Part 4 out of 5
their wind-break and, sitting up, saw that the whole western sky was
lit up and all beyond the dark meadow was a lurid mass of flame.
The roar of the fire mingled with that of the gale, while, as the
swirling columns of flame bent to the earth and swept the meadow,
the crackling of the grass was like the rattling of musketry or the
spitting fire of a hundred Catlings. Soon the air became filled with
sparks and cinders, and thick with smoke.
"We've got to mosey, Ned. Reckon there isn't any time to waste,
either. Shall we take the meat?"
"Got enough to do to take care of our own."
There was plenty of light, but the flickering shadows of the trees
caused by the wavering flames made the steps of the boys uncertain
as they fled from the flames that were following so fast. Ned fell
headforemost into a thicket of the terrible Spanish bayonet and it
was only the excitement of the hour that made the pain bearable.
They floundered across the narrow swamp and into the marshy meadow
often waist deep in the mud and more than once both of them fell
flat in the water of the marsh. The narrow belt of timber which they
first crossed checked the fire and although tongues of flame crossed
it and a few trees took fire, while live coals were scattered
broadcast over the marshy meadow, the fire died out without crossing
the belt of woods that first stopped it. The boys crossed the marshy
meadow to the swamp which they first entered when they left their
camp the previous morning. As Ned's Spanish bayonet wounds kept him
from sleeping, the boys sat up and talked till daylight.
In the morning the wind had gone down and a few burning trees and
little columns of smoke were all that was left of the great fire of
"If you will go on to camp, Ned, I'll go back and get that venison.
It must be well smoked. Hope it didn't burn up. Give my regards to
Tom. If he isn't good tie him up."
"Guess I'll go with you, Dick. These stickers hurt worse when I keep
still. Then you will need help to carry the venison. I hope the
buzzards haven't got at it. We can leave our guns here."
"No, thank you. My gun goes with me. I have had trouble enough from
not having it handy."
They found the hide of their buck had been destroyed by the fire,
but the venison had only been roasted and partly smoked and they
made their breakfast on it. The outsides of the palmettos, on the
prairie where Ned shot the buck, were still burning and the trees
looked like big sticks of charcoal, but palmetto trees get used to
that and are seldom harmed by it, though it does spoil their beauty.
The boys walked out in the ashes of the grass of the meadow and were
sorry they did, for it made them look like the burnt ends of
matches. When they got back to camp Tom came out and sniffed at Dick
and then, instead of rubbing against his legs, went back and lay
down. Dick spent the rest of the day working over Ned's face and
body with tweezers, pulling out bits of thorns. When he got through
the boys were about equally tired.
Ned's wounds were so painful that for several days the explorers
stayed around the camp and Dick amused himself and his chum by
worrying a family of young alligators that lived in a pond near the
camp. He grunted the little ones to the surface until they were
tired of being fooled and refused to respond and he drove the
largest one out of its cave in the bank until the reptile refused to
play any more and would not come beyond the mouth of his cave. Then
Dick cut a pole leaving a bit of a branch sticking out like a barb
at the end and poked that in the hole till the alligator grabbed the
end of it. Dick now pulled good and hard, the barb caught in the
reptile's lower jaw and the boy soon had him out of his cave and up
on the prairie. The 'gator was lively and Dick had to chase around
the prairie a lot after him and finally get Ned to help before he
could tie it. Tom didn't approve of the new member of the family,
but he made no trouble while the camp was awake. The alligator
became very restless at night and got in the habit of thrashing
around almost constantly. In the morning his tail was seen to be raw
and bleeding and day by day it grew worse. Tom was suspected, but
always denied having had anything to do with it, with an expression
of such injured innocence when accused that Dick had to believe him.
One night, however, a heavy blow was heard, accompanied by a yowl
from Tom and followed by some sort of scrimmage. In the morning Tom
had a mussed-up look and the reptile had a number of fresh wounds.
As the camp was moved that day and Ned continued to object to taking
an alligator in the canoe the reptile was turned loose. He walked
with dignity out on the prairie until he was near the slough, when
he scuttled hastily to the water and plunged in.
[Illustration: "THE BARB CAUGHT IN THE REPTILE'S LOWER JAW"]
The new camp was in a little glade on a creek which the explorers
had followed for about three miles west from the Everglades. They
paddled through the creek till it melted in the meadows; they poled
their canoe along the channel which the grass concealed; they
dragged it by hand under bushes which covered it, until the little
glade opened to them and showed enough dry ground for a camp and
several shallow streams winding around clumps of bushes, but always
stretching out toward the west. At daylight the young explorers were
again on the move, dragging the canoe along twisting streams not
deep enough to float it, until they struck a larger stream in a
heavier growth. The little streams disappeared, the water grew
deeper, but the jungle became worse, and every yard of their path
had to be carved out with their knives.
"This doesn't look very hopeful," said Dick as they stopped the
heavy work for a few minutes' rest. "Hadn't we better go back a ways
and hunt up a more open trail?"
"Not on your life," replied Ned. "We are on the right track and
we've got to fight it through. The only thing I'll stop for is a
mangrove swamp, and I'll try mighty hard to get around that. But we
won't find any mangrove swamp to trouble us."
"You seem to know just what we're going to find on this trail, if
you call it a trail."
"I know what we ought to find, and that's better."
"Why is it better?"
"Because then we'll know if we're on the right track."
"All right, Neddy, I quite agree with you. I only wanted to know
that you were sure of your ground."
The trees became heavier in a narrow belt along the stream, but open
sky could be seen beyond them.
"Don't you want to walk across to that open place, Ned, to find out
what kind of country it is?"
"I know now. It's open prairie or swamp and the next big water we
strike will be the salt-water lakes. We will probably come to a
fresh-water river first and that pretty soon."
"Conceit's good for the consumption, Neddy. What do you want to bet
on finding that river in an hour?"
"I'll eat my hat if we don't find it in a quarter of a mile. I won't
bet on the time, because at the rate you're working it may take
three weeks to get there."
"Ned, you're a wizard, for there is the river."
The river flowed gently between high banks, densely wooded. The
waters were alive with fish, and long-legged wading birds of the
heron family stalked over the shallows in the stream. An hour's
paddling brought the canoe to the mouth of the river, where camp was
made. The water beside the camp was fresh, but the salt-water bays
spread out for miles before them.
"Everything is easy now," said Ned. "These bays are in the Ten
Thousand Islands and lead to the head waters of the rivers of the
coast. We may get tangled up in these keys, aground on the flats or
cornered up in some of the bays and perhaps lose a few days, but
we're safe to get out without hard work or trouble of any kind."
DICK'S FIGHT WITH A PANTHER
"I've always noticed, Ned, that when everything looks simple and
easy, it is a good time to expect trouble."
"Not this time, Dick."
But it was this time, and that night Ned had his last care-free
sleep for weeks.
"How long shall we camp here?" asked Dick.
"Better stay here for a week or two. We can hunt in the woods back
of us and explore all these bays. This may be the last fresh water
we will find on the trip, so we don't want to leave it till we are
ready to pull straight through to Myers."
In the morning the boys started across the woods on the bank of the
stream, hoping to find a buck on the prairie beyond them. When they
reached the prairie they saw three deer near its farther end, about
half a mile away. They went back in the woods and started to work
their way around the prairie to its farther end where the deer were.
It took them some hours to get where the deer had been, only to find
that they had gone. They saw them again on a smaller prairie and
once more tried to get near the creatures by creeping through the
woods. When the hunters were as near the game as they could go
without getting out of cover the animals were yet a hundred and
fifty yards distant. One of them was a fine buck and Ned watched it,
rifle in hand, for many minutes, hoping it would come nearer. As the
deer fed they sometimes came nearer and his hopes rose, only to sink
into his boots when they turned away. At last he gave up waiting for
a better chance and fired. The buck threw up his head, looked around
for a moment and trotted quietly away, entirely unharmed, followed
by the other deer.
"It isn't our day, Dick," said Ned, ruefully, as he watched the
"Here goes for something to eat, anyhow," replied Dick, as he
dropped a curlew that was flying over them. After broiling and
eating the bird, together with some hoe-cake which they had in their
pockets, the boys resumed their hunt for deer. They saw several more
during the afternoon, but ill luck followed them and they finally
set out for camp empty-handed.
As the boys were passing through a thick clump of trees on the bank
of the river, about two hundred yards from their camp, Ned was
suddenly held back by a clutch on his shoulder, and turning his
head, saw Dick's face upturned and his eyes fixed on the large
branch of a big tree just before them. As Ned looked upward he saw
the form of a huge panther, or mountain lion, crouching upon the
limb and apparently about to spring upon him. The animal was within
ten feet, every muscle was tense, his long tail was waving slowly
and Ned stood motionless, charmed by the living beauty of the beast,
until he heard Dick's whisper in his ear:
The hypnotic spell was broken and Ned slowly raised his rifle to his
shoulder, while the panther crouched lower and waved his tail more
quickly. In another second it might be too late, and once more Dick
"Shoot, Ned! Quick!"
The bullet struck the beast and the next instant Ned was knocked
down by the body of the brute. He was unharmed, however, for Dick
had jumped between them and it was in Dick's arm that the panther's
teeth were set and Dick's shoulder and side that were being raked by
its cruel claws. In an instant Ned's clasp knife was being driven
into the body of the beast whose throat Dick's hand was clutching in
a feeble effort to keep from his face those long, sharp fangs.
Bullet and knife had done their work and the panther was dead. But
Dick was unconscious and covered with blood which was flowing from
deep gashes in his arm and a side that was torn from shoulder to
waist. Ned half carried and half dragged the unconscious Dick a few
yards to a level piece of dry ground and examined his wounds. Bad
as they looked, there was no spouting of blood from an artery, or
heavy flow from a large vein. With simple bandaging and care the boy
would get well, and Ned's relief was so great that he was almost
happy. He removed what the panther had left of Dick's shirt, which
was sodden with blood, and tearing off his own, bandaged the wounds
from which blood was still flowing. He then filled his cap with
water from the river and sprinkled Dick's face, but failed to bring
him to consciousness. He was wondering what next to try when Dick
opened his eyes and smiled weakly.
"Did he hurt you, Neddy?"
"No, he didn't hurt me, thanks to you, Dicky boy. Now I'm going to
bring the camp here, in the canoe. Can you get along without me for
half an hour?"
