In the Wilds of Florida, by W.H.G. Kingston.
In this book by Kingston we are introduced to Florida in the mid-19th century, when the tail-end of the wars between the Cherokee and Seminole Indians was still rumbling on, and the white man was still occasionally disturbed by attacks by Indians.
Large areas of the territory are swamp, water, and densely overgrown plains. All this is described in detail.
Our hero this time is a "school-leaver" from Ireland, whose father seems to have had just one too many sons for him to be able to provide for all of them. His estate is a little encumbered by debt: he is what was known as a squireen. While trying to make up his mind what to do the boy decides to visit relatives in the USA, and that is why he went to Florida.
It must be said that he appeared quite thankful to get back more or less in one piece!
As an audiobook this will play for about ten hours.
IN THE WILDS OF FLORIDA, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
WITHOUT A PROFESSION—AN IRISH "SQUIREEN"—NEWS FROM ABROAD—UNCLE NICHOLAS AND HIS FAMILY—PREPARATIONS FOR THE VOYAGE—TIM FLANAGAN— PARTING CALLS—ON BOARD THE "LIBERTY"—OUR FELLOW-PASSENGERS— TABLE-TALK—A FRIENDLY HINT—A SAIL ON THE STARBOARD BOW—MONSIEUR LEJOILLIE—LITTLE PAUL OVERBOARD—GALLANTRY OF ROCHFORD—THE LION OF THE DAY.
I had just left school, in a very undecided state of mind as to what profession I should select. The honest truth is, that I had no great fancy for one more than for another. I should have preferred that of a gentleman at large, with an independent fortune. But it had been so ordained that I should not possess the latter very satisfactory means of subsistence; and it was necessary, if I wished to support myself like a gentleman, that I should choose some calling by which I could at least obtain an income, supposing that I had not the talent to realise a large fortune.
My father, Captain Michael Kearney, had a small estate, but it was slightly encumbered, like many another in old Ireland; and he had no intention of beggaring my brother and sister in order to benefit me. In a certain sense, it is true, they were provided for. Ellen had married Captain Patrick Maloney of the Rangers, who had, however, little beyond his pay to live on. My younger brother, Barry, had entered the navy; but as he drew fifty pounds a year and occasionally other sums from my father's pocket, it cannot be said that he was off his hands. I also had once thought of becoming a sailor, for the sake of visiting foreign lands; but I had allowed the time to pass, and was now considered too old to go to sea. I then took a fancy for the army; but my father declared that he could not afford to purchase a commission for me, and I had no chance of getting one in any other way. I talked of the law; but when I heard of the dry books I should have to study, and the drier parchments over which I should have to pore, I shuddered at the thought, and hastily abandoned the idea.
My kind aunt, Honor Molloy,—the sister of my mother, who had been dead some years,—pathetically urged me to enter the church, in the hope, as she said, that that would keep me in the right way; but I honestly felt that the church was not my vocation, and that I was much more likely to go the wrong way if I assumed an office for which I was unfit. Then she proposed that I should become a doctor; but I declared that I hated physic, and could never bring myself to drug my fellow-creatures with stuff which I would not take myself. My father offered to try to get me into a government office, though he acknowledged that he had but slight interest with people in authority, and that I might have a long time to wait before I could obtain a satisfactory appointment. He suggested, in the meantime, that I might become a clerk in a mercantile house, and that I might one day become a partner; but that day seemed so very far off in the perspective, that I begged he would not trouble himself about the matter, deciding rather to seek for some government appointment, either at home or abroad.
"Well, Maurice, my boy, you'll become wiser as you grow older, and you'll be glad to accept the first offer made you," remarked my father.
He, however, immediately wrote to Dublin, to the only friend of the family who was likely to render us assistance. This was Councillor Roacharty, who in the course of a few days replied that he would do his best; but that his friend Maurice must put his impatience under lock and key until Ireland had her rights, and Irishmen ruled their green island home. As I confidently hoped that this happy event would soon be an accomplished fact, I was content; but my father was not so well satisfied as I was with the councillor's reply.
Meantime I shot, fished, hunted, and visited our neighbours, and was rapidly adopting the habits and customs of Irish squireens, when one day, returning home from shooting, just before dinner, I found my father deeply engaged in reading a foreign-looking letter. So absorbed was he in its contents that he did not perceive my entrance. Not wishing to disturb him, I retired to get rid of my muddy boots and leggings; and on my return, dinner was on the table. During the meal he was unusually silent, not even inquiring what sport I had had. Dinner over, he drew his chair to the fire, and I followed his example. Taking the letter I had before seen out of his pocket, he glanced it over, and then looking up at me, he said—
"Maurice, you'll be after wondering about the contents of this epistle. I have been thinking over it before telling you."
"I observed that you had received a letter," I answered. "I hope it contains no bad news."
"Faith, it is difficult to say whether it's good or bad," he replied. "You have heard me speak about your Uncle Nicholas, who went away many years ago to America, but of whose subsequent adventures, or whether he was alive or dead, I had obtained no certain tidings. This letter is from him. He tells me that after knocking about in various parts of the Union, he found his way to Florida, down south, where he married a Spanish lady, Donna Maria Dulce Gallostra, of ancient family, young and beautiful, and, what was of no small consequence, considering his own financial condition, the owner of a fine estate. She has blessed him with three children,—two daughters, Rita and Juanita, and a son, Carlos: the former take after him, and are regular Irish girls, fair and pretty, fond of riding, fishing, and boating, full of life and spirits; while the boy, Carlos, takes after his mother, being a dark-eyed, handsome little chap, but restive as an unbroken colt, and passionate in the extreme when roused,—for his mother has humoured and spoiled him until she has lost all control over the young rascal, so that he fancies he can rule the roost better than his parents. Your uncle describes the country as being in a somewhat disturbed condition. The Indians are greatly irritated, and even threaten the destruction of the whites, in consequence of the intention of the United States Government to drive them out of the country across the Mississippi. His own health has lately been giving way, and he is very anxious as to what would become of his wife and daughters in the event of his death. His wife, Donna Maria, he says, though a charming woman, has very little notion how to manage the estate, and his son is too young to help her, or to take care of himself; while his daughters, delightful young creatures as they are, do not appear to possess the requisite qualifications. Having lately seen my name in an Irish newspaper, and knowing from this that I had come back to the old place, he determined to write to me, to implore me, by the brotherly affection which always existed between us when we were together, to come out and take charge of his daughters, whom he proposes to leave to my care in his will. Carlos will, on the death of his mother, inherit the Florida estate, unless in the meantime the boy succumbs, which my brother fears is not improbable. In that case his daughters would come into possession of the property; but as it is not in a part of the country in which it is desirable that they should live, he has arranged for the sale of the estate on the death of their mother. The girls have had three or four years' schooling in Philadelphia, and have only lately returned to the south. Although they appear at present to enjoy the untrammelled life they lead, he thinks they will soon grow tired of it, and wish for a more civilised state of existence. He appeals to me so earnestly that I am unwilling to refuse his request; and he urges me to cross the Atlantic immediately, if I desire to be of service to him before he dies."
"Sure then, father, what could be easier than to take me with you!" I exclaimed. "I would help you, and look after my cousins; and I daresay Carlos and I would get on together very well. Besides, I should like to see Florida. I have heard something about the country—that there is no end of game and sport of all sorts to be had in it."
"Bless my heart, I never thought of that!" exclaimed my father. "Well, as it may be some time before you can possibly obtain employment, perhaps you could not do better than accompany me. There will be the additional expense; but your uncle generously offers to pay the cost of my voyage, and I shall see what funds I can raise. We'll leave old Molly in charge of the place till we return, so that there will not be the expense of housekeeping. As my brother urges me to come without delay, we will forthwith set about our preparations. I have been too long in a marching regiment to require many hours for getting ready."
I was delighted that my father had agreed to my proposal, and that he could not think of any other way to dispose of me. We talked the matter over until we settled that we should start for Dublin the next day if possible, and thence crossing to Liverpool, look out there for a vessel bound for one of the southern ports of the United States,—either Charleston or Savannah.
As soon as we had finished our talk, I jumped up and set about getting our traps in order.
"You're the boy not to let the grass grow under your feet," observed my father, well pleased at my alacrity.
Our first care was to look over our guns and sporting gear; the next, to put up such clothing as we thought we should require. My father then sent off for his agent; and I, meantime, wrote by his direction several letters of business.
While I was thus engaged, Tim Flanagan—an old follower of my father, who had served in his regiment, and on getting his discharge had come to live with us, uniting the offices of butler, groom, and general factotum—made his appearance, I having told him to come in as soon as his work was over.
"Tim, I'm thinking of running across to America for a few weeks, or months it may be, with Maurice here. I have not quite made up my mind how to find you employment. In the meantime, Molly will look after the house, and Dan Rafferty will mind the farm."
