is trouble
and probably big trouble."
"Why, Dick, boy, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, and I'm sure
glad to have you with me, only you must let me manage when we find
"Of course you'll run the thing and I won't interfere, unless it
becomes mighty necessary, which is quite some likely."
As they got into the canoe Dick said:
"Don't you want the shotgun?"
"No. Got better weapons than that."
"Glad of it. You'll need 'em."
The boys paddled rapidly down the narrow river for several miles
before they came up to the men they were seeking, who were then just
getting out of the little skiff into a larger one which had a canvas
cover and was evidently used as a camp.
Dick guided the canoe beside the larger boat and Ned spoke quietly
to one of the men, who was scowling at him.
"You know what I have come for. I want my rifle."
"What rifle? I don't know anything about your rifle."
"I mean the rifle you stole from our camp this afternoon. I want it
and I'm going to have it."
"See here," said the man, who was purple with rage, as he picked up
a rifle, "I'll blow the top of your head off if you tell me I lie."
"You lie," said Ned calmly. "You are a liar, a thief and a coward.
Now give me that rifle. I am not going to ask you for it many more
"I won't give it to you and I don't know what keeps me from blowing
your head off. I believe I will yet."
"I can tell you why you don't. Because you know there would be a
hundred men on your trail who would never leave it while you were
alive. Because you wouldn't dare show your face to man, woman or
child, white, black or red, in Lee County or anywhere else. Because
your own partner would be the first to give you up."
"He would, would he?"
"Yes, he would!" said the man referred to. "Don't be a fool, but
give the kid his gun, or I will."
The rifle was handed to Ned and the boys paddled back to their camp.
On the way Dick said:
"I was scared stiff, Ned, when that fellow took up his rifle and I
saw how mad he was. Weren't you a little bit frightened yourself?"
"Not then. I'm a good deal scared now to think of it."
As the boys that night sat leaning against a log which they had made
soft with masses of long gray moss, watching the dying out of the
fire which had cooked their supper, another skiff touched at their
bank, bringing the man to whom they had given the salt and also
carrying the carcass of a fine buck.
"There, boys, better smoke what yer can't eat by termorrer. I'll
show yer how."
"We know how and we're very much obliged. But we must pay for it,
"I can't take a cent and it makes me feel bad t' have yer talk about
it. Have yer seen them fellers yit?"
"Oh, yes. They called on us and we returned the call. We didn't
happen to be at home when they called, though," said Dick.
"They come here t' your camp?"
"Yes. They certainly came."
"'nd you not here?"
"What did they take?"
"Stole a rifle," said Dick.
"I'll git it back. Don't yer worry, I'll git it back and I'll start
now," and the outlaw rose from the log on which he was sitting.
"Don't go. We got the rifle back."
"How did yer do it?"
Dick told the story of the recovery of the rifle. The outlaw sat for
a minute looking down at the ashes of the fire, and then, speaking
very slowly and with emphatic little nods between the words, said:
"And them's th' fellers I thought needed lookin' arter."
There was silence for some time and then Ned spoke in a voice that
was low from suppressed feeling.
"My friend, I don't know your name. I don't know what you did. I
don't ask it. But I believe you are too good a man to be living the
life of an outlaw. Now, can't something be done to help you? If some
men of influence worked for your pardon, couldn't it be got?"
"Reckon not. It's bin tried. I'll tell yer jist how 'twas. I killed
a man. He worried me 'nd threatened me 'nd tried ter kill me with a
knife, 'f I'd shot him then, nobody'd said nuthin', but I waited 'nd
then I got scared, thot he'd kill me, 'nd one day I shot him. I was
put in th' pen, then I was sent t' the chain gang 'nd set t' boxin'
trees f'r turpentine. Saw a man flogged day I got thar. Sed I'd
never git whipped if work would save me. I was the strongest man in
the gang. Boxed more trees 'n anybody. More I did, more I had t'. I
don't say I was whipped. If I was I didn't deserve it. If I was 'nd
ever see th' man that did it I'll kill him. Know how turpentine
gangs is guarded? Boy sits up on platform with rifle 'nd gives
orders. S'pose yer sassy to him or he just wants fun with yer. When
Cap--that's th' man that whips--comes 'long, boy sez feller's bin
shirkin'. Then feller's tied t' tree 'nd Cap beats him till feller
begs t' be killed. I don't want t' hurt anybody 'cept one feller,
but I ain't goin' back t' no chain gang. If the sheriff holds me
up, 'nd sez 'Come back or I'll shoot,' I'll say 'Shoot!'"
The boys were very silent after the outlaw's story and when he left
them they shook hands warmly with him and asked what they could do
for him; ammunition, food, clothing, money, anything they had was at
"Don't want nuthin'. You've give me more'n you'll ever know," said
the outlaw gruffly.
But the gruffness was a bit tremulous and there were tears in the
The outlaw got in the way of spending his evenings with the young
explorers and Ned pumped him dry of his knowledge of the Everglades,
the Big Cypress and the lesser swamps of South Florida. He made
charts from lines traced in the dirt to show rivers, bays, prairie
land and swamps. Ned learned of hidden creeks that connected waters
thought to be completely separated by land and of others that could
be connected by a short carry.
DICK AND THE BEAR
Dick wanted a bear and the outlaw showed him a near-by swamp where
several of the creatures lived. Day after day Dick waded, wandered
and watched in that swamp with the rifle, while Ned tramped in
another direction carrying the shotgun, making maps of the country,
and picking up occasionally a duck or Indian hen for dinner.
Sometimes Dick got sight of a bear, but Bruin was shy and kept well
out of range. One day, while sitting in some thick woods, hoping
that a bear would wander near him, Dick heard a loud tearing sound
that seemed to come from the top of a little group of young
palmettos. He crept as slowly and silently as possible near the
trees and saw a bear sitting in the top of a palmetto, tearing away
the outer husk of the bud of the tree which is the cabbage of the
Cracker and often serves as his bread. While Dick was creeping
nearer to get a surer shot, Bruin tore out the bud and, with the
cabbage in his mouth, dropped from the top of the tree to the
ground, alighting on its fore shoulder. Dick didn't know that this
was the way bears in that country usually came down a tree when in
a hurry, and supposed the bear had met with an accident and was
killed. He changed his mind the next instant when the creature came
racing toward him. Dick and the bear were about ten feet apart when
they saw one another. The bear had to turn quickly to keep from
running over Dick, and Dick had trouble to keep from punching the
bear in the ribs with his rifle when he fired at it.
No one was hurt on this first round and the bear thought it had
escaped and so did the boy. Dick churned a cartridge from the
magazine to the barrel of his rifle and watched closely the
undergrowth through which the bear was running, hoping for another
shot. Just as the splashing in the marsh grew indistinct and Dick
realized that his last chance had gone, he got one glimpse of the
bear as it sprang upon a log that lay across its path. Dick threw
his rifle to his shoulder with the quick motion of the sportsman who
takes a woodcock on the wing, and fired. The bear, which was distant
more than a hundred yards, disappeared and it seemed to the boy
scarcely worth while to follow it. It was only the notion to look
for the mark of his bullet on some tree near the log that induced
him to wallow through the swamp to where he had last seen the bear.