"Sure. Don't forget Tom."
Ned didn't forget Tom. He thought so much of him that he took his
rifle with him when he went to move the camp. For he was without a
shirt and was stained with Dick's blood and therefore very doubtful
how the lynx would behave. But Tom merely sniffed at him and when
the canoe was loaded stepped aboard as coolly as if his passage had
been paid for. When the canoe landed at the new camping ground Tom
took a few steps toward Dick and then suddenly sprang into the woods
and away, as if witches were after him. Ned was surprised at first,
but remembered that Tommy, the Seminole, had once said to him:
"Wildcat eat 'coon, panther eat wildcat," and he ceased to wonder
why Tom had run away.
Ned stretched the canvas over Dick, built a camp fire, got out a
clean shirt for himself and tore up another for bandages. He washed
Dick's wounds, which had ceased to bleed, with warm water and soap
and put fresh bandages on them. After he had gathered a lot of moss
and made a soft bed for the invalid, he picked up Dick's gun and
walking a few steps down the river bank, shot a curlew that sat on a
branch by the stream and was young enough to make a broil or stew
for the invalid.
"Been breaking the law, have you, Neddy?"
"I'd break anything, to get you some nice chicken broth such as I am
going to make now."
At daylight Ned saw that Dick was sleeping quietly and taking the
shotgun started out in search of a breakfast suited to a sick boy.
When he returned, an hour later, he had a brace of ducks, a little
brown Florida rabbit and a 'possum. Dick was awake when he returned
and when offered his choice of the game for his breakfast chose all
of them. Ned stewed the rabbit and broiled a duck, giving Dick a
little of each, but the 'possum looked fat and greasy and he kept it
"Dick," said Ned after breakfast, "shall I roll that beast into the
river, or do you want his skin?"
"Want it, of course. I've got no hard feelings against him."
"Want him skinned for mounting or a rug?"
"Rug, I guess. Think I'll enjoy walking on him."
The big cat was nearly eight feet long, including his tail, and was
so heavy that Ned found skinning him a hard job. After he had
finished he had to cut a stout stick for a lever, before he could
get the carcass into the river. The bad luck of the hunters seemed
to have run out, and game began to come to them. Ducks flew over the
river beside the camp and plovers often lit on a bank near them. Ned
went out for deer and came back in an hour with half a buck on his
shoulders. When he approached the camp he saw Dick sitting up and
tossing bits of hoe-cake to a 'coon that was watching him with some
suspicion from a distance of three or four yards.
"You ought to have seen him, Ned. I had him half tamed. He took
little bits of wet hoe-cake that I threw him and rolled them up into
balls with his funny little hands before he ate them. In an hour
more I'd have had him eating out of my hand."
"He'll come back to-morrow, Dick. You've got a way with you that
wild things understand."
"It's only that I really love them and they know it."
The 'coon did come back the next day while Ned was out exploring the
bay in the canoe and, although he did not eat out of Dick's hand, he
came within a few feet of him and showed very little fear. When Ned
returned, the 'coon scrambled to the top of a little tree and looked
down on the boys in a friendly way. Day by day the 'coon became
more intimate with Dick, even to eating out of his hand, but always
scampered away when Ned came back. On the third day, as Ned came in
from an exploring trip, instead of the 'coon he found his old friend
Tom, the lynx, sitting beside Dick with the air of a trained nurse.
"Bully for you, Tom; I'm glad to see you back," said Ned.
"I'm not glad he's come back, the murderer. He has killed my 'coon."
"You remember what my Indian said. 'Panther eat wildcat, wildcat eat
'coon.' Shall I shoot him, Dick?"
"Shoot Tom? Well I guess not. He didn't know any better. I'm awful
sorry the 'coon has gone, but I'd hate worse to lose Tom."
"How did it happen?"
"I was feeding the 'coon, and had just put out my hand to rub his
head when he jumped in the air and started for that tree like a
streak of lightning. He never got there, though. Something was after
him like two streaks of lightning. I didn't know it was Tom till it
was all over. That wasn't very long, either. If there had been any
time I'd have had Tom by the ears or tail and taught him a thing or
"Glad you didn't have time, Dick. I'm afraid Tom might have taught
you a few things. Don't you think you had better get over what one
cat has done to you before you tackle another?"
"But Tom isn't that kind of a cat, Ned. I'm not afraid of his
hurting me much. He might scratch me a little at first, but he'd be
sorry for it, soon as he had time to think it over. Wouldn't you,
"Cats are cats, Dick, and I don't think it's safe to leave you alone
with that wildcat. You are too weak to help yourself if he really
"But he won't attack me. So what's the use of talking about things
that aren't going to happen? You are a good boy, Neddy, but you've
got your limitations and you can't appreciate Tom."
[Illustration: "THE COON SCRAMBLED TO THE TOP OF A LITTLE TREE"]
Ned spent much of his time coddling the invalid. He paddled out in
the lakes and among its keys. He explored the waters and the woods
and brought Dick wild grapes with much character and cocoa plums
with little; sea-grapes with juice that had the taste of claret and
the color of blood; figs, of which Dick said: "De breed am small,
but de flavor am delicious"; wild sapadillos that were sweet as
honey, but chewed up into a solid ball of soft india rubber; and
mastic berries that were delicious to the taste, but stuck like a
porous plaster to the roof of the mouth. He got out the rod and
caught mangrove snappers from under the banks and sheephead from
their hiding places among sunken logs and snags. He dove for turtle
that he never got and hacked at young palmettos for buds that he did
Days followed days and though Dick grew better he didn't grow
strong. Ned got anxious and told his chum that he was going to take
him to a doctor. Dick laughed and said:
"You are my doctor. I've great confidence in you and don't care to
make a change."
"Glad to hear it. Your doctor, in whom you have such confidence,
desires to consult with his brother physicians in Fort Myers
regarding your case, and you will light out with him to-morrow."
The next morning a little canoe with a cat couchant in the bow, a
young invalid comfortably reclining amidships and a husky youth in
the stern started down the river and into the salt-water lakes. The
first day's run was a short one and the camp was made on a bit of
high ground covered with thin grass and shaded by a group of
palmettos. It was bordered about with cocoa plums and sweet-smelling
myrtle, on one of which flourished an orchid, the vanilla bean,
which made heavy with its fragrance the whole camping site.
"But there lurked a taint in the clime so blest,
Like a serpent coiled in a ring-dove's nest"--
and as Ned stood dazed by the enchantment of his environment, he was
brought to earth with a jar by the whirring of rattles almost under
his feet. Every muscle of the boy was tense with excitement as he
stood motionless, knowing that death, in a horrible form, was within
striking distance of him. The strange, paralyzing music of the
dreaded "King Snake" of the Indians seems to come from all sides
and until the threatened victim can see the reptile the motion of a
hand may be fatal. The seconds seemed minutes to Ned as he waited
and watched, waited and watched, before he saw the fascinating,
dreadful, gently swaying head and the lightning play of the forked
tongue within easy striking distance.
[Illustration: "HE SAW THE GENTLY SWAYING HEAD AND THE LIGHTNING
FLAY OF THE FORKED TONGUE"]
He felt that if he jumped, the snake, so much quicker than he, would
sink the glistening white fangs of that wide-open mouth deep in his
flesh before he could get out of reach. He compelled his quivering
nerves to hold steady while he slowly, inch by inch, moved away from
the coils of the angry reptile. When Ned was six feet from the
rattlesnake he sprang back and stood, almost fainting, quite out of
reach of the reptile, which continued to wave its head and jar its
rattles, but with less passion. The boy had often been told never to
leave a rattlesnake alive and he looked around until he found a
stick about five feet long, with which he returned to the field of
his fright. The rattler had uncoiled and was creeping away when Ned
rushed up and struck at him. The snake coiled like a flash and
striking back, sunk his fangs in the stick within a foot of the hand
of the boy. Again Ned struck, and the snake returned the blow, both
of them missing their marks. Then the stick fell on the coils of the
reptile and the back of the rattlesnake was broken. After a few
finishing blows Ned dragged the six-foot creature by the tail to
the bank and was thrusting it into the water when Dick called out:
"Don't you want to save the skin?"
"Don't want to save anything to remind me of it. I never expect to
get the frightful sight of the open jaws and white fangs of that
beast out of my dreams."
Dick rested in camp the next day with the lynx, while Ned explored
with the canoe, looking for the head of some river of the west coast
that led to the Gulf, or for enough dry land to serve for a camp.
Every water course that he followed, sooner or later closed up on
him. He paddled four miles to the west through a long bay, only to
find that there was no outlet on the western end, excepting a narrow
creek which he followed until he could drag his canoe no farther. He
followed floating wisps of manatee grass, freshly torn up by the
roots, hoping to find the manatee which had spilled them, that he
might follow him to a channel which would lead out of the
wilderness. He discovered the manatee and was nearly swamped by the
first dash of the frightened creature. Then he lost track of the
animal after a long chase among the innumerable keys of the
so-called Ten Thousand Islands, and found that he was himself lost.
He paddled until it was dark and for an hour after that, when he
gave up hope of finding his camp that night.
He had a map of the country in his brain, but that was for daylight
use only. He was hungry, and that was nothing; but he was parched
with thirst from his long labor, and that was everything. He had
seen no dry land during the day, and it was hopeless to look for it
at night. It was never easy to keep the canoe balanced; if he dozed
for an instant he would certainly roll it over. He had made up his
mind to sentry duty for the night when through the darkness there
came to him a gleam of light from a far-distant fire. As he
approached, it brightened and sent up a crackling flame, in the
blaze of which Ned saw the tall palmettos of his camp.
"Were you worried, Dick?" he asked after the first warm greetings
"I sure was. I thought you couldn't get lost and wondered what had
happened to you. Tom was uneasy, too, and I reckon he is out looking
for you now. He went away in a good deal of a hurry. I made a
lighthouse out of those palmetto fans that you cut for my bed, just
on the chance of your having lost your way."
Tom came home about daylight and lay down beside Dick, where he
grumbled and growled as if he were a man with a next-morning
When daylight came and Ned began to bestir himself, he missed the
cheery "Good-morning" of his companion, who was not able to lift his
head from his pillow of palmetto. His wan smile went to Ned's heart,
and the boy had to busy himself with the fire to hide his emotion.