"Sure, if your honour's going to foreign lands, you wouldn't be afther leavin' me behind?" interrupted Tim. "An' the young masther going away too! Though there might be work enough for me, I had much rather be followin' you, capt'n, whether it's fighting or hunting you'd be afther. It isn't wages I want; so just let it be settled, if you plase, that I go with you and the young masther. I've heard say that there are Indians, rattlesnakes, and panthers, and all sorts of wild beasts out in them parts, an' he'll be wantin' a steady man to be at hand to help him; and sure Tim Flanagan's the right person to be following his masther's son. So just say the word, capt'n dear, an' I'll be ready to march the moment I get the route."
To my infinite satisfaction, my father answered, "If you wish it, Tim, you shall accompany us. In case anything should happen to me, I should be glad to think that Maurice had some one ready to stand by his side; and there's no human being to whom I would so readily intrust him as to you."
"It's mighty thankful I am to ye, capt'n; an' we'll be afther seeing about the baggage, and getting all things ready for the march."
Molly came in after Tim, and frequently applied her apron to her eyes, as my father went on to describe his plans. She was distressed at hearing of the illness of Master Nicholas, as she called my uncle, and at the thought of our going away.
"It's your honour and Mr. Maurice going off that grieves me," she said. "Sure, if you must go, you must. I'll not let the house go to ruin for want of dusting and cleaning, and looking afther the poultry and the pigs, and Dan Rafferty and the boys!"
Molly was much comforted when my father assured her that he could intrust the place to her care with perfect confidence.
In pretty good spirits she set to work to overhaul our wardrobe, and prepare everything for packing. There was little sleep for any of us that night; and the next morning, as soon as my father had made certain necessary arrangements with Mr. Nolan, the attorney, his agent, we started for Dublin by Bianconi's car, which passed our gate. Having settled some money matters, we visited Councillor Roacharty, who, with a bland smile, assured me that he would not forget my wishes during my absence. We then went on to Belfast, whence we crossed to Liverpool. Here, on our arrival, we immediately called on various shipping agents, and, much to our satisfaction, found that a vessel which was to sail that evening for Savannah had cabin accommodation for two or three additional passengers. A few hours after, we found ourselves again afloat on board the good ship Liberty, of four hundred tons, belonging to Liverpool, gliding down the Mersey with a fair breeze, which, we hoped, would carry us quickly across the Atlantic.
My father and Tim, who were old voyagers, lost no time in making themselves at home—the former with the captain, mates, and cabin passengers; the latter with the seamen and his companions in the steerage.
We had an assemblage of various nationalities. Almost every one on board was interested to some extent in the growth of cotton, the chief produce of Georgia, to the principal port of which we were bound. While we sat round the table at supper, the relative values of sea-island cotton and upland cotton, and the best modes of manufacturing sugar and tobacco, were the general subjects of conversation; but as I knew no more about these articles than I did of the cultivation of cloves and nutmegs, I could only sit and listen: though I was able to note the remarks of others, and tried to gain some idea of the character of the speakers. Two other persons were at first as silent as myself. One of them at length began to ask a few questions, speaking with a strong French accent. He appeared far more interested in what was said than the other. I heard him addressed as Monsieur Lejoillie. On inquiring about him from the gentleman who sat next me, he replied—
"What! don't you know him? If you had seen his luggage coming on board you would have guessed—cases of all sorts, mostly empty, except a few containing instruments and bottles. He is a great naturalist,—and, I may add, linguist, for I don't know how many languages he speaks. Not equal to our own Audubon, I guess, but a man of wonderful talent, notwithstanding. But, to confess the truth, I am not very well versed in the matters in which he excels."
This information impressed me with a due respect for Monsieur Lejoillie, and I hoped to become better acquainted with him before long.
A remark made by the hitherto silent personage on the subject of slavery, which caused many of the party to prick up their ears and cast angry looks at the speaker, showed me that he was a fellow-countryman.
I heard Monsieur Lejoillie say to him, in a low voice, "Hush, my young friend! Liberty, equality, and fraternity may be very fine things to talk about in the Old World; for being incompatible with our advanced state of civilisation, people can there afford to laugh at such notions. It is quite a different thing in the New World, where hostile races are brought close together; and I would advise you not to give expression to your opinions except among intimate friends, or they may prove inconvenient, if not dangerous to you."
"My heart burns with indignation when I think of the wrongs inflicted on those noble red men, the rightful inheritors of the soil, and on the down-trodden negroes, dragged from their native land to become the helpless slaves of arbitrary tyrants," answered the other.
"Hush, hush, my friend!" again repeated Monsieur Lejoillie. "Such words, just as they may be, are not suited to the atmosphere of the land for which we are bound. I entreat you not to let them pass your lips in mixed society, such as is here assembled."
Fortunately at this moment a warm discussion engaged the attention of most of the persons at table, who failed to hear the remarks made by my countryman, or the friendly advice given him by the naturalist. I saw that an old gentleman was seated near the former, a young lady only intervening. The old gentleman, who was listening to what was said, cast a look more of pity than of anger at the young man, but did not speak. The lady smiled, and said in a pleasant, sweet voice, "I would counsel you, Mr. Rochford, to follow the advice of Monsieur Lejoillie. There are some on board who would resent such remarks as you have made. You must pass some time among us before you can form a correct opinion as to the way the Indians or the slaves are treated. You may discover that the red men are not quite the heroes you suppose, and that the negroes are far better off with us than they would be in their own country."
"Faith! I cannot but desire to be guided by so fair an adviser," answered Rochford, in a rich Irish brogue, bowing as he spoke.
The next day, as we were sailing down the Channel, I spoke to my countryman, Maulins Rochford—for such I learned was his name—not letting him understand that I had overheard his remarks on the previous evening. When he found that I was a countryman, he became frank and communicative. He was two or three years older than myself. His appearance and manner were prepossessing, and we at once became intimate. He had lately, by the death of his parents, come into a small property; but instead of spending his time idly at home in hunting and shooting, as many in his position do, he was anxious to be of use to his fellow-creatures. Having but a limited knowledge of the subject, and no one to consult, he had taken it into his head that he might aid the red men in retaining their rights, and the slave population in obtaining theirs. He was warm-hearted and generous, and from his manner, I had little doubt, as brave as steel. By many he would have been looked upon as a crazy enthusiast or a dangerous character, for whom the walls of a prison or a mad-house would prove the safest abode. He, however, had the discretion to follow the advice he had received, and did not again in public broach the subject of Indian rights or the iniquity of slavery. They were, however, common subjects of conversation between us, and he almost won me over to his opinions. What he intended to do he did not say. Indeed, I found that he had no very definite plan of proceeding. Had I been by myself, I do not know how I might have acted, but I fortunately did not commit myself by promising to aid him in any of his schemes.
I found the old gentleman I have spoken of was Mr. Archelaus Shurtleff, a judge, whose residence was in Florida. The young lady, whom I at first supposed to be his daughter, was his wife. They had but one child, called Paul, a fine little fellow four or five years old, who happened to be with his black nurse in their cabin when I first saw them, and hence I did not discover my mistake until the next day. The kind old gentleman told my father and myself that he should be very happy to see us at his house, which was not far from that of my Uncle Nicholas, with whom he was well acquainted. My father replied that he would gladly pay him a visit, provided the state of his brother's health and spirits would allow him to do so.
"Sorry to hear that our friend Nicholas is ill," said the judge. "As to his spirits, he is over anxious about the state of the country. He is always apprehending an attack from the red men. It is a mistaken fancy of his. They'll never dare to interfere with the settlers. They know too well the fearful retribution that would overtake them."
The worthy judge and his wife, who appeared to have taken a liking for Rochford, had frequent conversations with him, and he told me that they had given him an invitation to their home, which he had gladly accepted.
"I hope that we shall meet there," I observed. "At all events, as we shall not be far away from each other, we may have some sport together, and kill no end of crocodiles, bears, deer, and other wild beasts and birds of all sorts."
I had expected that in crossing the Atlantic we should have encountered at least a gale or two of wind, and witnessed the sea foaming and roaring and running mountains high. Instead of this, with the exception of a little tossing and pitching for a week or two, we ran along over a smooth ocean, generally with a fair wind and delightful weather. Occasionally, when we were becalmed, the sun shone down on our heads, and sent us in search of every shady spot that could be found. Most of our companions were accustomed to a hotter atmosphere, which they told us we should find when we got on shore; but even they kept out of the rays of the sun as much as possible. When a breeze sprang up, we glided along with studding-sails on either side at the rate of some seven or eight knots an hour, and the look-out forward shouted, "A sail on the starboard bow!"
The captain remarked that, from the way she was standing, she would pass close to us. Most of the passengers on deck hurried across to look at the stranger. Rochford, who was seated on a coil of rope writing in his note-book, continued his occupation without moving.
Lejoillie, who had just come from the cuddy, sauntered along the deck towards him.
"What, my friend, are you inditing sonnets to your lady's eyebrow, or composing your first speech as president of your model republic?" he said in his bantering way.