To his amazement he found a piece of bone and some fresh blood on
the log. He had no thought now of abandoning the trail. He followed
it through swamp and jungle, sometimes losing it where the ground
was hard or where it crossed the path of an alligator. Often when he
became fearful that he had lost the trail a smear of blood on root
or leaf told him that he was on the track. From former hunts and the
study of Ned's maps, he knew the general lay of the land, but he
stopped often and noted his course, for he meant to follow that
trail and camp on it if necessary until he lost it finally or found
the bear. The animal seemed to know all the bad stretches of marsh
and thorny bits of jungle and, as the hours passed and night drew
near, without his getting a sight of his quarry, he consoled himself
with the thought of what Mr. Streeter had told him:
"A man is never lost in the swamp so long as he knows where he is
Dick knew he wouldn't starve. There were always birds to be shot,
alligators which he could kill with a club, and palmetto cabbage
which he could dig out with his knife. He had his matches in a
watertight box, a little bag of salt in his pocket, the swamp water
was fresh, and what more could a hunter-boy ask for? He felt so
cheerful that he began to whistle, which brought him bad luck, for
he stumbled over a root which caught both feet and threw him
head-down into a deep pool of mud. He was half strangled before he
got out and was looking down shudderingly into the morass out of
which he had crawled, when he missed his rifle and knew he had got
to get back into the mudhole. It was so deep that he laid a branch
across it to cling to, before venturing in. A big moccasin crawled
from under a root beside the pool of mud as Dick stepped in it and
the boy shut his teeth tight as he forced himself to wallow through
the slimy, snaky mass from which his flesh recoiled.
He was waist-deep in that broth of mud when his feet found the rifle
and he stooped down into it and groped around among roots that felt
like living, squirming reptiles before he recovered the weapon. When
he had scraped the most of the mud off of himself and out of the
rifle it was too dark to follow the trail and Dick walked to a
near-by thicket where he hoped to find better ground for a camp. He
was peering into a dark recess in the thicket when a fierce growl
within a few feet startled him terribly, but told him that he had
found his bear--or another one. Dick was about to run, when a
picture of Ned facing the outlaw formed itself in his mind and after
that the bear couldn't have kicked him out of its path. As the boy's
eyes became accustomed to the gloom he saw the bear lying within six
feet, with jaws half open, and eyes fixed upon him. Dick believed
the bear was dying, since he failed to spring upon him, but he
thought a bullet would make things safer and he raised his rifle. He
pointed the weapon at the animal's head, but it was too dark to see
the sight of the rifle, the brain of the creature was small, and
Dick, remembering that a bear with a sore head is likely to be
cross, dropped the muzzle of his weapon to the fore shoulder of the
beast, and fired. The bear scarcely moved, but its eyes closed and
Dick was prudently waiting before touching it, when he heard the
distant report of a gun and knew that Ned was worried about him. He
fired an answering shot and then, finding a bit of dry ground beside
the body of the bear, decided to eat his supper the next morning and
lay down to sleep with his head on his new bear robe.
At daylight he heard the report of Ned's gun and fired his rifle in
reply. The bear was so heavy that Dick had trouble in handling it
and before he had finished skinning it the report of a gun within
two hundred yards showed that Ned was out hunting for him and had
taken the right course.
"Hope you didn't worry about me," was Dick's greeting as the boys
"Nope, didn't worry after you answered my shot, but I was mighty
envious of you, for I knew you had got hold of something. I didn't
believe it was a bear. Were you scared, Dick?"
"Yes, I was, a heap, but I pulled through," and Dick told his chum
of the thought that braced him up.
Ned tried to speak roughly, but his voice trembled and he looked
affectionately at his companion as he said:
"See here, Dick, boy, you can cut out all that outlaw talk. The gun
business was all bluff and you know it as well as I."
"You looked pretty white, Neddy, for a fellow who didn't think he
was taking any risk. But if you'll tell me now, honest Injun, that
you didn't think there was any danger when you faced that convict
and called him a liar, a thief and a coward, why I'll never speak of
it again. I noticed that your pet outlaw, who said the fellow was a
murderer, three deep, didn't seem to think that you had done
anything so very amusing in giving that fellow the lie and all the
rest of it."
"I see you are round-skinning your bear for mounting. I'm glad of
that. Some day I'll see it in your house and we'll be talking about
"That skin is for you. I want you to have it stuffed and put where
it can watch your alligator."
"I'm not going to take all the trophies of this trip. You can bet
your life on that."
"Don't get slangy, Neddy. You aren't used to it and it isn't
becoming. Besides, we may never get these little souvenirs out of
By which remark Dick proved himself to be a prophet.
The trail of the bear had been roundabout and had brought Dick
within less than a mile of the camp. The buzzards were gathering and
Dick remained to guard the meat while he finished removing the skin
and cleaning the skull. Ned made two trips with good loads and then,
taking all they could carry, the boys returned to camp, leaving a
big feast for the bird scavengers.
IN THE CROCODILE COUNTRY
One evening while Dick had one of his alligator pets sitting up on
his tail, teaching him to sing, as he told his chum, Ned said:
"Crocodiles are a lot more interesting than alligators and the
Florida crocodile is nearly extinct. All that are left are in a
little strip of land near Madeira Hammock, which is only a mile or
two wide and eight or ten long. Let's go down to Madeira Hammock and
catch some to look at. We can turn them loose after we are through
"Mr. Streeter says there is no way to get through to Florida Bay,
where Madeira Hammock is, by water from Whitewater Bay."
"Your outlaw says there is, only you have to tote your canoe some."
"He isn't my outlaw. I don't sit up nights making maps with him, and
anyhow we can't tote the canoe through a mangrove swamp, and that's
what we're up against if we go that way."
"But our outlaw--the outlaw, if you like--says we can find little
creeks up toward the Glades that will take us almost through."
"All right. We'll start in the morning. I wish we'd cured about a
ton or two less of that meat. We'll have to make a lot of trips
across the carries. You don't see any way to take my alligators
along, do you?"
Two days were spent in following creeks that led to nothing and then
one was found with a deeper channel which led them for miles, after
which it broke up into several little waterways, which were almost
without current and so shallow that the boys had to wade and drag
their canoe. Their progress was slow, and they slept on a bed of
brush which had lumps and knots to bruise every soft spot on their
bodies. Their next trouble was a strip of mangrove swamp which a cat
couldn't have crawled through. After following along the mangroves
for an hour they found a creek which entered it. As they followed
this creek it grew wider and deepened. There was a slight current
that flowed with them; the water was brackish, and they knew it led
to the Bay of Florida and that the Madeira Hammock was near.
The mangrove gave place to a better growth, the soil became richer
and vegetation more luxuriant. Soon they had to cut away vines and
branches to clear the way for the canoe, but they counted their
troubles over. They were paddling gaily ahead when they saw in front
of them a branch that stretched across the creek about a foot above
the water. They had met plenty of similar obstructions, but this
was different. There was a big wasps' nest on the branch and the air
was filled with flying little pests. It was impossible to get around
the nest and it was doubtful if there was another creek that would
take them through.