Every hour of that day he watched over the invalid, and from time
to time tempted him with bits of broiled bird, heron soup and sips
of hot tea made from leaves of the sweet bay. Ned's acquaintance
with sickness was slight and his apprehension great, so that the
night was a sleepless one and the day that followed brought no
relief to his mind. Another day brought new anxieties. Dick was no
better, and Ned couldn't bear to leave him, for the invalid's thirst
was continuous, but now the supply of fresh water was running low,
and a trip back to the river was imperative. He put the bucket, with
what water was left, beside Dick's bed and said:
"Dick, boy, I've got to go for some water. I'll have to be away a
few hours, but I'll get back the first minute it is possible."
Dick put out his hand, and his smile was cheery, though his voice
was weak as he said:
"Don't you worry, Neddy. I'm all right for all day. I don't need
anything but amusement, and Tom will 'tend to that."
"I'm afraid to leave a big wildcat with you when you are so weak. I
am going to take Tom with me."
"Don't do it, Neddy. He'd only be in your way, and I do want him for
company. You don't understand Tom; he likes me and I like him.
Please don't take him away."
"Of course I won't take him away, Dick, boy, but you will have to be
very good and keep cheerful and get strong and well to pay me for
Ned's apprehensions made the day a hard one for him. He was afraid
of capsizing the canoe and being unable to get back in it. He
imagined a tarpon jumping into it, a shark swimming against it, or a
porpoise smashing it. When he reached the river of fresh water he
carried the canoe up on the bank and tied it to a tree while he
walked along the river bank and shot a few tender young birds for
the nourishment of the invalid. His nerves were so unstrung that he
feared to go far lest he lose his way, and was even apprehensive of
failing to find on his return the camp where his companion was
awaiting him, although the path to it was plain as a pikestaff.
Ned's meeting with Dick was a joyful one, for the boy was clearly
better and his voice stronger, although his first words were:
"Don't go away again, Neddy. You've been gone a year, and I thought
you were never coming back."
By careful economy the five gallons of water which their can
contained was made to last as many days for the three of them, for
Dick insisted that Tom must share the rations of food and drink of
the other members of the family. Each day Ned made a little trip
around the keys nearest the camp by way of doing the marketing for
his family, and returned when he had shot enough birds for its daily
needs. He was happy in the thought of the invalid's increasing
strength, but dreaded the necessary trip for fresh water. Dick
surprised him by bearing the separation with cheerfulness, and his
voice was so much firmer and his strength so obviously on the mend
that Ned began again to plan for his return to civilization.
On one of his marketing excursions Ned saw a skiff containing two
men about a quarter of a mile distant. He waved his hat to the men
and paddled toward them, but they rowed away. He followed, but was
unable to find them, and concluded that they were outlaws, who did
not care to extend their acquaintance. After this he paddled about
on the lookout for some one who might help him to carry Dick to the
outside world, for he had given up the idea of attempting it by
CONVALESCENCE AND CATASTROPHE
Ned's hopes and plans were suddenly changed, and he no longer hoped
for help, but planned to take Dick to the coast himself. For Dick
was getting well. There was no doubt about it. His appetite came
back, until, instead of urging him to eat, Ned waited for him to ask
twice for food before giving it to him. He was still thin and weak,
but his spirits bubbled over, and his laughter was on tap, ready to
be turned on any minute. He began to clamor for a move toward the
coast, but Ned was obdurate and refused to stir for a week. Then one
day Ned started out and paddled some miles toward the coast,
examining the shores of the keys and the mangrove-lined banks of the
salt-water rivers for a camping-ground. He could have made his own
camp on the overflowed meadows almost anywhere, but Dick was still
an invalid and Ned was always anxious about him. Six miles from the
camp, where he had left Dick with Tom, Ned found a good camping
site, marked by a freak palmetto with a trunk that branched into two
stems about midway up. The ground was covered with palmetto scrub,
which Ned examined carefully for rattlesnakes, after which he got
out his fly-rod and caught a mess of fish for supper. On his return
to camp the lynx sprang into the canoe, seized one of the fish and
growled so fiercely that Ned thought best to let him keep it.
[Illustration: "NED FOUND A GOOD CAMPING SITE MARKED BY A FREAK
"Fresh water is all out, Dick," said Ned that night, "so I'll start
at daylight and go back to the river and fill up. I'll take it
slowly and be here about noon. Then we can start out and make easy
work of being in the new camp long before sun-down."
"Ned, I can paddle all right, and I'm going to help. I am sick of
being a baby."
"Go 'way, chile, you make me tired. Don't forget that I'm your
doctor," replied Ned.
"Do you see any chance of getting to the coast?"
"Yes; pretty sure thing. I found a deep channel near the camp with
some porpoises playing in it, and I think it's near the head of one
of the big coast rivers. I am almost certain it's Rodgers River."
[Illustration: "THE LYNX SPRANG INTO THE CANOE AND SEIZED ONE OF THE
Ned was a tired boy when the day's work was done and the young
explorers were settled in the new camp, but a night's sleep braced
him up so that he agreed to his chum's plan to make a dash for the
coast, for Dick had said:
"What is the use of losing a lot of time in prospecting for a soft
spot for me to sleep? We can be on the coast to-night within sight
of houses and help if we need it, which we don't, for I'm going to
do my share of the paddling. I know that coast and you don't, so
I'll naturally be boss."
When the little canoe had been loaded with all their stores and
trophies, and the boys were ready for their final trip, Tom stepped
gravely aboard, and seating himself in the bow, turned to Ned with
an expression which Dick translated as:
"I am here, you may start the engine."
Ned dipped his paddle deeply in the water, that with his every
stroke flowed more swiftly. The banks became well defined, and
although the stream was so crooked that it flowed by turns to every
point of the compass, its general trend was to the west. The river
broadened and the channel deepened, the forest on the banks became
more heavily timbered, and the boys recognized the beautiful Rodgers
River. Curlews and water-turkeys watched them from the trees; herons
flew lazily up from the shoals as the canoe approached; porpoises,
going out with the tide, rolled their backs out of water and gave
sniffs of affright as they saw the canoe beside them. The fin of a
great shark, longer than their canoe, cut the water as its owner
swiftly pursued a six-foot tarpon, which escaped by leaping in the
air within thirty feet of the canoe, toward which it was headed.
Another clash of the shark brought its huge body within its length
of the boys, while the great mouth, with its rows of serrated
teeth, razor-sharp, opened wide to take in the tarpon, which leaped
wildly ten feet in the air, and turning, plunged head-down straight
for Ned as he sat in the canoe, paddle in hand. Dick started up from
his seat, while Ned tried to fend off with the paddle, but the hard,
pointed head of the big tarpon tore through the bottom of the
fragile canoe as if it had been paper. A minute later the shattered
canoe was floating down the river, while everything sinkable had
gone to the bottom.
[Illustration: "PORPOISES ROLLED THEIR BACKS OUT OF THE WATER"]
Tom, who had been asleep in the bottom of the canoe, was swimming
for shore, and Ned, who had not for a second lost his presence of
mind, was treading water and supporting the unconscious Dick, who
had been struck by the tail of the tarpon as the big fish crushed
the canoe. Even as the tarpon struck the canoe Ned was reaching out
for Dick, and the boys went down together.
Then to Ned came the struggle for life--for two lives. His only
thought was of Dick. Dick mustn't drown; Dick's face must be kept
out of the water; he must get Dick ashore. He swam high, wasting his
efforts to keep Dick's head above the surface. Strength goes fast
when one struggles in the water, and Ned was soon gasping for
breath. As he struck out more and more feebly for the bank, while
the current swept him down the stream, he sank lower and lower,
until only his eyes were above the surface and his lungs seemed
bursting for want of air. A great shark swept past him, and the wave
from the big fish rolled over him. He felt his senses going, his
muscles refused to respond to the call of his brain. His grasp on
Dick was loosening, and the thought of this roused him to renew the
struggle. To save Dick he must save himself; he must breathe; he
must not exhaust himself, and above all his mind must not wander. He
was _so_ tired; for himself he would have given up the struggle and
dropped into rest, but for Dick--never! A great calmness came to
him. He rolled over with his head thrown back until all but his face
was under water. This floated clear of the surface as he lay back
and drew air into his smothered lungs in great gulps. He began to
kick out with his feet and was soon swimming on his back toward the
bank, making fair progress with little effort. Some of his strength
came back, and he found that he was easily dragging Dick along,
happily with his face upward. Hope took the place of despair, and
Ned felt that now he could swim for hours. He saw the overhanging
branches of trees above him and knew he was nearing the bank. Then
suddenly he found himself aground on a shoal with water less than
knee-deep. He dragged the unconscious form of his companion into the
jungle on the bank, and a great wave of thankfulness rolled over him
as he felt the weak beating of Dick's heart, which was followed by
the familiar smile as the boy opened his eyes.
[Illustration: "THE HARD, POINTED HEAD OF THE BIG TARPON TORE
THROUGH THE BOTTOM OF THE FRAGILE CANOE"]
"Well, Neddy, what have you been doing now, and what are you going
to do? Last time I saw you a thousand-pound fish was dropping on
your head. Seems as if he hit me, too."
"Going to make a camp for the two of us, feed us, and get us out of
the wilderness. That's what I am going to do," replied Ned.
"You'll do it, all right; but what have you got to work with?"
"Pocket-knife and some matches. First thing I'll make a fire to dry
you. Then I'll forage. You see, Dick, we've got to stay right here
until you get strong enough to travel. I can make a palmetto shack
big enough to keep the rain off in half a day. The worst trouble
will be fresh water, but I think I can fix that. I know how to get
things to eat. I have picked up a couple of old cocoanuts, and I'll
bring them to you in an hour full of water. Then to-morrow I will
start early and find that old shack where we camped in the
graveyard. You remember that old kettle there? Well, I'll bring it
here full of fresh water. Then if you don't get well pretty quick
I'll leave you plenty to eat and drink and find my way to the coast.
I can do it in a day, and have your old friend, who don't believe we
know a manatee from a tarpon, up here with his boat the next day
"Don't do it, Neddy. I'd be thinking of a hundred things happening
to you, and the night would be pretty lonesome without even Tom."