"Whatever I am about, I am not fond of being interrupted," answered Rochford, looking up with a more angry glance than I had yet seen on his countenance.
"My dear friend," exclaimed Lejoillie, taking his hands out of his pockets and stepping forward, "I am sincerely sorry, and beg your pardon. I thought you would like to see yonder fine ship as she passes us. Happily the world is at peace, or I should fear she was an enemy, and had some intention of attacking the Liberty; neither can she be a pirate, as our captain does not endeavour to keep out of her way."
Rochford, quickly appeased, rose to look at the stranger. Instead, however, of crossing to where the rest of the passengers were standing, I saw him dart aft towards one of the ports, all of which had been left open to admit of a free current of air. At the same time, little Paul's black nurse, Rosa, uttering a wild shriek, fell to the deck. I guessed what had happened. The child had escaped from her arms, and running heedlessly away, had fallen overboard through the port. Rochford, who had seen the occurrence, without stopping for one instant, plunged in after him. I felt inclined to follow, but I distrusted my own powers of swimming. I had, however, what was of far more use, presence of mind to run aft and drop a grating, which was fortunately at hand, over the side, and shout out, at the top of my voice, "Man overboard!"
While some ladies gathered round the poor mother, who was almost frantic with grief, and others attended to the nurse, who had gone off in a swoon, the captain issued the necessary orders for shortening sail; for, with all the flying-kites set, it was impossible, until the canvas was taken off the ship, to bring her up to the wind.
The judge, in the meantime, retained his calmness and presence of mind in a wonderful manner. My father, Lejoillie, Tim Flanagan, and two or three others, made preparations, under the superintendence of the second mate, for lowering a boat, every man of the crew being required to shorten sail. The helm was put down, the yards braced up, and the ship quickly brought to the wind. I was going to assist in lowering the boat, when the captain called me aft, and told me to keep an eye on Mr. Rochford and the child.
Not having stopped to throw off his clothes, the moment he reached the water he struck out towards the boy, who had just risen after his first plunge: his head, I saw, was above the surface, and he had unconsciously turned on his back, stretching out his little arms for help. In another instant Rochford got up, and holding the child's face well out of the water, was evidently trying to dispel his fears; then looking round, he saw the grating, towards which he at once swam, and placed the child upon it. All this time the ship was, of course, running away from the spot, and gradually he and his little charge became less and less distinct. I saw, however, that he was holding on to the grating, which, I was thankful to see, perfectly supported the child. A very long time seemed to elapse before I heard the order to put the helm down, and I even fancied that the ship was running away altogether from where little Paul and Rochford were floating. But what was my horror just then to see a black fin come gliding by. On the previous day we had passed several huge monsters of the deep. What if the shark should discover our fellow-passenger! I longed to be able to shout out to him to keep his legs moving; but he could not have heard me, even if I had shouted ever so loudly, and by so doing I should have still further alarmed the judge and his poor wife. Had Rochford been seized, there would have been little hope of the child escaping.
The moment the ship was hove-to, having pointed out to the captain the exact position of those in the water, and being unable to restrain my eagerness, I sprang forward, and just had time to glide down the falls into the boat, which, under the charge of the mate, pulled by her crew, was shoving off.
"Glad you have come, sir," said the mate; "you can nurse the child when we get him into the boat."
"If we do," I said, and I pointed with a thrill of horror to the fin of the shark as its wicked eye glanced up at us. The fear seized me that it might follow the boat and discover Rochford. "I wish I had a pistol to shoot it!" I exclaimed.
Without answering, the mate seized the after oar and struck with all his force, the edge of the blade entering the water at the shark's back.
The brute disappeared, and, I trusted, had sunk far down into the depths of the ocean. Away we pulled as hard as the men could lay their backs to the oars, the appearance of the shark making them still more eager to get up to the assistance of the brave young man and the child. To my joy I saw, as I got closer, that little Paul was resting securely on the grating, while Rochford was striking out with his feet, and one of his hands being still at liberty.
"Bear a hand, friends!" he cried out. "Take the child on board first, and the sooner you help me in I'll be obliged to you. There are some ugly brutes cruising about here who have a mighty fancy for my legs."
The boat approached the grating. I leaned over to grasp the little boy as soon as I could reach him, and as I did so I heard the mate tell the men to keep striking the water with their oars.
We soon had Paul safe. Not until then would Rochford allow the crew to help him on board. He had a providential escape as it was, for scarcely were his feet well over the gunwale, when the brute of a shark shoved its hideous snout above the surface, getting, however, an ugly prick in the nose for his pains from a boat-hook.
Rochford was well-nigh exhausted; but owing to his courage and presence of mind, the child appeared very little the worse for its plunge. What would have been his fate, however, had the monster of a shark we saw been near at hand at the moment he fell overboard!
We were speedily alongside, and I had the satisfaction of handing the little boy to his parents. The poor mother was about to thank me, supposing that I had been the means of saving him; but I pointed to Rochford, who stood dripping wet on deck, as the man who had performed the gallant act.
The judge wrung his hand. "I thank you, sir! I thank you!" he exclaimed.
The mother burst into tears as she held the child to her heart; then taking Rochford's hand, she pressed it to her lips. The nurse, seeing the child was saved, quickly recovered, and exhibited her gratitude in even a more demonstrative way than her master and mistress.
I came in for a share of their thanks when they were informed that I had thrown the grating overboard which had contributed so much to save the lives both of the little boy and our friend.
Rochford having assured those who had collected round him to pay compliments, that he had really done nothing to deserve all the fine things that were said, dived below to change his wet garments. In a short time afterwards he appeared on deck as if nothing particular had happened.
As may be supposed, he became a greater favourite than ever with the judge and his wife; and even some of those who had before looked at him askance, acknowledged that he was a very fine fellow.
The ship was again put before the wind, and away she stood on her westward course.
Among those who looked upon Rochford as a hero was Tim Flanagan, who regarded his fellow-countryman with unbounded admiration, and declared himself ready to go through fire and water to serve him. Lejoillie had also taken a great liking to him, and they frequently walked the deck together, engaged in earnest conversation. Following the Frenchman's advice, Rochford had been very careful not again to express his political opinions in public, though he did not hesitate to talk freely to me, as I have no doubt he did to the naturalist.
He was thus generally liked, and with the ladies, especially, he became a great favourite. No one, indeed, would have considered him a dangerous character, if one had seen him, whenever he could get little Paul out of the black nurse's arms, carrying the child about and playing with him on deck, but taking very good care that he should not again slip through a port.
The weather continued brilliant; and the numerous sea-birds, which flitted high in the air or hovered round the ship, told us that we were nearing the end of our voyage.
FIRST SIGHT OF LAND—ON BOARD THE "GREAT ALEXANDER"—SCISSOR-BILLS— FLYING-FISH—OFF AMELIA ISLAND—SOMETHING ABOUT FLORIDA—INDIAN TREATIES—ROCHFORD'S DESIRE TO SERVE THE RED MEN—ENTRANCE TO SAINT JOHN RIVER—THE HAZARD LIGHTHOUSE—A GOOD CURE FOR INTEMPERANCE—SAINT JOHN BLUFF—A SAD HISTORY—A CHANGE OF WEATHER—THE STORM—A FLORIDA SWAMP—A SUCCESSFUL HUNT—SURPRISED BY INDIANS—PARTING WITH OUR NEW FRIENDS.
Early one morning I was taking a walk on deck with Rochford, when we heard a cry aloft of "Land! land!"
"Ere long, then, I shall have an opportunity of commencing the glorious task I have undertaken!" murmured my companion.
As he did not exactly address me, I made no reply. We immediately went up the fore-rigging, but could only see a long faint line, distinguished from the ocean and the sky by the difference of tint. It was the coast of Georgia, the eastern portion of which is but slightly elevated above the water, though a hilly region exists in the northern part of the State. It was not till some hours afterwards, when we were approaching the mouth of the river Savannah, that we could see the land clearly from the deck.
The passengers having packed up their personal property in their portmanteaus and carpet-bags, ready for landing, we collected on the poop. As I stood near the judge and his wife, who were seated on the skylight, their little boy, guarded watchfully by black Rosa, playing near them, I heard the former say to Rochford that, as he intended to charter a schooner to convey himself and family up the Saint John River, he begged to have the pleasure of Rochford's company on board.
"I purpose going on to Florida with Captain Kearney and his son and Monsieur Lejoillie; and as I cannot desert them, I regret that I am unable to take advantage of your kind offer," was the answer.
"Get them to come with us then," said the judge. "They can, if they wish it, pay a proper proportion of the expenses of the voyage; but I cannot allow you to do so. You must come under my wing, and you can join your friend Lejoillie whenever he starts on his proposed expedition in search of the wonders of our flowery land."
When the judge made the offer to my father and Lejoillie, they at once accepted it, both being anxious to reach Florida with as little delay as possible.