"Let's get some dry palmetto fans and make torches. Then we can burn
and smoke the wasps out," said Ned.
"Dunno as I want to wade up to that nest and set it afire. Ouch!"
said Dick, who had sat down on what he thought was a stump, but had
turned out to be an ants' nest. "Holy smoke! Don't these things
bite? I don't believe wasps are in it with them. Anyhow, I'm going
to find out."
Dick took the oar that was used to pole the canoe and wading
straight toward the nest struck it a blow that most fortunately
knocked it to the water, while a second blow sent it under the
surface. A few of the outlying insects stung the boy and he had a
dozen little lumps to show for a day or two, but he had captured the
fort and drowned the garrison and the canoe passed in peace.
The creek emptied into a wide bay on the high bank of which the boys
camped. It was part of the Madeira Hammock, the most beautiful
native forest they had seen. At daylight a large crocodile was
floating on the bay near the camp, but sank out of sight as the
campers showed themselves. From the bay the canoeists entered a deep
river with high banks on which were growing madeira, wild sapadillo,
palms of several kinds and other varieties of trees. In the sides
of the high banks at the water line the boys saw holes which they
believed to be the caves of crocodiles. In the mouth of one the
water was muddied and Dick cut a long pole which he poked into the
hole. At first he felt something seize the pole, but could not
afterward find the creature. He then took the pole on the bank and
thrust it into the ground where he thought the reptile was most
likely to be. When he had worked thirty feet back from the bank he
felt something move and the next instant Ned, who had stayed in the
canoe at the mouth of the cave, was nearly capsized by the rush of a
great beast nearly the size of the canoe.
"Why didn't you grab it, Ned? What is the use of my driving game to
you, if you let it slip through your fingers?"
"Perhaps you think that was one of the alligator babies you've been
nursing. You didn't see the big head with the tusks running out of
the top of it."
"No, but I mean to see the next one. It'll be your turn to do the
punching while I rope the critter."
"If you had got your rope on that one and held on, you'd be in his
cave now, inside the owner's tummy."
The next crocodile was not far away and the hunters saw it crawl
into its cave. Dick stood on the bank over the cave and arranged the
noose on the end of the harpoon line around the mouth of the cave,
while Ned paddled the canoe a few rods down the stream. Dick had the
line fast to his wrist, but Ned wouldn't punch it until it had been
made fast to a chunk of wood instead.
"What difference does it make?" grumbled Dick. "If the chunk goes
overboard I follow it. See?"
Ned hit the crocodile on his first poke and Dick had his hands full
from the start. He would have been dragged into the river within a
dozen seconds, but for Ned's coming to his aid. The crocodile was as
quick as the alligators had been slow.
"If he digs round as fast on land as he does in the water there's
goin' to be a circus when we get him out on the bank," said the
"And you wanted to be tied to his mammy by the wrist. This is only
an infant. It isn't nine feet long."
But it was, and a foot over that, yet when they got the reptile on
the bank and drew its head close to a sapling, they tied a piece of
the line around its knobby head without any trouble. From that
moment the crocodile was tame, and soon Dick was handling him
fearlessly, although Ned warned him that if he didn't keep out of
the way of that tail he'd be knocked endways. But Dick sat on his
back, pulled his tail and tried to lift him on his own back without
the crocodile showing displeasure in any way.
"Ned, this thing is a peach. Why not send him to your father? He
could be taken to New York in a baby carriage or led like a puppy
dog. There would be no such trouble as there would be with a
manatee. He's a curiosity, too."
"If it was the big one I believe it would be worth trying. That
fellow must be as big as they come. I wish we had fixed for him."
"It isn't too late. Let's lay for him to-morrow."
The crocodile hunters camped beside their captive and Dick spent the
afternoon trying to educate it. He talked of taking the string off
of its jaws, but Ned stopped that.
"I'm afraid he might eat the wrong thing, by mistake, and then I'd
have to go home alone. I suppose I could take the crocodile along in
your place. Your mother might like him as a kind of souvenir."
"But see how gentle he is and how mild his eye. He doesn't whack
around with his tail like an alligator and I think he likes to have
me sit on his back."
"That's only his slyness. Look at him now." For the crocodile,
thinking itself unobserved, was crawling slowly toward the bank of
the river. When it reached the end of its tether and could go no
farther, it lay down and, lifting its head, looked all around as
innocently as if it never dreamed of escaping, but had just moved a
little way to get a better view of the scenery.
Every hour or two of the next day the boys called at the cave of
the big crocodile, but never found him in.
"Well, we'll go at it again to-morrow," said Dick.
"We will be doing something else to-morrow. We've got to hike out of
here, and keep moving, too. Last drop of water has just gone into
the coffee pot," and Ned turned the empty water can upside down.
"Hope you can find the creek that leads to the fresh-water country.
I don't believe I could. We came through too many twisty, narrow
places. We sure don't want to be three or four days finding it. I'm
awful thirsty now."
"You must stop thinking about it. I believe I won't try for that
creek. It's a regular Chinese puzzle up among the mangroves, and I'm
not a bit sure I could follow our trail back to fresh water. I'd
rather take chances of that river that leads more to the east. I
know it can't go through to our bay, but it must lead up to the
Everglade country where the mangroves won't be so bad. We may have
to do some toting, but we will be sure to find water by to-morrow
night or the next day at the worst. But I won't go that way unless
you think best. It's too serious a thing for me to decide alone."
"Oh, I'm with you Ned. I might live till day after to-morrow without
water, but I wouldn't have a ghost of a chance beyond that, and we
might be three days in your Chinese puzzle country. Wow! but I'm
"Say that again, Dick, and I'll confiscate your coffee. I'm going to
save half of it for breakfast, anyhow. So go slow. You're on
allowance now. We will have breakfast before daylight. I want to
start as soon as we can see. It's a lot cooler before sun-up."
"I'll wake easy. I'll be so thirsty--Oh! excuse me, I forgot. But
Ned, would you mind if I took my crocodile along in the canoe? He
wouldn't take up much room and I could sit on his back. I could lead
him across any carry and I've grown quite fond of him."
"You had better stop talking nonsense and get some sleep. You may
"Yes, I know. 'Most anything may happen. You'd feel bad to think you
had refused a poor boy's dying request--and he your chum, too. Can't
I have my little pet crocodile?"
When the sun rose the young explorers had already paddled several
miles and were in a labyrinth of little bays from which they
followed channel after channel until each one shoaled down to a few
inches in depth. Finally they found one that deepened as they
advanced, although its banks came nearer together and the branches
of big trees closed over it.
"This is all right. Fresh water soon," said Dick joyfully.
But he was soon to be disappointed. For the little creek ended in a
round shallow pond, a hundred yards across and entirely shut in by
thick bushes. Dick became very blue and even Ned was discouraged.
"I hate to go back for miles and begin all over again, just when we
are so far along in the right direction. We can get through these
bushes and walk a mile or two, and perhaps climb a tree and see what
the country looks like," said Ned.
"I'd rather do anything than go back," replied Dick. "Let's paddle
round the edge of this pond and see where the bushes are thinnest."