Ned started away from the river through a wooded swamp, and before
he had gone a quarter of a mile struck a prairie on which several
deer were feeding. The animals seemed to know that he had no weapon,
for they showed no alarm until he had walked some distance toward
them. There were a number of small ponds near him, and as Ned
approached the nearest one a small alligator slipped from the bank
into the water. The boy had provided himself with a short, heavy
pole, and he waded fearlessly in after the 'gator; but although the
pond was not thirty feet across and he explored every foot of it, he
could not find the reptile. He finally came across an opening in the
bank, in which he thrust his pole, when it was promptly seized by
the alligator. Ned tried to pull the reptile within reach, but when
the head came out of the cave it was larger than he had looked for,
and before he had made up his mind to tackle it the creature had let
go of the pole and gone back in his cave. Then the boy got earnest
and determined to have that alligator if he had to crawl into the
cave after him. He sharpened a bit of branch that stuck out beside
the big end of his pole like the barb of a harpoon, and again thrust
it in the cave. Soon he had the reptile fighting mad with his head
out of the cave, when he pushed the pole into his open mouth, and
catching the barb in the soft skin under the alligator's jaw, just
as Dick had done weeks before, hauled him out of the cave and
dragged him out on the bank. When a few yards from the pond the
reptile broke loose from the barb and started back for the pond.
Ned was after him like a tiger and struck two or three smashing
blows on the creature's head with his pole, and then, as the reptile
neared the water, threw himself on its back and seizing its jaws
held them together while he turned the brute on its back. At first
the alligator lashed out with its tail, but soon became quiet; and
then Ned got out his knife and severed the spine of the reptile.
The water of the pond was so nearly fresh that its taste was only
slightly sweetish, and after Ned had drank all he could hold he
filled his two cocoanuts for Dick. On his way to camp he hunted up a
young palmetto for the bud or cabbage which grew in the top of the
tree. The sharp edges of the great, tough leaves tore his flesh as
he climbed through them, and it was only after more than an hour of
hard work with his knife that he secured the cabbage he was working
for. By this time the water he had drunk had oozed out through his
pores. He was so parched with thirst that he took a long walk back
to the pond and filled up again.
That night Dick and Ned had broiled alligator steak and palmetto
cabbage for supper. Both suffered so much for want of water that Ned
started out at daylight to find the old abandoned plantation. Dick
was pale and his smile so wan that Ned's heart was sore at leaving
him. He was too earnest to think of trivial things, and he sloshed
through the swamp without thought of the swaying heads of little
speckle-bellies in his path, or the great, ugly cotton-mouth
moccasins that moved slowly aside as he wallowed through their
lairs. He stopped long enough on the border of the prairie to find a
club, with which he fiercely pounded to death a rattlesnake, upon
whose coils he had nearly stepped when the locust-like warning found
its way to his consciousness.
After about three miles of tramping, during which he waded
waist-deep across two sloughs, the prairie opened upon familiar
ground, and Ned knew that he was opposite the plantation he sought.
In the decaying building he found an old bucket that would hold
three or four gallons, and a couple of quart cans in which water
could be boiled. From a tamarind tree he gathered the half-dried
fruit with its sweet acidity, and in the old garden he discovered a
few stalks of sugar-cane. He picked up a rusty fish-hook and from an
old net got a quantity of string. Then filling his bucket with rain
water, he started back to Dick and the camp. The journey was a hard
one, and though he refused to drink a drop of the water, half of it
was lost on the way. The weight of it pressed him down in the mire
of the sloughs until he sank to the armpits as he held the heavy
bucket on his head. Dick laughed aloud with joy, even if it was a
bit hysterical, when Ned got home to camp.
"Been lonesome?" asked Ned after Dick had drank a quart of water
and looked as if he wanted a gallon more.
"Not very. Tom has amused me," replied Dick, as he pointed to a
branch over his head. Ned looked up, and there was Tom gazing
benignly down upon him.
"Wonder if Tom is hungry?" said Ned.
"Guess not. I tried him with a piece of alligator steak, and he
turned his nose up at that."
"What do you think he would say to a mess of fish?" and Ned produced
his fish-hook and line. Dick's eyes glistened.
"Oh! I am so hungry for some broiled fish."
Most Florida streams are alive with fish that are not fussy about
the tackle with which they are taken. Ned baited his hook with a
piece of alligator, which was promptly seized by a salt-water cat.
The cat-fish was given to the wildcat, which grabbed it fiercely.
Two mangrove snappers were the result of a few minutes' fishing. Ned
put some tamarinds in one of the quart tins, which he filled with
water and then stirred with a stick of sugar-cane which had been
peeled and split.
Dick perked up a good deal during his supper of broiled fish,
palmetto cabbage and tamarind water, after which Ned made him a tin
of tea from the leaves of the sweet bay. In the days that followed
Ned gathered oysters, which he found some distance down the river,
caught fish and killed several heron and a young curlew with sticks.
The broils, roasts and stews which he made would have done credit
to a professional cook. He wanted to set snares for rabbits and
birds, but had to give it up owing to the difficulty of making a
snare which would distinguish between Tom, whom he didn't wish to
catch, and the rabbits which he wanted.
Dick was improving, but so very slowly that Ned determined to find
his way to the coast and get help. He put it off, at Dick's request,
for several days, until they had been in camp a week, when one
afternoon it was agreed that Ned should start early the next
morning. Dick, who was feeling very blue at the prospect of Ned's
leaving him, was lying on his bed of moss when suddenly he sat up.
"Listen, Ned, listen! There is a motor-boat in the river. Don't you
"I don't hear it, Dick."
"But you must hear it. It's growing plainer every minute. It's a
four-cycle engine, and a fast boat, too. I can tell you that. Who
can it be? Do you suppose it is your father looking for you?"
"I hear it now. No, it isn't Dad. My time isn't up for several days
yet. After that anything might happen, but until then Dad won't lift
a finger toward looking me up."
"Oh, Ned! It's coming nearer, nearer, nearer! There! It's 'round the
bend. Of course, you see it now. How it is coming!"
"You bet it's coming. You ought to see the water pile up against the
bow. It's a glass-cabin launch. There's a man standing on top of the
cabin. I think he sees us, for he is pointing this way, and--the
boat's headed straight for us--hear that whistle, and--Dick, Dick,
boy!--there's a tall man and a girl standing in front of the
pilot-house, and--oh, Dick! it's too good to be true, but it's Dad
"Molly?" said Dick.
"Yes, my sister, you know. Sometimes we call her Mary."
"I didn't know your sister's name was Molly. What does she look
"Just watch that girl who is waving her hat as if she was crazy.
Ned was in the launch before it touched the bank, and Mr. Barstow
was holding his son by the hand, although neither spoke, while Molly
had her arms around Ned's neck and was laughing, crying and talking
"You blessed, blessed Neddy! What did happen to you? We were
frightened, oh! so frightened."
"Ned," said Mr. Barstow, "your friend, young Williams, was with you.
I never saw him, but I hope no harm came to him."
"No, daddy; Dick will be all right, now you are here, but he has
been very, very sick, and I was dreadfully afraid he wouldn't get
well, and all his trouble came because he saved my life without
thinking of his own. Come right ashore and see him."
"Shall I come, too?" asked Molly.
"Sure," replied Ned. "He wants to see you especially."
A moment later Mr. Barstow had one of Dick's hands in both of his
"My boy, my boy, what made you run away? The hue and cry is out for
you in Key West. Why did you never tell me that you were Ned's
nearest friend? Why didn't you tell Molly who you were? Ned has
talked to her for years about you. Come here, Molly, and tell your
friend Dick Williams what you think of him for hiding his name from
But Molly didn't tell him just then. For Dick's strength had been
overtaxed, and when his eyes met Molly's he promptly fainted.
When Dick had recovered, Ned invited his father and sister to dine
before going aboard the motor-boat, and as he was busy preparing the
meal and his father had much to hear from him, the care of the
invalid fell upon Molly, a duty which she performed to the apparent
satisfaction of her patient.
"Those oysters are lovely," said the girl as she speared with a
chop-stick a small one which had been roasted in the shell.
"Yes. Ned waded through half a mile of mud to get them."
"I wondered how Neddy got so muddy. I was so glad to see him that I
just hugged him, and now I ought to be in a wash-tub. Just look at
Dick obeyed her so literally that she added a moment later:
"I mean look at the mud on my dress."
The broiled snappers were pronounced the finest fish ever served,
the palmetto cabbage better than cauliflower, and then the girl
"This white meat is pretty good. What is it?"
"Really and truly. You said you liked it."
"I didn't know it was a reptile. Why didn't you tell me? I wouldn't
have eaten it if I had known."
"Ned wouldn't have liked it if I had told. He is my doctor, you
know, and I have to mind him."
"You don't need a doctor any more. What you want is a nurse."
"That's so. I could mind her easy," said Dick.
"Oh, I meant a man nurse," said the girl.
Ned produced some joints of sugar-cane for dessert, and made a can
of after-dinner sweet-bay tea, and then began to ask questions.
"Daddy, I want to find out whether you and Molly are crazy or
whether I am. You never saw Dick before. You said so half an hour
ago. Dick never saw you or Molly. He said so half an hour ago--"
"But Ned--" interrupted Dick.
"You keep still. I've got the floor. Now, Dad, you and Molly rush up
to this chap, whom you never saw before, and fall into his arms--"
"Neddy Barstow, I didn't do anything of the kind. But I had seen him
and I did know him," said the girl.
"Now, there you go. How ever did you know this chum of mine, who
never saw you?"
"How did Dick save your life, Ned?" asked Mr. Barstow in a voice
that wasn't quite as steady as usual.
"I can tell you," broke in Dick. "He didn't do it at all. That's
"Dad, when our canoe was wrecked, we lost the beautifullest skin of
the biggest kind of a panther--eight feet from tip to tip. Dick saw
the panther first, when he was ten feet from us, ready to jump. I
fired at the beast, and he sprang for me, but Dick jumped at the
same time and got between us, so the panther landed on him and I was
saved. That's why he is sick now. I s'pose that is what knocked his
memory endwise, so he don't remember anything about it."
"Mr. Barstow," said Dick, "I wish you would ask Ned who it was that
swam ashore with me when the big tarpon smashed the canoe and
knocked me out. Yes, and he almost lost his own life in saving mine.