We ran up the river until we anchored, seventeen miles from its mouth, off the city of Savannah, built on a sandy expanse, and elevated about forty feet above the level of the tide. I have little to say about the city, except that it struck me as a fine place, many of the streets being wide and bordered with trees, and that it contains numerous churches, hospitals, stores, and other public buildings.
On landing, the judge immediately engaged a schooner, known by the high-sounding name of the Great Alexander. Her skipper's name was Ebenezer Crump. The craft was not unlike an Irish "hooker;" her great beam showed that she was likely to carry her canvas well. That very evening the judge and his family, my father, Tim, and I, accompanied by Rochford and Lejoillie, went on board, and dropped down the river with the tide, ready to sail the following morning.
We had plenty to amuse us. Crossing the bar at daybreak with a fair breeze, we ran along outside the line of islands which fringe the coast of Georgia, and which are devoted to the cultivation of "sea-island cotton." The water teemed with fish, and birds innumerable came flying round us. The most remarkable of the latter were the scissor-bills, with black plumage, which went skimming along the surface, scooping up with their long lower mandible any unwary mollusc or fish of small size which came within their reach, and uttering every instant loud and discordant cries. Lejoillie told us that they were of the gull tribe, about twenty inches in length. The peculiarity of their beak consists in the lower mandible being considerably longer than the other into which it shuts. It is of an orange-red at the base, and deepens into black at the tip. To prevent the water rushing into its throat as it skims the surface with its beak, the bird is provided with a very small gullet. When unable to procure food by the method we saw it employing, Lejoillie said that it frequents the sea-shore as the tide is ebbing, where, finding mollusca with open valves, it inserts the lower mandible of its beak so as to prevent the shell from shutting; and then dashing it down on a rock, breaks it, and devours the inhabitant.
We frequently caught sight, too, of the frigate-bird, with its long forked tail sweeping behind as it came swooping down on its prey, which its keen eyes enable it to see from afar.
More curious to those who, like myself, have never been in the tropics, were the coveys of flying-fish, which rose out of the water, and even darted to great distances before their fins became dry and they fell again into their native element. Lejoillie told us that there were two species, one much smaller than the other. The larger are somewhat like red gurnards, and are said to prey on their smaller cousins, which are also pursued by bonitos, albicores, and dolphins of various species, as well as by numerous sea-birds. Several times we saw a large covey of the smaller kind rise above the surface, followed closely by another of the larger species, when at the same moment a dozen sea-birds would descend, and, quick as lightning, a dolphin would dart by, intent on sharing the prey. Looking down through the clear blue water, we could see the beautiful dorados, of pure turquoise hue, as they darted here and there, keeping away from the vessel while they gambolled round her.
We kept so close in-shore, that we could sometimes through our glasses distinguish the scissor-bills standing on the beach, and, in the distance, the buildings attached to the long staple cotton plantations for which the low islands are celebrated.
At length we came in sight of a line of sand-hills, with palmetto, pine, and live-oak growing at their summits, while below was a glittering beach, stretching away to the south; and close in front, low banks, over which the white-crested breakers dashed with a fury which made us careful not to get amongst them. To the south was a headland, which our skipper informed us was the north end of Amelia Island. Close to the island was a river of the same name, which united with another stream, the Saint Mary; they together made their way over a bar into the ocean. Crossing the bar, we passed close under the old Spanish Fort Fernandina, and shortly after brought up off a modern city called after the fort, consisting of half a dozen huts. We were now actually in Florida.
Lejoillie shrugged his shoulders, Rochford looked very blank, and I felt not a little disappointed; until the judge told us that we had only reached the most northern extremity of the country. The sight of what might some day become a thriving place did not afford us a favourable specimen of the scenery of Florida. Though there was not much to admire in the city itself, we saw several country houses surrounded by trees; but we were told that the sea-beach on the eastern side of the island, to the extent of thirty miles, is beautifully level, and so hard as to afford a delightful drive or ride.
The schooner having discharged her cargo, we again sailed, steering our course for the mouth of the Saint John River, twenty miles off.
As many of those who read my journal may be unacquainted with Florida, they may like to have a short description of the country. First, as to how it came to be called Florida. It was so named, it is said, by the Spaniard, Ponce de Leon, the first European who landed on its shores on Palm Sunday, 1513, either in honour of the day—Pasqua Florida—or because, being struck by the number and beauty of the flowers which covered the ground, he denominated it Terra Florida, or the Flowery Land. In shape it somewhat resembles a boot. The northern portion, joined to Georgia, is about three hundred miles from east to west; while the rest of the peninsula, which may be likened to the leg, extending from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, is about one hundred miles across. On both shores are numerous islands and sand-banks. There are neither mountains nor hills even, the greater part of the country rising but a few feet above the level of the sea. It contains, however, a great many lakes and a few rivers. The largest of the latter—the Saint John River—rises far away in the south, frequently expanding during the early part of its course into broad lakes, and in some places closely approaching the Atlantic coast. The southern point of Florida reaches to within twenty-five degrees of the equator, so that the vegetation is of a tropical character. Alligators swarm in the streams and pools; flowering shrubs of rare beauty clothe the banks of every river; and birds innumerable inhabit the forests, lakes, islets sand-banks, and sea-coast.
At the time I speak of there were several forts, with small garrisons, scattered here and there, and a few huts and stores in their neighbourhood; but the white settlers generally were located on the Atlantic coast or on the banks of the Saint John; while over the rest of the country the Seminoles, a detached tribe of the Creeks, who inhabited Georgia, roamed at large.
"A short time ago," observed the judge, "the State of Georgia resolved to compel the Cherokees, the most civilised and most powerful of the Indian tribes, to abandon their territories, and remove to the western side of the Mississippi. Though they had written laws and an established government, the legislature of Georgia refused to allow them the rights of citizens, and passed a law, declaring 'that no Indian, or descendant of an Indian, residing within the Creek or Cherokee nations of Indians, shall be deemed a competent witness or party to any suit or in any court where a white man is defendant.'
"Notwithstanding this, the Cherokees still determined to remain on the land of their fathers; but when they found that the whole of the white settlers of Georgia were arrayed against them, knowing that ultimately they would be compelled to succumb, they accepted the offers of government, and agreed, provided they were allowed time, to part with their lands and to remove to the territories allotted to them. The Creeks, then a numerous tribe inhabiting the western portion of Georgia, followed the example of the Cherokees, and consented to remove westward, although great opposition was offered by many of the chiefs to this treaty with the white men.
"The government of the United States, having succeeded with these two tribes, came to the resolution to deal with the Seminoles in the same manner, and had already issued a notice to their chiefs, ordering them to make preparations for migrating westward.
"Such was the state of the country at the time of which I am speaking."
Rochford listened to the account given us by the judge, of which the above is only a brief outline. I observed his eyes flash, and the colour mount to his cheeks, but he restrained his feelings sufficiently to keep silence.
"I am more determined than ever to visit these ill-treated Indians, and endeavour, by some means or other, to serve them," he said to me afterwards, as we stood together at a distance from the rest of the party.
"Let me know when you go," I said; "for I should like to visit the red men in their native wilds, and learn their ways and customs."
"I will not fail if I have an opportunity," he answered. As Lejoillie joined us just then, he made no further remark.
In about three hours we were opposite some sand-hills and a lighthouse which mark the entrance to Saint John River; but as a long line of foam-covered breakers was rolling over the bar, our skipper ordered the sheets to be hauled aft, and we stood off, waiting until the tide had risen and we could pass with safety.
We had plenty of time to examine the lighthouse, which appeared to be entirely surrounded by the foaming sea. Many a gale it had stood, and being composed of solid masonry, it seemed capable of standing many more. Through our glasses we could distinguish a female form standing on the gallery. We inquired of the skipper who she was.
"She is the keeper's wife; they say she's not altogether right in her mind, so he brought her there, that she might be out of harm's way. My idea is, she was fond of the bottle; but as she's kept on short allowance out there, she is not likely to be the worse for liquor."
"Poor creature! what a terrible existence for her, to be compelled to live from month to month surrounded by water, without seeing any one except her husband and his mate!" observed the judge's wife.
"To my mind, marm, she's better off up there out of the way of temptation than she would be if left at home alone hankering after the grog bottle. Maybe by the time she gets ashore she'll be cured, and happier than she was before," observed the skipper.
After making several tacks in sight of the lighthouse, we again kept before the wind, and the skipper taking the helm, we dashed on boldly towards the line of foaming breakers. The water bubbled and hissed around us, sometimes leaping up and falling with a splash on our deck. The schooner sailed on, and in a few minutes we were gliding calmly up the Saint John River, here a mile broad. We kept to the south shore for some time, till we came to a cliff some twenty feet in height, covered at the summit with palmetto, pine, and cedar.
Lejoillie inquired of the skipper the name of the cliff, and was told it was called Saint John Bluff; upon which he looked at it with great interest.
"Ah! I thought so," he said; "it is the scene of the death of many of my compatriots. Have you not heard the story?"