They paddled along the shore of the little lake, finding the water
so shallow that it barely floated the canoe, until just where the
bushes seemed thickest it deepened to several feet, and parting the
bushes disclosed a deep but very narrow creek through which the
water slowly flowed. There was no room to paddle and for more than a
mile the boys dragged the canoe by taking hold of overhanging
branches. Sometimes they could lift branches that crossed the creek
over the canoe as they passed. Sometimes they had to lie down in the
canoe to get under the obstructions and often they had to stop to
cut away limbs of small trees. They were finally stopped by the
trunk of a large tree which had fallen across and completely blocked
up the creek. Just beyond it two palmettos had fallen in the stream,
one of which lay lengthwise in the channel. It would have taken days
to remove the obstructions and the young explorers explored the
swamp near them to find a possible carry. They found that a hundred
feet behind them the woods were thinner and they could cut a path
through which they could carry the canoe and stores.
"This is going to take all the rest of the day," said Ned, "and it
will be a dry camp after a heap of hot work. What do you say to
leaving this till to-morrow, and putting in this afternoon hunting
for the best route and looking for fresh water?"
"That's me," replied Dick. "Let's hike in a hurry. Only don't you
lose your way. We have got to get back to the canoe and you're the
"Don't you worry about that. You may have to go slow, but I won't
lose myself and I will bring you back to the canoe," said Ned.
Instead of following the creek, Ned bore off to the north where the
woods seemed more open and soon reached a stretch of dry, open
prairie. On the border of it stood a tall mastic tree with a
lightning-blasted top and many branches which made it easy to climb.
Ned was soon in the top of the tree making a mental map of the
country round about.
"It is all right now," said he as he climbed down. "I can see the
open Everglades within four or five miles, and there is something
that looks like a slough that is only half as far away. We'll leave
the creek in the morning and cut our path this way, instead of
around those trees. It won't be as much work, either. We can do
some of that work to-night and camp right here. Then in the morning,
at daylight, we will start out with the canoe on our shoulders and
tramp till we find water to float it."
"But how about water to drink? I need it worse than the canoe."
"Where there's water for the canoe, there will be water for you.
It's Everglade water from now on."
"I wish it would begin this minute. There's a little mud-hole that
looks pretty wet. Do you think that might be fresh?"
"Only way to find out is to try it." A minute later Dick called out.
"Come here, Ned, it's muddy, but it's fresh. Oh, isn't it good!"
As Ned approached the pool Dick, who was lying on the prairie beside
it, lifted his face from the water of which he had been drinking,
and was turning to speak to his companion when the head of a great
alligator, with wide open jaws, was thrust violently out of the
pool, just touching the boy's face. Dick fell back on the prairie
and scrambled away from the pool. It was a minute before he spoke
and then he said to Ned:
"Let's get back to work. I don't want another drink for a month. It
makes me sick to think of it."
The slough was farther away than Ned thought and the road to it lay
through a marsh. Often they sank to the waist and wallowed for
rods, carrying the canoe which seemed to weigh a ton, or dragging it
beside them. Moccasins were plentiful, but the boys were too tired
to be worried by them. They had to make two more trips to carry
their cargo, and on the last one, as Dick was staggering under a
load of smoked meat and a heavy, salted skin, he was heard to say:
"I wonder why I killed that bear. I will never kill another one."
There was dry ground beside the slough, under some willow trees, and
the explorers were glad to rest there for the night. A duck flew
down by the willows as if seeking to camp with them and he
succeeded, for they had him for supper.
AMONG THE SEMINOLES
The young explorers had found an uncharted route from the Bay of
Florida to the Everglades and the work before them was now easy.
The water was deeper than was needed to float their canoe, and the
grass too light to trouble them. They sheered off and avoided all
bands of saw-grass unless they found trails across them. The Glades
were dotted with little keys of bay, myrtle and cocoa plum. These
were small and usually submerged. A few larger keys were covered
with heavier timber, pine, oak, mastic, palmetto and other woods. In
these, deer were plentiful and bear and panther sometimes found.
The boys went to several keys before they found one with dry land
enough for a camp. It had been used for camping by the Seminoles for
many years and was the only bit of land above the surface of the
water for miles. On it were piles of turtle shells, while scattered
about were bones of deer and alligator and skulls of bear and
smaller animals. A cultivated papaw which some Indian had planted
within a few years, stood twelve feet high and was filled with
great melon-like papaws, each one of which weighed from five to ten
"Better than cantaloupe," said Dick as he finished half of a big one
as a preliminary to his supper, "but what's this you are giving us
"Coffee's out," replied Ned. "The fellows that took the rifle
cleaned out most of the coffee."
"Why didn't you make 'em give it back when you had 'em on the run?"
"Reckon I was glad to get out of it as easy as I did. Then I had
said enough unkind things to them for one time."
"Sorry you think you were unkind. Your feelings must be a good deal
torn up. But you haven't told me what I'm drinking. Tastes something
like the sassafras tea I used to get dosed with when I was a kid.
It's pretty good, though."
"It's something like it. It's made from the leaves of the sweet bay
tree, which grows on all these islands and all over this country.
Sweet-bay tea is all you're going to get to drink, excepting water,
from now on."
"What is that fruit that looks like a big stubby pear on that
curious-looking tree there?" inquired Dick.
"Does it taste like custard?"
"Yes, if the custard has been mixed with turpentine."
The explorers made little progress the following day. Bunches of
thick saw-grass turned them back. They found shallow water where for
long distances they had to paddle slowly to avoid little pillars of
coral rock that came close to the surface and endangered their
fragile canoe. Most of the afternoon was vainly spent in searching
for a camping site. They found a key where the water was shoal and
made a bed of poles and branches. Both of them chose to sleep on the
bed they had made. Whether this was simply politeness or because
both were afraid of rolling out of the canoe nobody else knows. The
poles and branches sagged under their weight until both were wet.
Then such a deluge of rain as is seldom seen outside of the tropics
fell on them. They got out in the dark and tied their canvas sheet
over the canoe. They didn't need it for themselves. They were
already as wet as they could be.
In the morning they dried themselves--so Dick said--by rolling into
the water and sloshing around. They made a cold lunch of smoked
bear, cold hominy, or grits as it is called in Florida, and water,
choosing to wait for breakfast until they should find land enough
for a fire. During the day they saw high trees to the eastward and
made for them. Here they found a Seminole camp of several families.
As they landed from their canoe they saw several pickaninnies, for
Seminole children are not called papooses like children in other
tribes of Indians, watching them from behind trees and boats. The
squaws whom they met were equally shy and kept their faces hidden.
Ned spoke to several of them, but they gave no sign that they even
"They don't like your looks," said Dick. "Let me speak to the next
The next one was a young girl and Dick was very confident, as he
addressed her, with his very best smile. But he was turned down as
badly as his chum, for the girl didn't see him at all. At the camp
they found one old Indian and several squaws. The Indian welcomed
them with a grunt and the question,
"_Whyome_ (whiskey), you got um?"