Please ask him. I want to see if he has lost his memory."
Ned tried to speak, but Molly had her arms around his neck, saying
nice things to him.
"See here, sis, doesn't part of this belong to Dick?" said Ned, and
got his ears boxed very promptly.
"Did not Dick tell you, Ned, that he came from New York to Key West
on the steamer with us, and that Molly and I got acquainted with
him, and that he then slipped away at Key West so that we could not
find him?" asked Mr. Barstow.
"Never told me a word. Dick, you gay deceiver, you pretended to
tell me everything, and you left out the most interesting part. You
probably thought I wasn't interested in Dad or Molly."
"But, Ned, I never knew they were your father and sister until just
now. I told you everything that seemed worth speaking of."
"Hear that, Molly? This young man says you didn't seem worth
speaking of. Can't you get even with him for that? Now, tell me how
you happen to be here, you and Dad. I told Dick that he wouldn't
move a finger for us till the time of my vacation was up."
"You were all right about that, Neddy. He wouldn't budge an inch,
for I tried to make him start out and hunt you up, and he refused
until--Well, one day the boat that carries the mail between Key West
and Chokoloskee picked up, out in the Gulf of Mexico, a broken canoe
that everybody seemed to know was the one you and Mr. Williams were
out in. Then Mr. Streeter made a night run to Myers, got Dad out of
bed, and things began to happen. Of course, I was coming, so I got
into a few clothes, skipped my breakfast and was aboard this boat
barely in time not to be left, for Dad was just plain crazy. But
before he came away he chartered everything in sight and told the
men not to leave an unexplored channel in the whole Ten Thousand
Ned held out his hand to his father without speaking, but Dick
looked at the girl with more gratitude in his eyes than she could
possibly have deserved, although she seemed willing to accept a good
deal of it.
"Well, boys," said Mr. Barstow, "if you are ready we will go aboard.
I don't see much that you will care to take with you."
"Nothing but Tom," said Dick. "Can't he go? He'll be good."
"Of course he can. But who is Tom?"
"Oh, he's nothing but a savage old wildcat," replied Ned. "He'll
probably eat us all up but Dick. He has eaten some of him already."
"Oh, what a beauty!" cried Molly, when Tom, who had been sitting in
a tree over their heads, was pointed out to her. Dick soon coaxed
the lynx, which sat there looking suspiciously at the strangers,
down to his shoulder.
"Can't I pet him?" asked Molly.
"No!" said Ned.
"Yes," said Dick, and Molly stepped forward and laid her hand
fearlessly on the soft fur of the beautiful creature. Tom began a
low growl, but Dick talked soothingly to him, and in a few minutes
he became quite friendly with the girl.
"There!" said Molly. "Now we're friends, and I can play with him all
I want to."
"Oh, no, not yet. You must promise that you won't touch him unless I
am with you," said Dick.
"Of course, I won't promise. I'll pet him when I please."
"Then poor Tom will have to stay here."
"Do you mean to say that if I don't make that ridiculous promise I
can't have Tom?"
"Tom belongs to you the minute you make that promise, but not
"Well, Mr. Williams, I make the promise rather than lose Tom, but as
for you--" And the blank which Molly left was filled with feminine
A bunk was fixed up in the cabin of the launch for Dick, and the
throb of the heavy engines became a steady hum as the boat turned
down the stream, with water and spray curling up from its bow and
heavy waves from its propeller breaking with a sullen roar on the
banks of the river. Dick's bunk must have been uncomfortable, for
very soon he crawled up on deck and, going forward to where he could
lean back against the cabin, sat down, looking pale, but not
unhappy. Molly, who happened to be on the bow of the boat, was so
indignant with him that she told him he ought to have a guardian,
and then went below and brought back an armful of pillows and
cushions, with which she proceeded to make life a burden to Dick.
Then, as she seemed about to go away, Dick began to talk to her
about the old plantations on the river and tell her the ghost
stories that belonged to them, until she sat down near him. "I hope
you don't think I was rude about Tom? I was only--" But Molly
"You need to be good and strong before I tell you what I think of
that." And the girl walked away from him so indignant that she
didn't return for nearly two minutes.
As the launch neared the mouth of the river a yawl-rigged craft with
an auxiliary engine had just entered it. Her captain was sitting on
deck with his right hand grasping the wheel, his body leaning
forward, rigid as bronze, while his roving eye scanned water and
sky, reefs, banks and keys. A roll of the wheel, and the launch
darted toward him. When within a hundred yards the whir of the big
engine and the chugging of the two-cycle motor of the yawl stopped,
and as the boats were passing each other, Mr. Barstow hailed the
skipper of the yawl.
"Oh, Captain Hull! All's well. The boys have been found. Spread the
news. Hunt up the other boats and all hands report to me at Myers."
"Aye, aye, sir!" came from the bronze statue, and the chugging and
the whirring began again as the yawl resumed its course, while the
launch wove in and out among the oyster reefs, that guard the mouth
of the river, at a speed that would have torn the propeller out of
her had she struck one of them.
Dick's eyes sparkled as the Gulf opened out, and the launch turned
down the coast to clear the bar before making her course. Before him
were the waters where the waterspout destroyed the _Etta_; the
Shark River bight was near, and in the distance the cocoa-palms of
the Northwest Cape could be made out. He turned eagerly to the girl
beside him, and was telling her the story of the waterspout when Mr.
Barstow came to them and said:
"Run away, little girl, I want to talk to Dick."
"So do I," said Molly as she made a little face at her father, who
laughed at her.
"You mustn't think you own Dick. Go play with Tom, there. He looks
pretty amiable just now."
"But he won't let me play with Tom. He's mean about that."
Dick began to explain, but the girl had gone.
"What are your plans for your future, Dick?" asked Mr. Barstow.
"I am going home and going to work at anything I can find to do."
"How would you like to work for me?"
"I don't know of anything else in the world I would like so well."
And Dick fairly beamed.
"Then, if the work suits you, your engagement will date from
"What will be my duties, sir?"
"First a vacation to get well in and visit your mother. Then you and
Ned will go to my timber property in Canada, familiarize yourselves
with the present methods of working it, and suggest any improvements
that occur to you, and make the best estimate you can of the amount
and kind of lumber I have. I don't care for present returns, but I
wish the property administered in accordance with the most advanced
knowledge of the science of forestry."
"Mr. Barstow, you are good to me, too good, and I am as grateful as
I can be, but I can't take money for amusing myself. You would be
paying me for taking the most delightful excursion in the world, and
there wouldn't be any other side to it. I couldn't make good to you
in any way. I don't know anything about lumbering, forestry or
"Don't begin by criticizing your employer, Dick. Just make believe
that he knows what he is about. I am not paying you for what you
know now, but for what you will know in a few months. I am expecting
great things of you. The science of forestry and economic methods of
lumbering are fairly well understood in Canada. You will find
yourselves with young men of education and enterprise, enthusiasts
who think nothing of starting out alone on snowshoes for a week or a
month in the woods, where the mercury in the thermometer often
freezes. You will find your work cut out for you if you only keep up
with them, and I am hoping that you will get near the head of your
class. I want you to learn the business from the beginning to the
end from the planting to the cutting of the tree, and from forest to
freight car. So don't fear that you will not have a chance to earn
your salary. Your pay and Ned's will be the same. It will take good
care of you, but you will not find much over to waste. Here, Molly,
come back and hear the rest of that romance that I interrupted. And
don't look so cross at me next time I speak to Dick."
"Isn't he the nice old daddy?" said the girl to Dick, as she sat
down near him. Dick looked as if he thought so too, but was troubled
to find words to express all he felt. The launch, which was now
flying up the coast, was just opposite the shack of the fisherman
whom the boys had hired to help with the manatee which couldn't be
found. Dick was telling the girl the story of the manatee when Ned
put in an appearance.
"Run away, Molly. I want to talk to Dick."
"Neddy Barstow, when daddy says 'Run away, Molly,' I have to go, but
when you say it, I stay right where I am. See?"
"But this is important, Molly. It's business."
"So am I important, even if I'm not business. If business is in a
hurry, it can go ahead; if it isn't it can wait."
"Dick," said Ned, "Dad thinks we need a little vacation before going
to work, and he offers to take us on a cruise in the _Gypsey_ to the
Bahamas and to Cuba, or to charter a light-draft boat that could go
through the Bay of Florida and let us finish our cruise in the
crocodile country, beginning where we turned back when the fresh
water gave out. Maybe he will let Molly go."
"Let Molly go!" repeated the girl mockingly. "Only question is
whether she will let you go. But I thought you said it was business.
That isn't business; it's fun. We choose the small boat and the
crocodiles. That will be new. I know all about the _Gypsey_ now."
"Shall we let it go at that, Dick?"
"Sure. Wonder if we can find my crocodile again."
MOLLY AND THE MANATEE
A week later the party of five (for both Molly and Dick insisted
that Tom belonged) was sailing down the coast in the _Irene_, a half
houseboat with auxiliary engine, which was sailed by Captain Hull.
An engineer and a darky cook had been engaged, but the three young
folks held a meeting and then announced that Dick had been elected
engineer and Molly chief cook, with Ned as assistant. They added
that the man engineer and the darky could "go bounce." When they
notified Mr. Barstow of the result of the meeting he told them to
see Captain Hull and that if they could stand their own cooking and
engineering he thought the captain and himself might manage to live
The captain grimly assented; said that he had been wondering where
he could sleep his cook when it rained; that Dick couldn't be a
worse engineer than the one he had engaged, and that he hoped he
would keep sober more of the time than the other one was in the
habit of doing.
The _Irene_ was of less than three feet draft, and towed or carried
on her davits a small launch and a skiff. Excepting when the wind
was especially favorable, the sails were kept furled, and an awning
stretched above the cabin-top made of it a pleasant lounging place.
When the _Irene_ was opposite the mouth of Broad and Rodgers rivers,
the whole party, including Tom, who kept beside Dick, were sitting
on the cabin roof, and Mr. Barstow said to his son, as he pointed to
"Is that the river where you caught your phantom manatee, that
wasn't there when you brought a fisherman to get it? You know the
story is all over Myers that you saw a porpoise and imagined the
rest. How was it, Ned?"