"No," I replied; "I thought the Spaniards were the only Europeans who held possession of the country until it was taken from them by the English, and being afterwards restored, was sold to the United States."
"Ah! but I speak of some centuries ago, as far back as the year 1562. The brave Admiral Coligny wishing to found a settlement in the New World, where his co-religionists might be freed from the persecutions to which they were subjected, sent out a stout Breton navigator, Jean Ribaut, to search for a suitable spot.
"Entering the Saint John River, he fixed on yonder bluff, and, taking possession of it in the name of the King of France, he erected a stone to mark the site, and returned home with a favourable report. In a short time three ships were got ready to convey a large party of colonists, under the command of a Huguenot gentleman, Rene de Laudoniere. On their arrival in the river, the Huguenots built a fort, which they called Fort Caroline, and strengthened it by stockades, behind which they might be able to defend themselves against the Indians, who, ill-treated by the Spaniards, had learned to look upon all white men as their enemies.
"For many months the colonists were ill supplied with provisions, but hoping to receive them from home, they struggled on, though closely surrounded by hostile natives. At first they endeavoured to win over the red men; but, pressed by hunger, they made prisoners of some, whom they detained as hostages, threatening them with punishment if food were not brought to the camp. The Indians, resenting this treatment, informed the Spaniards of the state of the French settlement, when Pedro de Menendez, who was engaged in the colonisation of the West Indies, landed on the coast, some miles south of the River Saint John, at the head of a large band of ruffian troops. Guided by a party of the treacherous Indians, he and his band made their way through the forests, and fell suddenly, sword in hand, on the almost defenceless colonists. Not a human being who could be overtaken was allowed to escape; men, women, and children were ruthlessly slaughtered by Menendez and his savage followers. When the work was done, he set up a stone, on which he caused to be engraved, 'Not to Frenchmen, but to Lutherans and heretics.' Laudoniere, with a small party of followers, had been outside the fort when it was attacked. Getting down to the shore, they made their way on board a ship, one of a small squadron, under the command of Jean Ribaut, which had just arrived with new settlers and fresh provisions for the colony. The ship on board which the gallant Breton sailed had not reached the mouth of the river, but, encountering a storm, it had been thrown on shore some leagues farther to the south. Menendez, on hearing of this, immediately marched in search of the shipwrecked crew, numbering nearly one hundred men. Ribaut, on finding that Fort Caroline had fallen, agreed to surrender under a solemn promise from Menendez that his life and that of his companions would be spared. But no sooner had Ribaut and his party laid down their arms than they were set upon by the Spaniards, and slaughtered to a man. When Laudoniere and the surviving colonists returned to France and told their sad tale, most of their countrymen only shrugged their shoulders, declaring that it was a fate Huguenots well merited, and the government declined to take any steps to punish the murderers.
"The history of the cruel act, however, inspired a Breton gentleman, Dominic de Gourgue, with the desire of avenging the outrage committed on his co-religionists. He soon collected round him a small body of friends animated by his spirit; but as the government would have put a stop to the expedition, they kept it a secret, giving out when they sailed that they were bound for the coast of Africa.
"Menendez had, in the meantime, rebuilt Fort Caroline, and established a colony on the spot. On the arrival of De Gourgue in Florida, he made friends with some Indians, who, having been cruelly treated by the Spaniards, gladly welcomed him. Guided by his Indian friends, he made his way through the forests and swamps, just as Menendez had done three years before. The French, rushing on, surprised the fort, and put every Spaniard within it to the sword. This act of retribution accomplished, De Gourgue erected a monument, on which he inscribed the words, 'Not to Spaniards, but to robbers and murderers.' He then set sail for France, where he arrived in safety.
"Since that day my countrymen have made no attempt to colonise the country; and from the view we have had of it hitherto, I consider they have acted wisely."
I thought Monsieur Lejoillie's account very interesting; but I have since reflected that although De Gourgue's act of vengeance was sanctioned by the opinions of those days, it was utterly at variance with the spirit which should animate Christians, who profess to be guided by the precepts of the gospel.
After this the Spaniards made no attempt to rebuild Fort Caroline; and Saint Augustine, which was founded shortly after it some thirty miles farther south on the east coast, may therefore be considered the most ancient city on the American continent.
Not a vestige remains of Fort Caroline, which, probably being built of wood, soon fell into decay.
We continued our course west, up the broad river,—which has the appearance of an estuary, the country being flat and wooded on either side,—until, rounding a point, we began to steer due south, in the direction whence the river takes its rise, three hundred miles or so away.
Passing Cowford, near which now stands the very flourishing town of Jacksonville, then not in existence, we continued our course up the stream, here between two and three miles wide. We could see but little vegetation on the banks; but as we neared the shore, we saw that they were covered with forests of pine, live-oak, magnolia, and laurel, with occasional cypress swamps in the lower ground. The current was so sluggish that it impeded us very little; and as we made good way, the judge expressed a hope that we should reach his house—Roseville—early the next day. My uncle's estate was only a few miles farther on, and the judge invited us to go on shore at his house, and to proceed there by land; but as my father was anxious to see his brother, he thanked the judge, and got the skipper to undertake to convey us thus far in the schooner, which was afterwards to go on to Bluespring, the most southern settlement then existing on the river.
As night approached, the weather suddenly changed, dark clouds gathering in the sky. The thunder roared, the lightning flashed, and the wind blew with a force which threatened to drive the schooner on the tree-fringed shore. We shortened sail, and endeavoured to gain the eastern bank, where we might have anchored in comparative safety. The generally calm surface of the river was broken into foaming seas, which dashed up over us, while the schooner heeled over to the blast. Sometimes I thought that our voyage would end in our being carried to the bottom to become the food of alligators. Before, however, so undesirable a catastrophe happened, our skipper bore up and ran for a creek on the western shore, with the navigation of which he was fortunately acquainted. After tearing along for a few minutes before the wind, we saw by the fast waning light an opening in the trees, towards which we steered, the branches almost catching our rigging. After lowering every stitch of canvas, we ran on a short time longer, and, rounding a point, brought up in what had the appearance of a lagoon, under the lee of some tall trees. Darkness suddenly came down upon us,—such darkness as I had never before witnessed, making the flashes of lightning which darted through the air, and crackled among the cypress-trees, appear still more vivid. The thunder crashed louder than ever; the wind roared and howled through the forest. The judge's wife sat in her cabin, holding her boy in her arms and trying to quiet his alarm, while she herself retained her composure. Black Rosa, however, looked dreadfully frightened, and, crouching at the feet of her mistress, hid her eyes whenever a louder crash of thunder was heard.
We at length lay down, wrapped in our cloaks, in different parts of the vessel—on the top of the cargo, or wherever we could find room to stretch our legs—leaving the little cabin to the judge and his family. But what with cockroaches crawling over us, and the mosquitoes buzzing round our ears and running their sharp stings into our flesh, sleep appeared out of the question. However, I at length did close my eyes.
When I awoke I went on deck. The storm had passed away. Not a breath of air ruffled the surface of the lagoon, or stirred the boughs of the surrounding trees,—among which were cypresses, live-oak, water-oak, the cabbage-palm, and many others, festooned with wreaths of the gorgeous trumpet-flower of crimson hue, wild-vines, and parasites innumerable; while a short way off I could distinguish a meadow of tall grass or reeds a dozen feet in height at least. All nature seemed alive. Numberless birds, many of large size, flew through the air or waded on the banks. Among them were the black and white wood-ibis, which appeared in large flocks from among the branches of the trees; there were blue herons, snow-herons, pelicans, and cranes. Ever and anon an osprey could be seen darting into the water, to rise with a fish in his claws, which he was quickly compelled by the baldheaded eagle to drop. This true pirate of the air, soaring above on the look-out to deprive the weaker bird of its prey, generally seized it before it reached the water. Here and there, among the water-lilies, I caught sight of a happy family of small alligators, waiting for an opportunity to lay hold of the legs of some of the waders, who were, however, too cautious to be so entrapped.
While I was watching, a herd of deer, headed by a fine stag with branching horns, came down to the water to drink. The sight excited my sporting propensities; and rousing my father, Lejoillie, and Rochford, I proposed that we should borrow the schooner's boat, and try to get a shot at them. The skipper, who had turned out of his bunk forward, consented to lend it, but advised us to look sharp, as, should a breeze spring up, he would sail immediately. Rochford, though the best sportsman of the party, as he shortly afterwards proved, declined to come. Tim and I took the oars, while my father and Lejoillie held their rifles ready to fire, as soon as we got near enough.
On leaving the schooner we kept close to the bank, so that we might approach the deer without being observed. "We should be afther keeping to windward; but when there is no wind, sure it's a difficult matter to say which side to pull," whispered Tim to me.
We selected the side from which a point projected thickly covered with long grass; and on rounding it, we expected to be close to where the deer were standing. We roused numberless water-fowl, many of magnificent plumage; and I saw Lejoillie lift his rifle, as if inclined to fire.