"_Whyome holowaugus_ (bad), no got um," replied Ned. The Indian
grunted again and conversation ceased. Dick was sitting on the edge
of the table which serves also as floor in a Seminole camp, when he
heard a low growl just over his head. He looked up and saw, crouched
on a shelf within four feet of him, a full-grown wild-cat, or bay
lynx, which seemed disposed to spring at him. Dick tried to keep
from showing how much he was scared, but he asked Ned to find out if
the wild-cat would bite. To Ned's question, the Indian nodded
emphatically and replied,
"Um, um, _unca, ojus_ (yes, heap)." Dick moved away, but the
creature fascinated him and he came back. Dick never could resist
the temptation to play with wild animals and he put out his hand to
the wild-cat, saying:
"If that Injun can tame that beast, I can."
"That Injun understands you, just as well as I do. He only pretends
he doesn't so as to make us try to talk his confounded lingo."
A half smile stole over the stolid face of the Indian, either on
account of what Ned was saying or because Dick's hand was slowly
approaching the wild-cat. The paw of the lynx flashed out and back
so quickly that it could scarcely be seen, but the blood began to
flow from several deep, parallel cuts on the back of the boy's hand.
Dick still held out his hand, scarcely moving a muscle, while Ned
"Come away, Dick, that beast'll scratch out your eyes."
"Wonder what it would do if I cuffed it?"
The Indian appeared to understand this, for he spoke sharply to the
lynx, and going up to it patted its head and stroked its body
lightly. He then motioned to Dick to do the same. To Dick's great
delight the wild-cat not only allowed him to stroke it, but even
purred as well as a wild-cat can.
"Ned, I've got to have that cat. I've given up all my other pets
because you didn't want them in the canoe, or there wasn't room. Now
Tom will take care of himself and won't need any toting. Shouldn't
wonder if he'd feed himself, too."
"That's what I'm most afraid of.
"Don't worry. I won't let him eat you. Ask old Stick-in-the-mud
there what he wants for his beastie."
Ned talked with the Indian and reported to Dick.
"He says he will sell for one otter skin like that one in the
"How could he see that skin from here? Tell him it's a whack. Only
he must make Tom go with me if there is any trouble about it."
"He says wild-cat go with you, you brave boy, not afraid of him.
Says somebody get scared, he eat 'em up."
"Ned, you old hypocrite, you made that up."
"Honest Injun, I didn't. I told it straight, just as I got it. That
Indian likes you."
"Why don't he talk white man lingo to me, then, instead of his old
gibberish that he can't possibly understand himself? Ask the old
snoozer what's cooking in that pot. It smells bully and I'm hungry."
Ned turned to the Indian and pointing to the steaming pot, said:
"_Nar-kee?_ (What is it?)"
"_Esoka bonus che._ (I want some.)"
"_Humbuggus cha._ (Come eat.)"
The boys took turns with the big, wooden, family spoon and found the
mess very good. There was another kettle of which the Indians ate
freely into which Dick dipped his spoon. He made a wry face as he
swallowed the portion he had scooped up and said to Ned:
"Tell your copper-faced friend that he had better give that swill
back to the pigs he stole it from."
"Be careful, Dick, he understands."
"Then let him say so in a decent language and I'll apologize for
hurting his feelings, but I won't say that stuff is fit to eat, not
if I am tied to the stake."
Dick spent one afternoon getting acquainted with the Indian
children, in which he succeeded so well that when he came back to
the camp streaming with water, the whole bunch, although they were
quite as well soaked as he, followed him screaming with laughter,
quite like white children.
"What is the trouble?" inquired Ned as soon as the youngsters gave
him a chance to be heard.
"Only the usual thing. These Indians don't know how to manage their
roly-poly canoes and I'm afraid I'll be drowned before I get 'em
Dick had found a big family canoe that looked as if it couldn't
capsize and had made signs to an Indian boy to go out in it with
him. Before they were fairly afloat all the pickaninnies belonging
to the camp had piled into the craft. From the smallest squab to the
biggest boy, the Indian children danced about in the canoe without
disturbing its equilibrium. The boy in the stern, standing on the
extreme point of the craft, set his pole on the coral bottom and
threw his weight back upon it until his whole body stood out almost
parallel with the water behind the canoe. Dick stood on the tiny
deck on the bow of the boat, but with every thrust of his pole the
canoe wabbled till the pickaninnies balanced it. But Dick improved
with practice and as he grew confident, threw his weight on the pole
in true Seminole fashion. He would have pulled through with credit,
but for the slipping of his pole on a point of coral rock, when he
fell heavily in the water, capsizing the craft as he went overboard.
At first the boy was alarmed for the safety of his cargo of
children, but soon saw that they were as much at home in the water
as on land and were quite capable of caring for themselves. After
Ned had heard what had happened he called the attention of the
squaws to the ducking of their babies without causing the faintest
gleam of interest to cross their stolid faces.
After another day of eating with the Seminoles and sleeping on their
tables, Dick announced that Tom and he were tired of Injuns and
wanted to light out. The whole Indian family saw them off, even the
squaws coming half way to the canoe from their camp. Dick carried
Tom on his shoulder and the lynx stepped into the canoe as if it had
always owned it and curled up on the canvas of the tent.
"Where do you want to go, Dick?"
"What's the use of asking me? You have been talking Everglades and
Big Cypress in a steady streak, for two days to that old Injun. You
must have a map of his brain by this time."
"We can go through the Everglades to Lake Okeechobee, out through
the canal and down the Caloosahatchee, but the Everglades will be
much the same as we have seen, only more and worse saw-grass and so
harder work. If we go to the east we will pretty soon come out at
the coast which we want to avoid. I think we had better strike
across to the prairies and the border land between the Everglades
and the Big Cypress Swamp. Bear, deer, panther and wild turkey are
to be found in that country, and we won't have to hurry so much to
get through in the time we talked of for the trip. What do you say?"
"The woods for me, every time. Then I think it would be better for
Tom's health. I am afraid he would get melancholy if we kept him on
the water too much. Let's put in a big day's work and get somewhere.
I can stand sleeping in the water once in a while, but don't like it
as a regular thing."
They put in their big day's work without getting very far. They
struck shoal water in the morning where little pillars of coral,
rising almost to the surface, threatened to tear a hole in their
canoe. When they got overboard and waded, the same sharp points of
coral hurt their feet and bruised their shins. During the afternoon
they held their course, as best they could, for a tall palmetto,
which, lifting its head above a waste of water and grass, gave
promise of land enough for a camp beneath it. They dragged the
canoe through a narrow strand of saw-grass, but were turned westward
by a heavier band of the same obstacle, and finally made their camp
for the night on a bushy little submerged key, where Ned lay on top
of the canoe and was kept from sleeping by the fear of rolling over
into the water, and Dick lay on a bed of brush that soon settled
into the water with him. At first Tom climbed a little tree, but
didn't seem pleased with his quarters. He looked at Dick's bed for a
moment and turned in for the night with Ned in the canoe. Good
progress was made on the following day, for the boys were tired of
trying to sleep on the water and meant to find land enough for a
camp before another night. They found much open water, most of the
grass was light and the few strands of saw-grass they encountered
were easily avoided. They saw few keys and all of those were
submerged. So again when night came there was no dry land for a camp
and the bed of branches was built up in the shallow water. About
midnight Ned, noticing that his companion was restless, said to him:
"Dick, can you sleep any more?"