"Yon've made a lot of fun of me, Dad, and Molly has bothered the
life out of Dick about that manatee ghost. Now, if you will let Dick
and me boss this boat for three days, no questions to be asked,
we'll show you a sure-enough manatee and give some folks a chance to
think up real handsome apologies."
"But supposing you don't make good?"
"Then Dick and I will do a whole lot of kow-towing ourselves."
"What do you say to that, Molly?"
"See here, sis," interrupted Ned, "it's up to you to put up or shut
up. If you don't give us this chance to make good you are not to say
'manatee' again on this trip."
"Give 'em what they want, Daddy. They can't do much harm in three
days, and just think of the fun I'll have with them afterwards."
"Well, hoys, you shall have your chance. It may prove a good lesson
"You heard that, Captain? Dick and I are boss for three days, and we
want this boat to start up Broad River immejit!"
"Tide's jist a-bilin' out of the river. It'll take all day to get
anywhere. Hadn't you better anchor at the mouth of the river till it
turns? We can run up the river in the night, so you won't lose any
The _Irene's_ anchor was dropped behind the bar that lies opposite
the mouth of the river, and Molly and the boys went out in the skiff
to call on a family of pelicans which were keeping house on a little
coral key, surrounded by oyster reefs, between Rodgers and Broad
rivers. As the skiff neared the key the old birds flew lazily away
and lit on a mud-flat a hundred yards distant, but the pelican
children waddled around on the oyster reef without showing much
alarm until Dick caught one, when the indignant bird struck him with
its big bill and punched holes in his hat. As the tide fell the
oyster bars were uncovered, the water shoaled on the mud-flats, and
the boys gathered oysters from one, and clams weighing from half a
pound to four pounds each from the other.
[Illustration: "THE INDIGNANT BIRD PUNCHED HOLES THROUGH HIS HAT"]
A fire was built on the reef, bread and coffee brought from the
_Irene_, and Mr. Barstow and Captain Hull invited to a picnic
supper which they were polite enough to say they enjoyed greatly.
After supper Molly and the boys took a walk on the beach on the
north side of Rodgers River and amused themselves by chasing the
crabs that were skurrying along close to the shore to keep out of
the way of their enemies. They had a lot of fun, but caught no
crabs, until Dick went back to the _Irene_ for a scoop-net and a
bucket, which he soon filled with the crustaceans. Molly had never
before seen shell-fish growing on trees, so Dick cut a few
oyster-bearing branches from a mangrove tree and roasted bunches of
the bivalves on the beach. When the sputtering of the oysters on the
branch told Dick they were cooked, he hauled the limb from the
coals, sat down with his companion on the beach, and with sharpened
sticks the young people picked the roasted oysters from their
shells, while Dick told the girl of that other picnic on the coast
near-by after the waterspout had wrecked the _Etta_. They talked
after the oysters were eaten and the fire had gone out, until Ned's
voice came to them:
"Do you kids expect to settle here and grow up with the country?
Don't you know it's 'most night, the tide's been right for the river
for an hour, and everybody is waiting for you?"
When they reached the _Irene_, Mr. Barstow proposed putting off
their start until morning to give Molly and him a chance to see the
river as they sailed up it. Mr. Barstow replied to a quizzical look
from his son:
"Of course, this doesn't come out of your time, Ned. You are to have
your full three days."
"Maybe you'd like to see some fire-hunting," said the captain.
"There are 'gators in these rivers, and there's time before the moon
rises to find one or two. If you don't want one killed I'll fire a
blank cartridge at him, unless you'd like to shine the eyes of one
"I don't think I'll try any fire-hunting, but I should like to see
it done," said Mr. Barstow.
Dick was proud of his sculling, and at his request it was arranged
that he should scull the skiff for the captain, while Ned was to
pole the little motor-boat, in which his father and sister would go
with him. Before they had gone far Dick found that he had
overestimated his strength, and that handling the heavy sculling oar
was too much for him. Mr. Barstow offered to pole the motor-boat,
and Ned took Dick's place at the oar in the skiff, where Dick
remained as a passenger. They entered Broad River and Ned sculled
slowly along the bank, while the beam of light from the lantern,
which was bound to the captain's forehead, played along the surface
of the water under the mangroves that overhung the banks and
sometimes swept the banks above the water. In the shallow places
mullet leaped wildly as the rays of the bull's-eye lantern fell on
them, while porpoises sniffed and tarpon splashed in their light.
Sculling was hard work for Ned, who had none of the easy and
graceful swing with which Dick threw his weight on a sculling oar, a
skill which he had acquired during his life on the sponger. Several
times the oar jumped out of the scull hole in the skiff, and once
Ned nearly went overboard. But a little extra noise didn't much
disturb wild creatures that were fascinated by the light; and on the
land 'coons sat motionless, two dots of greenish light told of a
hypnotized wildcat, and when all on the skiff saw the light
reflected from two big, round eyes, while the captain held the beam
from the lantern steadily upon them, Dick whispered:
"What is it?"
"A big buck. Wish I didn't have a blank cartridge in the rifle,"
replied the captain.
They cruised for half a mile up Broad River, then back to its mouth
against a tide that made the captain take the oars of the skiff, to
which the painter of the motor-boat was then fastened. Then Ned
sculled to the mouth of Rodgers River, where, upon a little beach,
the captain first saw the gleam for which he had been looking. Then
for a few minutes Dick took the oar and slowly and more slowly
sculled toward those little round stars. Soon the light from the
bull's-eye on the captain's forehead showed the head and body of the
reptile, which remained as motionless as if cast in bronze, while
Dick held the skiff in place that the launch might come near. With
the roar of the blank cartridge came the scream of a girl and the
quick scrambling of the alligator into the water. Every one wanted
to continue the hunt, but the rising of the moon put a stop to the
[Illustration: "THE LIGHT FROM THE BULL'S EYE SHOWED THE HEAD AND
BODY OF THE REPTILE"]
In the morning the tide was rushing up the river, and with it came
rolling porpoises and schools of leaping tarpon.
"Couldn't you catch one of those tarpon?" asked Molly.
Dick said nothing, but Ned shook his head slowly, and Molly
understood that he couldn't so quickly forget that desperate
struggle in the water, during which two lives hung by a thread after
a tarpon had wrecked their canoe.
As the _Irene_ sailed up the river birds flew from the trees on her
approach, alligators slid from their beds on the banks, and otters
lifted their round heads above the surface of the stream. Six miles
from its mouth the river spreads out into a bay, and as the boat was
entering it Mr. Barstow called out:
"There is your manatee, sure enough, boys!"
A big, ugly head appeared beside the _Irene_ for an instant,
followed by a column of water thrown in the air by the huge
porpoise-like tail of the frightened animal. The anchor was quickly
dropped and the little motor-boat, with Dick at the wheel and Mr.
Barstow and Molly as passengers, started in pursuit of the sea-cow.
Captain Hull and Ned were in the skiff, which was towed by the
motor-boat. Every few minutes the long eel-grass of the shallow bay
choked the propeller of the motor-boat. Then the motor was stopped,
the skiff pulled under the stern of the power-boat, and Ned, with
half his head and shoulders under water, tore the grass from the
wheel. For two miles all eyes scanned the surface of the water
without sight of the quarry; then came a shout from Molly:
"There it is!"
"Take the wheel, Molly; it's your manatee," replied Dick.
And the girl, without a hat and with her loosened hair streaming
down her back, headed the power-boat straight for the creature,
which was distant about the eighth of a mile. Twice the grass choked
the wheel and twice with desperate haste it was cleared by Ned. The
boat had gone many yards beyond the place where Molly had seen the
animal when there was a great swirl in the water beside the craft,
followed by other swirls, which grew less and less as they led in a
straight line up a broad tideway that opened into the upper end of
the bay. A moment later another series of swirls was seen and
followed, after which, for a time, nothing was seen, although four
pairs of eyes were scanning every inch of the stream ahead of the
boat. Then came a cry from the captain, who had been cannily
watching the water behind the craft. The sea-cow had turned around,
and, swimming silently beneath the boat, would have escaped but for
the glimpse the captain got of him as he rose to breathe just
before reaching a bend in the stream, which would have hidden him
from his pursuers. Soon the motor-boat was again on his trail, never
to leave it till the creature was a captive. For the manatee was
tired and had to come to the surface for breath at shorter and
shorter intervals, until the power-boat almost ran over him at every
"Turn us loose!" shouted Ned, and in a moment the skiff was free and
being sculled by the captain toward the quarry, while Ned stood in
the bow with a noosed rope in his hand. Soon the manatee rose beside
the skiff, so near that Ned laid the noose over the creature's nose.
But it didn't stay there, for a column of water rose in the air, and
when it subsided Ned was swimming two yards from the skiff.
There was a cry from Molly in the motor-boat which no one noticed,
for in half a minute Ned was back in the skiff and the pursuit was
on keener than ever. Every ten seconds the manatee came up to
breathe, every time he rose he was driven back under water by the
blow of the rope across his nose. Finally the half-strangled
creature lifted his whole head out of the water and held it there
long enough for Ned to slip the noose over it. The next instant the
blow of the manatee's tail deluged the boy with water and jarred the
skiff from bow to stern, which was then dragged through the water at
a rate which for minutes left the motor-boat behind. The sea-cow
carried the skiff around keys, through deep channels, over shallow
banks and under bushes that projected from the shore, until the
animal was fairly tired out. As the speed of the creature slackened,
Ned drew the skiff close beside him, and plunging overboard, threw
his left arm over the neck and with his right hand grasped the right
flipper of the manatee. Then Captain Hull took a hand, and pulling
the skiff up to the manatee was soon swimming beside him and
clinging to his left flipper.
Dick slowed down the motor, while Molly kept the boat circling
around the swimmers until the manatee surrendered and became quiet
as a cow. The motor was stopped, and the sea-cow was brought beside
the boat, where Molly patted the head and laid her hand on the soft
lips of the gentle creature.
"Now, Daddy," said Ned, "Dick and I want a certificate that this
isn't a phantom manatee or a porpoise."
"I'll certify to that, Ned. You boys have made good, although nobody
ever doubted it, anyway, for the fisherman was only having a little
fun with you."
The manatee was so tractable that Captain Hull swam back for the
skiff, while Ned loosened his hold on the flipper of the creature.