"If you do, we shall miss the deer, to a certainty," observed my father. "The birds will stay for us until we come back, so that we can bag them by-and-by."
I kept my rifle by my side, ready for service. We rowed on, now and then knocking a young alligator on the nose as he popped his ugly head out of the water to have a look at us.
"Faith it isn't a place I'd like to be capsized in," observed Tim in a low whisper.
At length we got close to the end of the point. "Now, give way, boys," said my father; and we pulled round it as quickly as we could.
In another instant we were face to face with the deer, not thirty yards away from us. I drew in my oars. The herd gazed at the boat a few moments, giving us time to take a steady aim. My father hit the buck; and the same instant I shot a doe, which had turned to fly, but dropped before she had got many paces. Lejoillie wounded another; but, notwithstanding, the animal went off with the rest of the herd.
Tim and I having resumed our oars, we pulled in to secure our prey. Rushing in among the reeds, we sprang on shore, and quickly put out of suffering the deer which had first fallen. Not to lose time, we carried it to the boat, that it might be cut up on board. We were returning for the other, when a number of figures, bursting out of the forest, rushed towards us; some running to intercept the deer wounded by Lejoillie, others bounding along in the direction of the one I had shot. A glance showed us that they were red men, with feathers in their hair, their leathern dresses ornamented with coloured beads and cloth.
"Shove off!" cried my father. "These fellows don't look very friendly; and it will be as well to be out of their reach, until we see what temper they are in."
Doing as he directed, we pulled the boat a short distance away from the shore, when the Indians, lifting the deer, carried it off, casting a look of triumph behind them.
"Sure, that's pretty impudent, to carry off our game before our very eyes!" exclaimed Tim. "You'll be afther shootin' them, captain, won't you?"
"I should certainly be sorry to shed blood for a deer," answered my father; "but we will show them that they do not escape from our want of the means to punish them." And lifting the rifle he had just reloaded, he sent a shot which struck a tree a considerable distance beyond the Indians. Observing it, they redoubled their speed, and were soon beyond our reach. We had, however, secured one deer, which would afford us more venison than we could use.
On our return, Lejoillie shot a number of birds of various species, being highly satisfied with his morning's sport. Disregarding the neighbourhood of the Indians, he set up the birds on reaching the schooner, and began drawing them as rapidly as he could.
The judge seemed greatly surprised at the appearance of the Indians, and their behaviour. "I thought that they had all beat a retreat from this part of the country," he observed. "It is fortunate that they did not catch you, for they are treacherous fellows, and would probably have taken your scalps, as well as your rifles and ammunition; and if they could have got hold of the boat, they would have boarded the Great Alexander, and to a certainty put us all to death."
Mrs. Shurtleff looked dreadfully frightened, and hugged her boy as the judge spoke.
"I cannot believe that the noble Indians would have been guilty of so barbarous an act," exclaimed Rochford. "They probably considered the deer their own, and that they were justified in carrying it off."
"Wait, my dear sir, till you have seen more of these red-skinned gentlemen before you pronounce an opinion," said the judge; and Rochford was silent.
We lost no time in cutting up the deer, and had some of the venison steaks for breakfast. Soon after, a light breeze enabled us to get clear of the creek, and once more to continue our course up the main stream.
The judge talked a good deal about the Indians. "The Redskins require to be kept in order," he remarked. "They will not, however, dare to face white men who show a bold front, as our settlers are sure to do if attacked." I did not forget the judge's remarks. Before long we were to have fearful proof of the mistaken character of his views.
It was some time past noon when we came in sight of several huts or shanties scattered along the shore, with a store or two, a chapel of unpretending architecture, and a few other public buildings, which the judge pointed out as the commencement of a city. Soon afterwards, running into a small bay, we hove-to before a house of superior pretensions, with a veranda round it, backed by an orange grove, a vegetable garden and orchard on one side, and plantations of various sorts on the other. It was the judge's home. He warmly pressed my father and me to accompany him on shore, Rochford and Lejoillie having accepted the invitation he had given them. But my father, eager, as I before remarked, to reach my uncle's house, declined promising, however, if possible, to visit him on a future day.
FIRST VIEW OF MY UNCLE'S HOUSE—THE LANDING—MY COUSINS—WE ARE SHOWN OVER CASTLE KEARNEY—IN THE ORANGE GROVE—A PLEASANT WALK—MY UNCLE'S HEALTH—PROPOSED VISIT TO JUDGE SHURTLEFF—A FLORIDA HUMMOCK—RITA AND THE PUMA—A TIMELY SHOT—CAPTAIN NORTON—SHALL WE TURN BACK?—ARRIVAL AND RECEPTION AT ROSEVILLE—THE JUDGE ON INDIAN TROUBLES—THE CHIEF INN OF THE SETTLEMENT—CAPTAIN NORTON AND THE BLACK—AN AGREEABLE EVENING—A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE.
"There's where Nicholas Kearney lives," observed the skipper, pointing to a small island off the left bank of the river, towards which we were steering. "I'll send the boat on shore, gentlemen, with you and your traps, and will heave the schooner to until she returns. As we shall be up to the spot in a short time, the sooner you are ready the better."
I looked eagerly ahead, but at first could distinguish only a wood of cabbage-palms and pines towering above the shrubbery of magnolias and laurels. As we got nearer, I caught sight of the roof of a house on the inner side of the island. We had enough to do, however, in getting our traps into the boat, which was hauled up alongside. The schooner was hove-to, and two blacks stepping in to pull, we wished the skipper farewell, and shoved off.
"I trust you may find your brother better than you expect, captain," he said, as he waved his hand.
We had some little distance to go, as we had to row to the western or inner side of the island, where the captain told us we should find the only landing-place. As we approached, our astonishment was considerable on seeing the style of house inhabited by my uncle and his family. It was a building of considerable pretensions, erected on piles close to the edge of the water, above which it rose with a somewhat sombre and gloomy aspect. Not a window could be seen on the lower story, and the only entrance, which had the appearance of a gateway, with a portcullis, looked towards the mainland, to which access was obtained by a drawbridge, lowered and raised by two heavy chains. A broad veranda ran round the building above the ground-floor, on which the windows, unusually narrow, opened. From the part of the veranda above the entrance of the gate, projected the muzzles of two ship's guns, commanding the approach to the house on the opposite side. The windows of the upper story were exceedingly small, and seemed intended to serve as loopholes for musketry, as well as to afford light to the rooms. The building was entirely surrounded by a strong palisade of stout timber; and besides this, there was, along the edge of the water, an outer line of defence of the same character, pierced here and there with loopholes. Altogether, it had the appearance of a regular fortress of the olden days; though, if attacked by an enemy possessing cannon, it could not have afforded protection to its garrison for a single hour. But it was well calculated to resist an attack from Indians, even if armed with musketry.
"How are we to get in?" asked my father. "Stop, massa cap'n, me holloa," said one of the rowers. "Hi dare, Pedro Manoel, one ob you niggers dare. Some gen'lemen come to see padrone; hurry up an' let dem in."
Instead of a black, a youth appeared on the balcony with a rifle in his hand; but seeing us, he waved his hand, and quickly disappeared.
In a short time a small wicket in the palisade, which we had not before noticed, was opened, and the same youth appeared, and pointed to some steps by which we could reach it.
"Who are you?" he asked, as we got up.
"My son and I have come to visit my brother, Nicholas Kearney," said my father.
"What! are you Uncle Michael, to whom my father wrote some time back?" exclaimed the youth. "He'll be very glad to see you, for he has been doubting whether you would come." And the speaker, who was, as I rightly conjectured, my cousin Carlos, turning round, shouted up a passage, when several blacks came rushing down, and forthwith began assisting Tim and me in landing our traps.
Dismissing the boat with a present to the crew, we followed Carlos up the dark passage which led into the interior of the building. On reaching the upper floor, we had abundance of light.
"I'll tell my father of your arrival," said Carlos. "It might agitate him too much if you walked in without being announced. In the meantime, you will find my mother and sisters in yonder room. As the windows look up the river, they did not perceive your arrival.—Go and tell the ladies that Captain Kearney and his son have arrived," said Carlos to one of the blacks, who appeared to be a butler or major-domo.
By this time I had been able to observe my young cousin. His figure was small but well built, his features regular, his complexion and black hair showing his Spanish descent. He seemed to be wonderfully self-possessed, and his manners were those, as far as I could judge, of a well-bred young gentleman. That Carlos might have time to prepare Uncle Nicholas for our arrival, we followed the servant into the sitting-room.
"Who do you say?" asked a voice in Spanish, as the black announced us.
The man had time to repeat what he had said before we advanced. On entering the room we saw three ladies, the eldest one with a spinning-wheel by her side, the other two, evidently my young cousins, busily plying their needles.
On hearing our names, the two girls, jumping from their seats, hurried forward to meet us, exclaiming, "Uncle Michael!—Cousin Maurice!" and as they did so, they presented their fair cheeks to be kissed.