"Sleep any more?" said the indignant Dick. "I haven't slept any,
"Then let's get out of this and paddle the rest of the night. It's
full moon, paddling isn't half as hard as trying to sleep on that
bed and we may get somewhere."
"Good thing, and I move that we keep paddling till we get to those
woods you talked about, if it takes a week. Tom votes with me.
About the middle of the forenoon they saw a clump of palmettos on a
key, for which they headed at once, where they found ground which
had been often camped upon. Dick climbed a tree and could make out a
forest near the horizon, in the west. A few more hours' work would
see them out of the Glades, but they chose to rest for the remainder
of the day.
"There goes your pet. That's the last of him," said Ned, pointing to
the lynx in the top of the tree, which Dick had climbed.
"He'll come back all right. If he doesn't I'll go up and fetch him
by the scruff of his neck."
[Illustration: "THERE GOES YOUR PET. THAT'S THE LAST OF HIM"]
Dick was right, for when the wild-cat saw the stores broken into for
dinner he came down for his portion of meat and then curled up for a
nap on his canvas in the canoe. Tom tolerated Ned, but never
permitted any familiarities from him, while Dick could handle him as
he chose and the lynx only smiled, in his own fashion.
To reach the woods they were aiming for the boys left the Indian
trail they were on and, after forcing their way through a strand of
saw-grass, found themselves on a prairie, bounded on the west by a
heavy growth of cypress, oak and other heavy timber, while the
prairie itself was made beautiful by picturesque little groups of
palmettos which were scattered through it.
DICK'S WILDCAT AND OTHER WILD THINGS
The Everglades had been crossed and that great region of romance was
no longer a mystery to our explorers, who found a dry, shaded site
for their camp on the border of the swamp which they planned to
explore and there fitted up for a long stay. They stretched their
canvas, tent fashion, and gathered grass and moss for their beds. A
round, deep pool of clear fresh water was just beside the camp, and
after one rattlesnake and a few moccasins that claimed squatter's
title had been killed they felt that nothing was lacking. In the
evening the distant gobbling of a turkey told the hunters what would
be the first duty of the next day. When they started out on the hunt
prepared to be gone for one or more days Dick was troubled for fear
Tom might not understand his long absence and skip out. He had a
long talk with the lynx and told Ned that he thought Tom would be
good. Then he got out two days' rations for the animal, which it ate
up at once. There was more dry land in this swamp than in those
farther south to which they had become accustomed, and traveling
was better, or rather, less bad. Yet to persons with less experience
than the young explorers it would have seemed to be as bad as it was
possible for it to be. For half a day the boys tramped and waded in
the swamp without finding the game they were looking for. They had
found other birds, some of which they would have shot for their
dinner had they not been afraid of frightening the wary turkeys,
which they believed were not far from them. Alligators were
plentiful, large and small, but the boys were not hunting for hides
and Dick said that Tom was all the pet he cared to have charge of
for the present. Early in the afternoon they sat down to rest under
a big tree and were eating their lunch of smoked meat and cold
hoe-cake when a turkey gobbler lit on a branch of the tree under
which they were sitting. The turkey was in plain sight and less than
twenty feet from them, but Dick's shot-gun was resting against a
tree fifteen feet from its owner, while Ned's rifle lay on the
ground five feet from his hand. Both kept as quiet as graven images,
for they knew that at the motion of a hand the big bird would take
flight. If Dick's gun had been within five feet he would have jumped
for it, trusting to be ready with it to cut down the turkey before
it could get out of sight among the trees. But a run of fifteen feet
made his chances too small and he waited to see what Ned would do.
Ned's rifle lay just out of his reach, and before he could lay his
hand on it the bird would be on the wing and quite safe from
anything he could do with a rifle. At last Ned began to push himself
inch by inch toward the rifle, while Dick sat silent and breathless
with excitement. Very slowly Ned progressed until his hand touched
the rifle. Before he could move it the fraction of an inch, the
turkey saw the trouble in store for him and was off. Ned grabbed the
rifle and took a harmless snapshot at the bird, while Dick rushed
for his gun and sent after the turkey, which was then a hundred
yards distant, a shower of shot which could never have overtaken it.
"Next time I eat I'm going to feed myself with one hand and hold my
gun in the other," said Dick. "I think I'll stay home to-morrow and
keep camp. Tom will go hunting with you. He's got sense and he
always keeps his weapons handy."
"Keeps 'em too handy for me. I don't like the way he looks at me
sometimes. He acts as if he wanted to feel of my ribs to see if I am
fat enough for his purposes. I reckon I'm the one to keep camp. My
rifle was right at my elbow, but I didn't seem to know enough to use
it. Dick! Look at that hole in that tree and all those insects
around it. It's a bee-tree. There's a barrel of honey there that
belongs to us!"
"Do you s'pose the bees know that it belongs to us, or will they
make trouble for us?"
"Of course they'll make trouble. You can't rob a hive without being
"I'm going to keep camp to-morrow, just as I told you, and let Tom
go with you. Wonder how he'd like to climb that tree."
"We will chop down that tree to-morrow and likely get stung a lot,
but you know, Dick, you wouldn't stay away for a farm."
"Better not try me. I wish I had a sheet-iron jacket and stove-pipe
pants. Let's go home. I want to see Tom and tell him about it. I'm
afraid he's lonesome."
But Dick didn't tell Tom anything, for when they got back to camp
Tom had gone. Dick scarcely tasted his supper and his sleep was
restless and troubled. He woke with a scream, from a terrible
nightmare in which a wild beast had him by the throat and was
crushing him to death under his tremendous weight. He was happy when
he woke to find that his dream was true. For Tom had come home and
showed his joy at the sight of Dick by leaping on the boy's chest
and licking his face and neck. Even Ned rejoiced that Tom had
returned and stroked his back, which for once the lynx graciously
"You are glad that Tom has come back, aren't you, Ned?" said Dick as
he laid his face against the soft fur of the wild-cat whose purring
sounded so like a low growl.
"Oh, yes. I'm glad. 'Course I am. Only wish all of 'em would come
back, the two alligators, the crocodile and the dead otter. Then
we'd start a menagerie and I'd tell fearful stories of man-eaters
while you went into their cages with a big whip in one hand and a
small cannon in the other."
When the boys started for the bee-tree they carried a bundle of dry
palmetto fans, an axe, and a bucket for the honey.
"Shall we tote the guns?" asked Ned.
"What's the use? Don't either of us know how to use 'em. Better
leave 'em with Tom."
But the guns did not stay with Tom, or rather Tom did not stay with
the guns, but quietly followed the boys as a pet dog might have
done. He stepped daintily from root to root and walked along fallen
logs and the branches of trees which he climbed, easily keeping up
with the bee hunters, without muddying his paws, while they wallowed
in mud which was usually knee-deep and occasionally a foot more.
Before tackling the tree they built a fire some fifty yards away,
which they made smoke by putting on rotten wood and wet moss. They
intended to hide in this smoke if the bees attacked them while they
were chopping down the tree. The palmetto leaves were to be kept
until the tree had fallen and were then to be made into smoky
torches, under cover of which the boys hoped to secure the honey.