Suddenly a cascade of water half-filled the power-boat, drenched
every one in it, and the manatee disappeared. Ned was chagrined, but
Mr. Barstow cheered him:
"It is all for the best, Ned. He had done all he could do for us. We
hadn't time to arrange for his shipment, and so had to set him
free. The only thing I am sorry for is that I didn't go overboard,
too, and have some of the fun. I am just as wet as you are, without
having anything-to show for it."
"Me, too," said Molly, whose red cheeks and sparkling eyes shone
from among streaming mermaid tresses, and whose pretty frock had
"Dad," said Ned, after they were back on the _Irene_, "you know Dick
and I are in command for two days more."
"I thought you were to have charge for three days, or until you
found a manatee."
"No, sir; three days--seventy-two hours, and not a minute less."
"What are you going to do with all that time?"
"I have elected myself senior boss and Dick junior boss, and we are
going to show you and Molly the Everglades. The _Irene_ will start
down Broad River at once. But Molly is to take the power-boat
through the cut-off to Rodgers River, and down that river to its
mouth, where she will find us. Oh, by the way, Dick will go with her
as engineer, but subject to her orders."
When the _Irene_ was opposite the cut-off, the power-boat, with
Molly and Dick on board, was set adrift and was soon twisting and
turning at half speed as it followed the channel of the crooked
creek. Swimming through the creek would have made a snake dizzy, and
the girl at the wheel had to keep it spinning. There were logs to
be dodged and sharp-ended stumps to be avoided. Trees lay nearly
across the stream, leaving barely the width of the boat to spare,
and others under which the boat had to be driven between flexible
branches, while the steerswoman crouched low down in the craft.
There were birds and beasts on the bank, fish and reptiles in the
water, but the girl could spare them scarcely a glance. Great
spiders hung in midair on nets that stretched from bank to bank, and
Molly's face was matted with webs that she could not avoid, while
her teeth were tightly clenched lest she scream when the hairy legs
of a spider with a spread of five inches traveled across her face.
Dick saw her trouble and came forward to where he could lean ahead
of her and take the brunt of the spider's work. Molly spared him a
grateful glance, but got in trouble for it the next instant. For
just then a quick turn of the craft happened to be necessary, and
although Dick helped to roll the wheel, it was too late, and because
of the inattention of a moment the motor-boat crashed into the bank.
The pilot and engineer were thrown violently against the wheel, but
nothing was injured excepting the temper of the girl, who said to
"That was all your fault, Dick Williams, and I wish you would go
back to your engine. I will try to manage the wheel by myself."
After two miles of squirmy navigation the boat came out into the
broad, beautiful Rodgers River, down which they turned; and when
Dick pointed out where the tarpon had wrecked their canoe and
stunned him, and told of Ned's struggles to save his life, the
girl's voice trembled and there were tears in her eyes as she
listened and asked questions. The tide was low when they arrived at
the mouth of the river, and Molly ran the boat on one of the oyster
bars that form a network across the entrance to Broad and Rodgers
rivers. Almost the instant the boat touched, Dick was overboard
heaving on the bow, and soon had the craft afloat. Then turning to
Molly, he said, while mischief sparkled in his eyes:
"I am sorry I ran you on that bar, Miss Barstow."
"You shouldn't bear malice, Dick," replied the girl.
TO THE GLADES IN THE "IRENE"
They found the _Irene_ waiting for them near the mouth of the river,
with Ned impatient to be off to catch the inflowing-tide from the
mouth of Harney's River, which was about two miles down the coast.
It was still daylight when they crossed the bar and passed the
little key inside the mouth of the river, but they sailed up the
stream by the light of the stars, which gave mystic beauty to the
smooth water and the shadowy outlines of the tropical forest that
bordered the banks of the river. Captain Hull anchored the _Irene_
for the night in Tussock Bay, at the head of the lower division of
Harney's River, because, as he said, he needed all the daylight he
could get when he tackled the crooked courses between Tussock Bay
and the Everglades.
When the anchor was hoisted in the morning, Dick was at the wheel,
which he held on to when the captain came up to relieve him. The
captain stood by as the boy steered across the bay, and wondered at
the chance that kept him for miles on exactly the right course. As
the boat was passing Tussock Key, Dick headed up to the northeast.
"Too far north," said the captain. "Course is east-southeast."
"No talking to the man at the wheel," said Dick, and Captain Hull
laughed and waited for the trouble that was coming. But no trouble
came, and the _Irene_ twisted in and out, always in plenty of water,
for a mile and a half of crooked creek, until it floated in a wider
stream, the banks of which were covered with long prairie grass,
when Dick handed over the wheel to the captain, saying:
"Guess you know the rest of the way, don't you, Captain? If you get
in any trouble call on me."
"That was one on me," said Captain Hull as he took the wheel. "I
never came that way before. Wonder who taught you piloting? Mighty
few pilots can find their way up this river."
"I came that way," said Dick nonchalantly, "because the water is
deeper and there is less grass. The other river is pretty shallow
and gets badly choked up at this season."
"That's so," replied the captain, "but I'd like to know who told
It took the rest of the day to reach the Everglades. There were
narrow streams so crooked that the _Irene_ had to be poled around
the sharp corners, broad, shallow rivers, so choked with eel and
manatee-grass that every five minutes one of the boys went overboard
to clear the clogged propeller, and twisting creeks, through which
the water of the Everglades poured so swiftly, that to make headway
and avoid snags kept the captain busy at the wheel and the boys
fending off from the banks with oars. Sometimes for miles the
channel was clear; and while the captain stood at the wheel the rest
of the exploring family sat upon the cabin roof and chattered like
children about the turtle and terrapin heads that dotted the
surface, the leaping young tarpon, grave old alligators, shy otters,
and birds that flew from the trees or soared overhead.
The sensitive Tom resented Dick's neglect, and was seen sitting on
the after end of the cabin, in front of the wheel, making friends
with the captain. Every few minutes Tom put out a paw and rested it
on the captain's hand as it rolled the wheel. Then Tom would look up
in his face, and finally rubbed his cheek on the captain's hand, and
after that became his shadow. That night Tom abandoned his sleeping
place beside Dick's bunk and turned in with the captain. Dick was a
little annoyed at first, but his conscience told him that he had
neglected Tom, and had himself to blame.
When the anchor was dropped, the _Irene_ rested in a solid mass of
lily pads, with her bowsprit extending over the border of the
Everglades, which stretched out eastward, a great, grassy,
overflowed meadow, dotted with keys, to the horizon. A slough of
clear water, deep enough to float the little power-boat, zigzagged
out into the Glades, and the captain, with Mr. Barstow, Molly and
Dick in the craft, followed it for more than a mile. There was
water enough over the light grass of the Glades to float the skiff,
which Ned poled through a carpet of white pond-lilies, that here and
there covered the surface. Many little grassy mounds showed where an
alligator had his cave. From one of them an alligator slid out and
started across the Glades at full speed. Ned was soon on his trail,
poling like mad. He was nearly up to the reptile when it swung
around and darted away at right angles to its former course, gaining
many yards on its pursuer, for the grass prevented the quick turning
of the skiff. Time after time the reptile repeated this dodge, time
after time the boy was near enough to have touched the alligator
with a pole, but always he dodged, until Ned was too exhausted to
follow the creature any farther.
"Oh, I wish you could have caught it," said Molly when Ned returned.
"We'll get one to-morrow sure," said Dick, while Ned's only comment
"Don't you get Dick to try fool things, sis."
"Captain," said Dick that evening, "I want an alligator, and if you
will help Ned pole in the skiff in the morning until we are near
enough to one, I'll either put a rope over his head or go overboard
and grab him."
"Don't try that on these 'gators; but I'll rig up a harpoon for you,
and if you can hit one with that there won't be any trouble in
"I don't want to kill the thing with a harpoon."
"I'll fix that. I'll stop down the harpoon so you can't drive it
more than an inch beyond the hide, and the 'gator will never know
he's hurt. He'll think a fly lit on him."
In the morning, as they were about to start on the 'gator chase, Ned
said to his father:
"This is our third day and our last chance, so we have got to keep
"Not quite," replied Mr. Barstow. "You and Dick have done so well
that you can stay in command until I have to call you down."
"Where do I come in?" said Molly. "Haven't I got something to say
"Looks as if you were having too much to say now. You mustn't try to
influence the officers of this ship or lure them away from their
The little face that Molly made at her father wasn't quite
respectful, but Mr. Barstow only laughed at it.
On this day of the 'gator hunt, Molly took the wheel and her father
ran the engine of the motor-boat, while Ned and the captain poled
the skiff and Dick stood in the bow with the harpoon pole. They soon
started a nine-foot alligator out of his cave, and after a chase of
ten minutes and a few sudden turns were so near the reptile that
Dick fixed his harpoon to the end of the pole and stood ready. Twice
he threw and missed, and each time many yards were lost while the
pole was being recovered. Dick was so mortified at missing that he
offered the harpoon to the captain, who refused it, saying:
"You threw all right and almost got him last throw. You'll fetch him
The captain's prophecy was fulfilled and at the next throw the
harpoon pierced the soft hide of the hind leg of the reptile. From
the beginning of the chase the alligator had been making for the
river and was within a hundred yards of it when struck. They headed
it off from the river and Dick dragged on the line while the others
poled until the skiff was beside the 'gator. A heavy blow on the bow
of the boat from the tail of the reptile and the big open jaws with
their rows of great gleaming teeth that swung before Dick's face
made him drop the line and fall backward into the skiff, while the
alligator started off in a new direction. On the next approach the
creature turned on the skiff again and though the captain fended it
off with an oar the reptile had the best of the battle. Several
times Dick brought the skiff near the alligator and tried to lasso
it with the painter of the boat, but the reptile was too wary for
him. The captain suggested running the reptile into the river,
saying it would be easier to take it aboard from the deeper water.