The elderly lady rose more leisurely, and with stately politeness welcomed us to Castle Kearney. "My husband will indeed rejoice to see you," she said in very good English. "He has been a sad invalid for a long time, and keeps much to his own room. He told us that he had written to you, and was sure that you would come if you were able, so that we had begun to look out for your arrival, though we scarcely expected that you could reach us so soon. He is full of anxiety about the present and future of the country, which, owing to the warlike character of the natives, he considers to be in a more alarming condition than most settlers will allow; hence the fortified state of our dwelling-house, with which you must have been struck as you approached."
My father replied that he considered his brother had shown wisdom in protecting his family against any attack which might be made on the house by the Indians. He then explained how we had been fortunate in finding a vessel sailing for Savannah, and had come on without a moment's delay. My cousins and I were soon engaged in a lively conversation, they rapidly asking questions which I had to answer.
On hearing that Judge Shurtleff and his wife and little boy had returned, they both declared that they must, as soon as possible, go and pay a visit to the lady, who was a great friend of theirs, though Juanita said that she could not admire her taste in marrying the old judge.
"But then she has such a charming little boy; he is a great pet of ours," exclaimed Rita.
When I told her how nearly he had been lost, and how Rochford had leaped overboard to save him, she exclaimed—
"Oh, I should so like to see your friend! He must be a fine fellow."
"What if he were a little hump-backed man, with one eye?" I observed, laughing. "Still the gallantry he displayed would be the same, and probably he would have run still greater risk of being drowned. However, as he is staying with the judge, you will be able to form an opinion about him if you go over to see your friends."
The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of Carlos to summon us to his father's room. My uncle, who had risen from a network hammock in which he had been reclining, stretched out both his hands, and grasping those of my father, exclaimed as he looked him in the face—
"I knew, Michael, that we loved each other as boys, and that age would not diminish your affection more than it has mine. Your coming proves that I was right; and I thank you, I thank you." As he spoke, he threw his arms round his brother's neck and burst into tears.
My father then introduced me to my uncle, who gave me an affectionate reception. In a short time Carlos returned, and invited me to come with him, which I gladly did, that I might leave the two brothers to themselves.
"Would you like to inspect our castle, and see my guns, and dogs, and fishing-tackle? Or do you wish to go back to the girls, to whom you appear to have had plenty to say just now when I interrupted you?"
He spoke in a somewhat sarcastic tone, which I did not altogether like.
"I shall be happy to return to the young ladies if you think they wish it," I answered.
"Oh, of course; they cannot fail to be delighted with a young gentleman who can give them all the news of the old country," he answered, leading the way back to the drawing-room.
"Here, girls, Cousin Maurice puts himself at your disposal; talk away as long as you like, and when you have done with him send for me. I in the meantime have matters of importance to attend to." Having made this remark, he hurried out of the room with an air which made me much inclined to laugh. My fair cousins, however, did not appear to notice the style of his exit, and talked on as before, asking all sorts of questions, and answering those I put to them. My aunt spoke little; indeed, I was struck with her reserved manner and melancholy expression of countenance. After a time Carlos returned.
"Well, are you now inclined to take a stroll round our castle and grounds?" he said.
"With much pleasure," I replied.
"We'll go too," exclaimed the young ladies together; and each putting on a large straw hat which lay near them, they accompanied us.
Carlos led the way with the air of a person who considers himself master of the house. He first showed me the various rooms, which opened into a broad passage, and then going into the veranda, he pointed out how completely it commanded the approaches to the house on every side.
"You see these two guns, and you observe that we can wheel them round to any point which may be attacked. Not that I, for my part, believe the Redskins will ever venture to come near us."
The house, I saw, was built on a point, so that, except on one side, it was surrounded by water. The upper floor to which he conducted us contained several rooms. The roof, however, was low, the windows narrow, and so placed that musketry could be fired from them in all directions, or missiles could also be showered down on the heads of any assailants who might reach the gallery below. The rooms were furnished in a way suitable to the climate, and wore an air of neatness and comfort. Two of them, I guessed, from their appearance, belonged to my fair cousins; while another, the walls of which were ornamented with guns and pistols, swords, bows and other Indian weapons, Carlos told me was his.
At the back of the house were outbuildings and huts, in which the blacks on the property lived; and the whole of the rest of the island was occupied by an orange grove and garden, in which grew a great variety of vegetables.
"Now you must come down and see the lower regions of our castle," said Carlos, descending the steps.
The ground-floor had but a few strongly-barred windows, opening on the water, which we had not observed on approaching, and a single door into the back of the house. There was a kitchen of large size on one side, and on the other the rooms of the domestics.
"We are not without our dungeon," said Carlos, striking his hand against a strongly-barred door. "A captive would find it a difficult task to get out of this, and it has safely held more than one in its time."
"As soon as Maurice is satisfied with a sight of this gloomy place, I hope that he will come and see the garden," exclaimed Rita, I of course said, "Yes."
Two fine dogs, whose kennels were near the entrance, came up, wagging their tails, and rubbing their noses against my legs, as if to know me again. A short distance to the right were some open sheds serving as stables, in which were several stout horses, generally called mustangs in that part of the world. The girls said that they and their brother frequently rode out on horseback, but that of late they were not allowed to go far from home. Passing the huts of the slaves, which for economy of space were huddled close to the stables, we entered the orange grove. It was the first I had been in. In all directions ran small aqueducts formed of bamboo, so that the ground might be easily irrigated. The water, my cousins told me, was let on every evening, and while we were there, we saw it trickling along the miniature canals, and almost instantly the flowers gave forth the most delicious perfume.
"That's what the Spaniards call 'returning thanks,'" observed Juanita. "It is a pretty idea, is it not?"
Carlos, fancying that I took more pleasure in the society of his sisters, left us, and I had a pleasant stroll round the whole island with my cousins. They showed me that the wild trees I had seen coming up the river were left there merely as a protection to the garden, and I saw that the stockades which surrounded the island were so placed as to prevent any persons landing, and might serve also as an outer fortification to the castle. When we returned to the house, we found supper prepared, and my uncle, accompanied by my father, entered the room.
"Why, papa, you are already better for Uncle Michael's coming," said Rita, giving him a kiss.
"I feel so," answered Uncle Nicholas. "I hope, before long, to be myself again, and be able to show him and Maurice some of the wonders of the country."
The young ladies, mentioning the arrival of the judge, begged permission to ride over the next morning to pay their friend his wife and little Paul a visit.
"You need have no fear of Indians," observed Carlos; "for it is said that the few families which occasionally visited this neighbourhood have moved away west, having probably made up their minds to accept the offers of the government and vacate the country."
When I mentioned our encounter with the Indians in the lagoon, he replied that they were probably a party of hunters who considered that they had a better right to the deer than we had, and that, notwithstanding the apprehensions of the old judge, they would not likely have molested us; besides which, as the place was a long way off, we should certainly not meet with them on our contemplated excursion. Though my uncle at first offered some objections to the proposal, he ultimately gave his daughters permission to make the excursion.
Tim came into my room before he went to bed, and expressed himself as highly satisfied with his quarters.
"Sure, it's a fine place, Mr. Maurice,—a regular castle. The drawbridge is raised and the portcullis closed, so that a thieving Redskin would find it a hard matter to make his way in. From what I hear, it is not unlikely that before long they'll be trying to drive the whites out of the country."
"I heard very differently at supper," I observed. "My uncle is satisfied they are peaceably disposed, and that there will be no more trouble about them."
"That's because he gets his knowledge from the whites, Mr. Maurice. The nigger boys know more of what's going on than they do."
After breakfast next morning we set out on our expedition. Carlos had provided me with a pony like those he and his sisters rode. We were accompanied by Toby, a black boy, who went to hold the horses and make himself useful in any other way, and by Tim, who carried a rifle. I took mine, and Carlos said that he never went out without a brace of pistols and a fowling-piece.
The ground in the immediate neighbourhood of Castle Kearney was part of my uncle's property, and was well cultivated; but we very soon got into the primeval forests, where the woodman's axe had been employed only in cutting a path along which baggage animals could proceed in single file. The trees were mostly live-oak or pine, amid which grew magnolias and laurels. The ground was very uneven, though from the river it looked level. We had to cross what is called a hummock, which was in reality a depression, but not low enough to be swampy. Here grew huge cabbage-palms, cotton-trees, and scarlet maples, with a dense undergrowth of sumach, hydrangeas, azaleas, and many other shrubs; while from the branches hung in profusion wild-vines, convolvuli of many colours, and numerous other parasites. The path was so narrow, that although we had previously contrived to ride two abreast, we were now obliged to allow one to go before the other. Rita, with whom I had been riding, whipping on her pony, dashed forward, exclaiming,—"I am in my native land; it is my duty to show you the way, Maurice."