They took turns in slinging the axe and resting, yet the exercise
and the bees together kept them pretty well warmed up. For, after a
while the bees began to take notice of the knocking at their door
and occasionally a few of them dropped down and stung the chopper
and the looker on, quite impartially. The art of wood-chopping has
to be learned before one is born. The children of back-woodsmen can
sling an axe as soon as they can stand. Boys born as near New York
City as Dick and Ned were, never can learn. They think when they go
up in the Adirondacks and chew down some trees with an axe, that
they are chopping wood, but their guides who lie around smoking
their pipes while the sportsmen sweat over the task, know better and
slyly wink at each other while they praise aloud the skill of their
When the boys stopped work and went back to their smudge to give the
bees a chance to rest, and to find out if mud really drew the poison
out of the little lumps that covered them, the tree had been cut
nearly half through. Any Nature-lover would have known that a beaver
had been at work, while everyday folks would have suspected a
Dick missed Tom and at first was troubled, but finally discovered
him sitting on a branch behind a tree around which he could look
without making himself conspicuous.
"Shall we wait till to-morrow to finish the job?" asked Ned.
"Not much. By to-morrow my face will be so swollen that I can't see
and the rest of me so sore that I can't move. Let's make a big
smudge at the foot of the tree. I'd rather be smothered by smoke
than stung and poisoned to death by those little beasts."
[Illustration: "A FEW OF THE HOMELESS BEES LIT ON THE COMB"]
The smudge worked and the bee hunters had no more trouble until the
tree fell, when they got into the thickest of the smoke they had
made. This did not save them altogether, for the bees were very
numerous and very mad and a few dozen of them got far enough in the
smoke to leave their marks on their enemies. When the insects had
quieted down and were gathered in bunches on logs and stumps,
looking stupidly at the wreck of their home, the boys made another
smudge near the hole in the fallen tree which led to the home of the
bees. They sounded the hollow tree and found it only a shell where
the honey was stored and a little work with the hatchet laid open
the storehouse of the insects. A few of the homeless bees lit on the
comb they had made, other bees gathered on the cypress knees which
abounded in the swamp and through which the great cypress trees
breathed, but their spirit was gone and they made no attack on the
destroyers of their home. Of the comb and honey which the boys found
in the tree they were able to carry away less than half and they
wondered if the bees would have the sense to save what was left or
if some wandering bear would scoop it in for his supper.
As the young bee hunters started for camp laden with their spoils,
Tom stepped softly out of a nearby thicket, licking his chops and
apparently thinking of the delicate lunch of fat tree-rat he had
"Dick," said Ned, as they were lazily resting against a log, after a
supper that was mostly dessert, having consisted of a little smoked
bear and a lot of honey, "something has got to be done for the
larder. We go for honey when we need meat. We let Indian hens which
we can get, escape on the chance of turkeys which we can never bag.
We are looking for deer that are miles away and overlooking ducks
that are trying to fly into the pot."
"I'm not overlooking much, Neddy, since that turkey biz. I've got my
gun in my hand this minute and here's a chance to use it."
As Dick spoke he raised the gun to his shoulder and fired. A little
black creature, thirty yards away in the grass, sprang into the air
and fell to the ground. Both of the boys started for it, but Tom was
ahead and looked back upon them, growling fiercely, with his fangs
fixed in the throat of the dying creature. Dick tried to coax the
lynx to give up the creature he had seized, but the animal was
filled with the fierceness of his race and even Dick dared not touch
him. The creature which the cat held in its claws was clearly a
rabbit, little and jet black, unlike anything which either of the
boys had ever seen before.
"I've heard of these little Everglade rabbits," said Ned. "Tommy
told me of a key in the Everglades where there were plenty of them.
If we had time we might look it up."
"How much time have you got, Neddy?"
"Another month will use up the time I said I would be gone. I left
that word for Dad in Myers. Guess he's there now and maybe my sister
with him. He won't worry a minute till the time I set is up, after
that there'll be trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
"'Most anything," laughed Ned. "Might be a lot of nurses out looking
for a lost baby."
"He won't be frightened about you if you're not quite up to time,
"Not exactly frightened, but he will want to see me, and I'll be
glad enough to see him, and sis, too."
"I knew you had a sister, but you never talked about her much."
"She's a nice child, alle samee. I think you're going to like her.
She's a little your style of foolishness."
"Oh, it isn't very bad. But you haven't had much to say about your
own self, lately. You never told me exactly what took you around by
Key West. Why didn't you come straight to Fort Myers instead of
taking the tiny little chance of finding me in the big Everglades?"
"Well, I'll tell you. You see, mother knew how much I wanted to go
with you on this hunt and she begged me to let her foot the bills.
Of course I couldn't stand for that, you know, and--"
"Oh, Of course not, you stuck-up little donkey," interrupted Ned.
"So I started as a stowaway on the Key West steamer--"
"You cheeky little imp! Did they put you in command of the ship when
they found you?"
"No, only put me in the fireroom, shoveling coal in the furnace."
"But that's not boy's work. What business--"
"Hold on, Ned, wait till I get through. The captain was bully. So
was everybody else. I went to him soon as we were outside Sandy Hook
and asked for a job. I was independent about it. I believe I offered
to swim ashore if he didn't happen to have a job for me. He gave me
an easy one, for a boy, but I struck and asked for a man's work, and
got it--in the fireroom. But I pulled through, Neddy, and made good,
though once or twice I did have to call myself hard names and think
how you'd have hung on, if you'd been in my place. Yes, everybody
was good to me. One passenger wanted to pay for a first-class
passage for me and I had hard work to beg off, and--but that's all."
"Dick, you mustn't talk that way about me. You make me ashamed. I
wouldn't have stuck it out in that fireroom for one day. Now how
about your time for the trip? Will a month suit you?"
"Yes, that's all right. I wrote mother from Key West and told her
the hunt would be a long one without any chance to mail a letter and
that she was not to worry because there wasn't a show of danger in
the whole business. Of course mothers do worry a little when there
isn't any reason."
"Yes, mothers do worry, foolishly. Pity yours couldn't know how
faithfully Tom looks after you. She'd be so relieved."
On the day after cutting down the bee tree the boys were glad to
stay quietly in camp. Ned's neck and arms were badly swollen and
Dick's eyes could scarcely be seen. Both of them lay awake nearly
all night, but it was uncertain whether this was due to the pain of
the stings or the quantity of honey they had eaten.
Tom shed his fierceness soon after he had disposed of the rabbit and
again became friendly to Dick, who, even while he petted him,
explained that he could never quite trust him again.
Every evening turkeys could be heard in the swamp near the camp.
Every morning they had departed. One morning Ned said to Dick:
"I'm turkey hungry and I'm tired of shilly-shallying. The way to get
anything is to get it. Let us get a turkey. We'll start out for it
now and come back after we have got it, and not before."
"All right, Neddy, we goes for it, we gits it and we comes back when
we gits it and not afore."