As soon as they gave the brute a chance it plunged into the river
and towed the skiff two hundred yards down the stream, then turning
and rising to the surface the alligator came with open mouth at
Dick, who sprang from his place in the bow and, seizing the
painter, the boy soon had a rope around the head of the brute and
its jaws tied. They tried towing the alligator up the river to the
_Irene_, but it is easier to drag an anchor than an alligator. Then
as Dick was winded the captain and Ned finally hauled it aboard the
skiff, where for a time it amused itself by trying to smash the
skiff or knock somebody overboard with its tail. It became perfectly
quiet before the _Irene_ was reached, when the captain dragged on
the rope which bound its jaws while Ned boosted with his arms around
the tail of the brute. But the alligator was playing 'possum and had
Ned just where it wanted him and, with a swing of its powerful tail,
lifted the boy in the air and neatly tossed him overboard. It was
fortunate for Ned that he was holding the alligator so tightly that
it was more of a push than a blow that he received. As it was, the
breath was so completely knocked out of him that for an instant he
could not swim and was drifting with the current, feebly paddling
with his hands, just enough to keep afloat, when he felt Dick's
supporting hand and heard a voice in his ear:
"Don't say you're hurt, Neddy."
"No--no--not a--bit. Nothing but--the talk--knocked out of me. Gee!
Wouldn't he make a fine spanking machine?"
Both of the boys were glad when the captain came for them with the
skiff and they were saved a hard swim against the current.
"Where is our alligator?" said Ned to the captain. "Hope you didn't
turn him loose."
"Nope. He's all right. He slipped back into the water when you went
in swimming, and of course I knew you wanted him looked after first,
so I gave his line a turn round the big cleat. When I left he was
trying to pull it out."
When the boys were back on the _Irene_, Molly clung to her brother's
hand, hardly able to speak, while Mr. Barstow said to his son:
"Is that the sort of thing you boys have been doing in your odd
hours when you were not squabbling with panthers or mixing up with
tarpon? I am afraid you need a traveling guardian to look after
A hundred feet was added to the rope that held the alligator and he
was left to pasture in the water until the _Irene_ was ready to
sail, when he was hauled aboard the skiff and lashed there. While he
was being tied he was perfectly tame and peaceful, but, though he
looked as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, no one trusted him
and even the captain fought shy of his tail.
For two miles from the Glades the river was broad and the
navigation, excepting for many bunches of moss and manatee grass,
was easy. Then came half a mile of a twisting narrow creek, in
places not twice the width of the _Irene_, through which poured
swiftly the whole volume of the big river. At the head of this
creek the captain came to anchor.
"We won't get through this creek without a lot of trouble. The
current will throw us against the bank a dozen times and we haven't
speed to prevent it and couldn't turn the corners if we had. The
launch must go ahead and keep the bow of the big boat out of the
bushes if it can. Then we can't be bothered with the skiff or the
'gator. We'd likely lose both. Somebody must take the launch and tow
the skiff through and then come back, if he can get back, and help
the big boat through. I hate to do it, but we can't tow the skiff
and, of course, it would be torn off of the davits in two minutes.
We are going to scrape the sides and perhaps tear out half the
rigging of the _Irene_, anyhow. Now who volunteers to tow the skiff
through the creek? I can't go because the launch may not be able to
buck the current and get back and I must stand by the big boat."
"I volunteer," said Molly, "if you can get anybody to go as
Every one laughed at this, excepting Molly, who blushed a little,
and Dick pulled the power boat up beside the _Irene_ as if he were
afraid that somebody would change her mind if there was any delay.
"Can she do it and is it quite safe?" asked Mr. Barstow.
"Do it as well as anybody. They may swamp the skiff or get caught in
a corner, but they can get out on the bank without anything worse
than a ducking."
As the power boat started, with Molly at the wheel, Dick standing by
the motor and the skiff hauled close under the stern, the captain
called out to Dick:
"Full speed. It's your only chance to get through. Don't bother with
the skiff, but keep an oar handy to fend off from the bank." The
speed of the boat was doubled by the current and Dick's heart was in
his mouth as the banks flew past and some log-guarded point
threatened to smash the bow of the boat. But Molly was quick to see
the coming peril and the wheel rolled swiftly to starboard or port,
always in time to avert it. There were double turns which the boat
could never have made but for the rush of the current which often
swept them aside from a stump or log that it seemed impossible to
avoid. It was a thrilling experience to both pilot and engineer, and
when the broad, placid river opened before them and the perilous
trip was past, the girl turned a flushed and beaming face toward her
companion and said:
"Wasn't it just lovely?"
And the boy replied with enthusiasm:
"It was glorious!"
Dick fastened the skiff to a tree on the bank, gave a look at the
lashing of the alligator and the return through the creek began.
There was nothing exciting about this trip. As the craft was working
against the current, the flow of the water balanced the power of
the engine, and log stumps and points on the bank were passed
slowly, inch by inch. Often there was no progress and then the boat
was steered close beside the bank and Dick pushed with his oar
against the trees until less swift water was found. The run down the
creek was made in three minutes. The return 'took half as many
hours. On the _Irene_ all were anxious but the captain and Tom. At
the end of an hour Ned was for starting down the creek with the big
boat, but Captain Hull said:
"No. It may take them three hours. Give them two at least. If we
start now we'll make sure of a smash-up."
In another minute the motor of the launch could be heard, although
it was half an hour more before the wanderers were welcomed aboard
the _Irene_ and their story told.
"It's our turn for trouble now," said the captain, "and we're likely
to get it, good and plenty."
"Want me to tow?" said Dick.
"Sure," replied the captain.
"Me, too?" inquired Molly.
"No," replied the captain, rather sharply. "It isn't piloting this
time. You can't steer the launch much while it's fast to the big
boat. Best you can do is to fend off and then you're likely to get
caught, and when you do get caught and fifteen tons comes down on
you at ten miles an hour, somebody has got to be spry."
"Is there much danger to whoever goes in the little boat?" asked
"Some, not much. It's the big boat that is likely to get caught and
if the launch did get stuck and we couldn't sheer off it would only
mean a quick jump and a little swim and--a busted launch."
The _Irene_ started down the creek with her engine at half speed,
the captain at the wheel and Dick standing in the bow of the motor
boat with an oar at hand. Molly stood in the companionway at the
captain's request because he feared her being swept overboard by
overhanging branches. Mr. Barstow and Ned were stationed near the
bow with long poles for fending off from the banks when necessary.
The first trouble came from a wooded point on the starboard side,
but Dick swung the power boat to port while Ned nearly went
overboard as he threw his weight on the pole with which he was
fending. The bow cleared the point, though the bowsprit swept the
bushes and a low-growing branch tore out the screens on the
starboard side. Before the point was passed Dick had the launch on
the starboard side, working to turn the _Irene_ before she should
strike the opposite bank. The efforts of all hands failed to make
the turn in time and a stump by the bank caught in the jib-stay of
the boat and held her fast. As the stern of the _Irene_ swung on the
point she had nearly passed, she lay broad-side to the current,
subject to all its power.
"We're in for it now, if that jib-stay don't part pretty sudden,"
said the captain.
And before the words were out of his mouth the eye-bolt that held
the stay broke short off and the _Irene's_ bow swung down the
stream. The boat was not caught badly again, although her fore
rigging on the port side was carried away and her sides somewhat
scarred. The only accident that threatened was prevented by a
precaution which Dick had taken. He had fastened his tow line to the
stern of the launch with a knot that could be slipped and led the
end of the line forward to where he stood by the wheel. It happened
that when nearly through the creek it became needful to drag the bow
of the _Irene_ far to port. Dick did this, but found himself in a
pocket from which he could not escape and in position to be dragged
stern first under the bow of the big boat. A quick jerk on the
towing line, and the launch was safe behind the _Irene_. There was
no more trouble for the big boat, which a minute later was headed
down the broad but shallow river, at half speed, while Dick picked
up the skiff with its alligator passenger who slowly opened one eye
when spoken to. In a few minutes the _Irene_ was traveling at full
speed toward Tussock Bay while her joyful passengers sat on the
cabin roof and talked of perils which had passed.
[Illustration: "SLOWLY LIFTING HIS HUGE HEAD OVER THE SIDE OF THE
From Tussock Bay to the coast, the _Irene_ sailed by way of a branch
of Shark River. The deep water of this river near the Gulf of Mexico
was roughened by a high wind and the rising and falling of the
skiff seemed to excite the alligator which for hours had been as
quiet as if he were asleep or dead. Slowly lifting his huge head
over the side of the skiff he gave a lurch which strained the rope
that held him and enough of the weight of the reptile was on the
side of the skiff to capsize it. The captain, who first heard the
struggle and saw the upset of the skiff, shouted to Ned, who was
below oiling the engine, to shut off the power. Before the _Irene_
lost her headway Ned was in the river with the alligator, resting on
the bottom of the skiff which he rolled from over the reptile to
save it from drowning. Instantly the freed jaws of the alligator
opened wide in his face and the boy threw himself backward in the
water and swam swiftly away from his dangerous companion. The rope
had slipped from the head of the reptile, which now seized the
gunwale of the boat and thrashed about until he had freed himself
from the rope which bound him, after which he quickly disappeared.
Half an hour later Ned was pouring his grievances into the ear of
his chum, who was resting in his bunk from the fatigue of the
"Don't you think, Dick, it was bad enough to be scared to death by a
whopping old alligator that I thought was going to bite me in two,
without being scolded by everybody on board for recklessness? First
there was Dad, and he uses pretty powerful language when he gets
real earnest, then Captain Hull gave it to me like a Dutch uncle,
and even Molly lectured me and squeezed out a few tears. I told Dad
it wasn't half as bad as your jumping in the way of that panther,
but he said that was altogether a different thing and had some sense
IN FLORIDA BAY
After the _Irene_ had sailed twenty miles down the coast and was
about opposite East Cape (Sable) Captain Hull asked for his orders.
"Isn't Madeira Hammock on the coast, about thirty miles from here?"
"Yes, but you will have to go seventy to get there. You've got to go
way round by the keys."
"Isn't there water enough for the _Irene_ along the coast?"
"Isn't enough to float the skiff. You can go about ten miles. After
that there's an inch of water and I reckon a mile of blue, soft,
sticky mud. I've been a few feet down in it and the farther I went
the softer and stickier it got."
"Suppose we go the ten miles you talk about what will we find?"
"Tarpon, sharks, porpoises, lots of fish, birds and enough sawfish
to make a picket fence of their saws all around the coast."
"That's us, Captain," said Ned.
And the _Irene's_ mud hook went to the bottom that night in eight
feet of water off Joe Kemp's Key.
In the shoal water over the broad banks which lay to the south and
east of the _Irene_ the bayonet fins of many tarpon rose high above
the surface as the fish beneath them pursued their prey. Often the