Several trees had fallen over the path, which was exceedingly rough. Her little mustang leaped them, however, with wonderful activity, and mine followed. She had got some distance ahead, when suddenly I heard her utter a cry; her pony stopped short; I saw her clasp her hands as if paralysed with fear. She had cause for alarm. Not five paces off, crawling along the top of a bank, was a huge puma, apparently about to spring upon her. In another instant the monster might have seized her in its paws and carried her into the jungle, where none of us could have followed. I shouted to try and frighten the brute, and endeavoured in the meantime to unsling my rifle; but my pony, alarmed, endeavoured to turn round, and I was compelled to handle my rein to make him go forward: indeed, it would have been difficult to fire without a fearful risk of injuring my cousin. While I was endeavouring to make my horse move forward, and at the same time to unsling my rifle, expecting every moment to see the puma make its fatal spring, I heard a shot, and the animal, leaping into the air, fell over dead close to the pony's feet. On looking round, I saw that it was a stranger on horseback who had fired the shot.
I made my way up to Rita's side, for I thought she would have fallen, but she quickly recovered herself.
"I was in a dreadful fright, Maurice," she said; "but you saved me from the creature's claws by your timely shot."
"No, it was that person out there," I said, pointing to the stranger, who now, leaping over the fallen trunks, joined us close to where the puma lay.
He bowed politely to Rita, and I now saw by his uniform that he was a military officer. Of course, I thanked him, as did my cousin. On the rest of the party coming up, they joined us in expressing our gratitude.
He laughed as he answered, "I should have been glad to have killed the beast at all events, so pray don't thank me. Let me ask where you are going. I don't think it prudent for ladies to be riding through the country without a large escort."
On hearing that we were going to the judge's, he advised us to hasten on, saying that he was going in the same direction, and would be happy to accompany us. He introduced himself as Captain Norton, and told us that he had received information that a band of Indians was in the neighbourhood, and that he was about to collect a party of volunteers to defend the settlement should they exhibit any hostile intentions. Hearing this, I proposed to Carlos to return; but he was of opinion that as we had already performed three-fourths of the distance, we should proceed to the settlement, observing that there were plenty of people to defend Castle Kearney, that a sharp look-out was always kept there, and that it was very improbable that the Indians, even if they were intent on mischief, would venture to attack it.
Captain Norton agreed with Carlos; and as Rita had now recovered from her fright, we continued our course as before.
Getting clear of the hummock, we were now in more open ground. In a short time a hut came in sight, then another and another, and we found that we were in the suburbs of Roseville. The huts varied in character, though most were of the roughest description. Some were built of logs placed horizontally one upon another, others were frame erections covered with boards; very few were of a more substantial character. At last several edifices of superior architectural pretensions, having two stories and broad verandas on all the sides, and surrounded by gardens and orchards, came into view.
Captain Norton parted from us at the outskirts of the settlement, saying that he should have to call officially on the judge, and hoped to hear that Miss Kearney had not suffered any ill effects from the alarm she had experienced.
"You need be under no apprehensions on that score, captain," said Rita, laughing; "I am quite myself again, though none the less grateful to you for having saved me from the claws of that hideous creature."
The judge was pacing up and down the broad veranda surrounding his house, while little Paul, with a hobby-horse between his legs, was trotting about, watched over by black Rosa. The judge waved his hand while he shouted indoors to his wife, "Marian, Marian, here come our friends from Castle Kearney." Then taking hold of Master Paul's hand, he ordered Rosa to call the boys to look after the horses.
Mrs. Shurtleff quickly made her appearance, and she and her husband greeted the young ladies as they ran up the steps, and gave Carlos and me a cordial welcome. When the judge heard of Rita's narrow escape, he exclaimed—
"We must have a broad road cut through that hummock. It will not be safe to traverse until that's done. We are all deeply indebted to Captain Norton for his timely shot, and I shall be happy to make his acquaintance if he comes here."
We inquired for Rochford and Lejoillie.
"They went away at daybreak into the forest—the one bent on slaughtering game, the other on collecting objects of natural history. A clever fellow is that Frenchman, and I have begged him to remain here as long as he can find subjects for scientific research," he answered.
When we told him the object of Captain Norton's visit to Roseville, he laughed, and replied—
"I don't believe the Indians will venture near the place; they know too well the effect of our fellows' rifles. Since I came home, I find that a treaty has been entered into with them. The meeting took place at Payne's Landing, on the Ocklawaha River, and they have agreed, in the course of a few months, to move westward across the Mississippi, where the Creeks and Cherokees are also about to migrate; so that we shall, in a short time, I hope, see the end of all these Indian troubles."
We found that the judge had business to attend to, and Carlos suggested that we should take a stroll through the settlement. We had got some little distance, when my companion pointed out, with a laugh, the chief inn of the place, in front of which, nailed to a tree, hung the sign of "The General Washington." It was a weather-boarded shanty, fixed up in an open space between several trees, which the builder had not thought it worth while to cut down. From the boughs hung several cages full of birds, while a number of hideous little mongrel dogs ran about, attended by a black boy, who sat on the steps, apparently having nothing else to do than to scratch his woolly pate. As we approached, Captain Norton rode up, and calling to the boy, directed him to summon his master.
"What you want him for, massa cap'n?" asked the black.
"I tell you to call him," answered the captain.
"Him fast 'sleep in him hammock now. No want to be 'sturbed."
"Go and call him, whether he is asleep or awake," said the captain, getting angry.
Just then a person, who I had no doubt was "mine host," appeared at the door, though as unlike my notion of what a landlord should be as possible.
"Wal, cap'n, what do you want?" he asked.
"I am sent to require you, and all able-bodied men to turn out armed, for the defence of the country, and of this settlement in particular, against the Redskins, who, we have information, are approaching the place with the intention of attacking it."
"I guess though we'll soon put them to the right about," answered mine host. "Won't you step in and liquor?"
The officer excused himself, and having mentioned the spot where the volunteers were to rendezvous, he turned his horse and rode towards us. We asked him what success he had had in obtaining recruits.
"Those living on the outskirts are willing enough," he said; "but some of those whose houses are near the river, and who believe that the Indians will not molest them, are less inclined to turn out."
As our new friend had to hurry on, we parted with him; but he promised to call at the judge's in the evening.
Wherever we went, we found people talking about the supposed approach of the Indians, though no one seemed to think there was much chance of their attacking the settlement. We hoped, on getting back, to find Rochford and Lejoillie; but they had not returned. Soon afterwards, Captain Norton came in, and the judge and Mrs. Shurtleff, by their kind reception, at once made him feel at home. He appeared to be much struck with my cousins, and I heard him observe to the judge's wife that he was not aware such charming young ladies were to be found in that part of the country. Rita was, at all events, well pleased to listen to his conversation, which was lively and sensible.
Late in the evening Lejoillie arrived, guided by a black whom he had engaged for the purpose. He had lost sight, he said, of Rochford, and though he had hunted about in every direction, he could not rejoin him. He hoped, however, that he would before long find his way home.
Latterly we became somewhat uneasy at the non-appearance of our countryman. Could he possibly have fallen into the hands of Indians? If so, anxious as he was to serve them, they, ignorant of this, would kill and scalp him as certainly as they would any other white man.
The night passed on. The judge sent us to our sleeping-rooms, saying that he would have a watch kept to let our friend in, should he appear. The captain had, I found, also sent out scouts, to prevent the risk of the settlement being surprised; and before he turned in, he rode round, to ascertain that they were on the alert.
ROCHFORD'S DISAPPEARANCE—ORGANISING A SEARCHING PARTY—MUSTER OF THE ROSEVILLE VOLUNTEERS—THE START—A PINE-BARREN—THROUGH HUMMOCKS, SWAMPS, AND FORESTS—A MID-DAY HALT—THE ALARM—STRANGE BEHAVIOUR OF OUR PARTY—RECOVERY FROM THE PANIC—SCOUTS—ROCHFORD AND THE NATIVE CHIEF— THE RETURN TO ROSEVILLE—AN INTRODUCTION TO THE JUDGE—OUR NATIVE GUEST—HIS STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE—WHAT CAPTAIN NORTON KNEW ABOUT HIM—A PLEASANT DISCOVERY—RUMOURS OF INDIAN OUTRAGES—HUNTING EXPEDITION— ROCHFORD AND JUANITA—GOOD EXCUSES—AN INCIDENT IN THE ORANGERY—CUBAN BLOOD-HOUND—AN OCELOT—A SUCCESSFUL DAY—ROCHFORD AGAIN GOES OFF— SEARCH FOR HIM—A NOTE OF EXPLANATION RECEIVED—RETURN HOME.
When I awoke in the morning, I sincerely hoped to find that Rochford had returned; but on inquiry I was told that he had not made his appearance, nor had any news been received of him. Lejoillie, who had taken a great liking to him, became more and more anxious, especially when he heard that Indians were in the neighbourhood.
"I have no wish to lose my scalp, even for the sake of science; and it will be a great disappointment to me if I am unable to continue my travels through the country," he remarked.