The boys started out with their usual equipment of weapons, salt,
matches and axe. They crossed the swamp without finding the bird
they sought and then, as they were hungry and tired, Dick shot a fat
young ibis and broiled it for their dinner. After dinner they
crossed the meadow to a narrow strip of woods, beyond which, on a
wide stretch of prairie, they saw three bunches of turkeys. The
bunch nearest them appeared to be a hen turkey with her family, each
member of which was about as large as its mother. They were a long
rifle-shot away, and a shot, if it missed, would send every turkey
to cover for the day. The same thing would happen if either of them
set foot on the prairie.
"Our best chance," said Ned, "is to wait for them at the edge of the
prairie. It's getting late and pretty soon they'll be looking for
places to roost among these trees. They may come right here. Anyhow,
by spreading out we will cover quite a stretch of woods. It may be
too late for the rifle but the shotgun ought to do something."
"That means that you're tired of my society, Neddy. So I'll go and
hide myself on the edge of the prairie, a little further off than
you can hit anything, in case of you mistaking me for a turkey."
Soon after Dick had reached his station, the turkeys began to feed
toward the woods. Two of the bunches went to the opposite side of
the prairie. The hen turkey with her grown-up family fed slowly
toward Dick's hiding place, but, when just out of range, appeared to
become suspicious and turned toward Ned. Slowly she walked, darting
her quick-moving head in every direction as she searched trees and
bushes for hidden enemies. The younger turkeys put much faith in the
wariness of the old lady and stalked fearlessly behind her. Ned
waited for a chance which he thought couldn't be missed and,
avoiding the mother turkey, shot down one of her brood. Instantly
the flock was in the air, following its leader down along the edge
of the forest. This brought them directly over Dick, who neatly cut
down another member of the family. While Ned was dressing the
turkeys and building the fire for the broiling of one of them, Dick
was climbing a young cabbage palm and cutting the bud from its top.
"Couldn't tell this palmetto cabbage from big fresh chestnuts, by
the taste," said Dick. "I'm going to roast that other turkey at the
camp to-morrow with his whole inside crammed full of chestnut
While the turkey hunters were eating their breakfast of cold turkey
a doe, followed by a fawn which was still in the spotted coat,
walked out on the open prairie within fifty yards of them and gazed
at them without a sign of fear.
"They know we wouldn't shoot a doe or a fawn," said Ned. "That's
what makes them feel so safe."
"Wonder if they would have felt as safe last night, before we got
On their return Tom, met the turkey hunters a quarter of a mile from
their camp and they wondered whether he had heard them coming, or
happened to be strolling that way. He looked so earnestly at the
turkey which Dick was carrying that the boy said to him:
"See here, Tom, that's my turkey and I won't stand for your laying a
paw on him. So you had better be good unless you are looking for a
mix-up with me." Tom looked cowed, but showed his friendly feelings
by walking beside Dick, rubbing against his legs and purring in his
A PRAIRIE ON FIRE
"Dick," said Ned as they rested against a log, having their regular
after-dinner, heart-to heart talk, "we had better _hiepus_ (light
out), if we mean to get to the coast and bring up at Myers on time,
besides taking in all we want to on the way. We know the Harney's
River route like a book and we've been over the Indian trail to
Lawson's River, so we've got to find some new way out. There is a
chain of salt-water lakes between the Everglades and the rivers of
the west coast and we must get into them. I have made a pretty fair
chart of the country and can tell how far across the swamps and
prairies it is to almost any point, but how much of that distance is
easy water and how much tough swamp or boggy prairie is what I don't
know, but what we have got to find out. We have explored the country
right around here pretty well and now let's put in a day working the
canoe through the grass to the south, then leg it westward till we
strike salt water."
"That sounds well," replied Dick, "and then, you know, if your
charts don't pan out straight, you can always ask Tom or me. Wonder
if you half appreciate your privileges, having us along to take care
The young explorers "lit out" as proposed and, after a day of hard
work and easy work, of open water and thick saw-grass and of clear
channels and half dry meadows, camped beside a little slough on the
border of a swamp, in the jungle of which it soon lost itself.
The first excitement of the new camp came in the night when Tom, who
was sleeping, as usual, beside Dick, sprang up with a fierce cry,
which they had never before heard from him, and dashed into the
woods near the camp. There came from the woods the battle cries of
warring animals, but soon all became quiet and the cat came back,
but he growled at intervals throughout the night.
"What got into you, Tom?" said Dick to the lynx the next morning,
after he had looked him over in vain for marks of a fight. "Was it
jimjams, or only a bad nightmare?"
Tom listened gravely and looked as if he could have explained a good
deal if only Dick had understood his language.
Tom followed the boys through the swamp on the morning of their
first tramp, but when they struck a marshy meadow where the water
was knee deep and the mud as much more, with no trees to make it
pleasant for a poor cat, he looked reproachfully at Dick and turned
back toward the camp. At the end of the meadow was a dense thicket
which Ned entered first. He had only advanced a few steps when he
turned back and held up his hand in warning to Dick. The thicket in
which they stood was on the border of a big prairie of rich grass in
which more than a dozen deer, nearly all bucks, could be seen
feeding, with only their backs and antlers showing above the tall
grass, excepting when some buck of a suspicious mind lifted his head
high and gazed warily about him.
[Illustration: "ALL BEYOND THE DARK MEADOW WAS A LIVING MASS"]
"Isn't it us for the big luck, Neddy?" whispered Dick. "When I ate
that very last bit of turk this morning I wondered when I'd get
another meal and Tom asked me in confidence if we meant to let him
starve. And now, just look. There's venison enough for the rest of
"It don't belong to us yet. You want to be mighty cautious. You can
sneak up to that tree with the rifle and wait till that nearest buck
shows up in good shape and then drop a bullet somewhere around his
fore-shoulder. Don't fire at his head unless you have to. The brain
is a mighty small mark, and you're not playing to the gallery down
"Ned Barstow, what are you talking about? Take your own rifle and
shoot your own buck. If you don't I'll let out a yell that will
scare the whole bunch to Kingdom Come. I don't run to you with my
gun, whenever I find game, and ask you to shoot it. You mean well,
Neddy boy, but sometimes you get mistaken. I'm afraid I didn't
begin this trip right. I ought to have given you a lickin' every
day, just to keep you in your place."
Ned crawled out to the tree with his rifle and watched for his
chance. The nearest buck was within easy range, but the grass hid
his body and when the creature, scenting his enemy, threw his head
high in the air Ned sent a bullet through his brain. As the boys
were dragging the carcass to the woods where they proposed to skin
and cut it in two for carrying to camp, Dick said to Ned:
"Do you know what hypocrite means?"
"I s'pose so, but what are you trying to get at?"
"Hypocrite means a fellow who tells his friend that the only way to
shoot a buck is through the body, coz the head is too small to be
hit, and then goes out himself and sends a bullet plumb through the
center of the brain of the beast."
"But Dick, I couldn't see the shoulder."
"Neither could I. You can't sneak out that way."
A strong wind from the northwest sprang up while the boys were
finishing their supper of broiled buck's liver and they built a
wind-break to protect them while they slept. The wind became a gale,
but they slept soundly, soothed by its roaring. They were rudely
wakened by the crashing of some wild animal through the brush of