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Down South or Yacht Adventure in Florida

 

CHAPTER I.

MAKING A FLORIDA PORT.

"That's it, as true as you live, Captain Alick!" exclaimed Bob Washburn, the mate of the Sylvania, as he dropped the spy-glass from his right eye. "Your dead-reckoning was correct every time."

"I have no doubt you are right, Washburn," I replied, referring to an open volume that lay on the shelf under the forward windows of the pilot-house. "'A square tower, painted white, sixty-eight feet above the sea,'" I continued, reading from the Coast Pilot. "But there is another tower, more than twice that height. Ah, here is a note in pencil I made: 'The government has built a new tower, one hundred and sixty feet high.'"

"That must be St. Augustine Light: there can be no possible doubt of it. It fits the description; and that is exactly where we ought to find it," added the mate.

The Sylvania had been on a ten weeks' cruise to Nassau, Havana, and the Bermuda Islands. In Havana we had been startled by the report of a few cases of yellow fever, and we had hastily departed for the Bermudas, where we had cruised by sea and journeyed by land for a month. The steam-yacht was now on her return to Florida. The weather had been thick and rainy, and for the last two days I had failed to obtain an observation. But we had heaved the log every two hours, though there was rarely a variation of half a knot from our regular speed. We had made careful calculations and allowances for the current of the Gulf Stream, and the result was that we came out right when we made the Florida coast.

We had two sets of instruments on board; and Washburn and myself had each made an independent observation, when the sky was clear enough to permit us to do so, and had ciphered out the latitude and longitude. We had also figured up the dead-reckoning separately, as much for practice as to avoid mistakes. We had varied a little on the dead-reckoning, and it proved that I was the nearer right, as the position of St. Augustine Light proved.

The steam-yacht was under charter for a year to my cousin, Owen Garningham, a young Englishman, who was spending the winter in the South. The after cabin was occupied by four other persons, who were his guests,--Colonel Shepard, his wife, son, and daughter. Miss Edith, the daughter, was Owen's "bright particular star," and she was one of the most beautiful young ladies I ever saw. I may add that she was as gentle and amiable as she was pretty. All the Shepard family were very pleasant people, invariably kind to the ship's company; and though the Colonel was a very wealthy man, none of them ever "put on airs" in their relations with the crew.

Though I did not pride myself on the fact that some of my ship's company had "blue blood" in their veins, I certainly believed that no vessel was ever manned by a more intelligent, gentlemanly, and skilful crew. Robert C. Washburn, the mate, was a college student, who would return to his studies at the end of the voyage. He was one of the best fellows I had ever met, and was competent to command any vessel, on any voyage, so far at least as its navigation and management were concerned. We were devoted friends; but he received his wages and did his duty as though he and I had had no other relations than those of captain and mate.

Moses Brickland, the chief engineer, was the son of my guardian; and though he was still in his teens, he was competent to build an engine, or to run it after it was built. Bentley F. Bowman, the assistant engineer, was a full-grown man, and had a certificate, besides being one of the best seamen I ever sailed with. Our steward, who was our only waiter until we sailed from Jacksonville in December, had been chief steward of a large Western steamer, and fully understood all branches of his business. He was on the present voyage for the benefit of his health. Buck Lingley and Hop Tossford, the deck-hands, were young Englishmen, belonging to the "first families," and were friends of my cousin Owen; but two more daring, resolute, and skilful young seamen never trod a deck. The two firemen were young machinists I had shipped at Montreal when they were out of work. They were brothers, and the sons of a Vermont farmer. Washington Gopher, an excellent cook, was a gray-haired colored man, who had rendered the best of service on board.

The Sylvania had come all the way from Lake St. Clair, and it was expected that she would return there. The steam-yacht was my property, so far as a minor could hold property. She had been presented to me by the head of a wealthy Western family for a valuable service I had rendered. I had cruised in the Great Lakes in her, and had had some exciting adventures on board.

I had spent my earliest days in the poor-house of a Maine town, from which a down-east skipper had taken me for the work I could do. But I was afterwards found near Lake St. Clair by my father, after a long and diligent search. But he had been obliged to leave me in charge of Mr. Brickland, my ever faithful friend and guardian, while he went to England to attend to some family affairs. He left property enough to make me independent for life, but it had all been lost by a fire, and I had nothing but the Sylvania.

The steam-yacht afforded me an abundant support while she was under charter to my cousin. Owen was the next heir to me of my father's title of baronet and his large estate. One Pike Carrington, my father's solicitor, had persuaded my cousin to enter into some vague conspiracy to "get rid of me in some manner." But, with the aid of Washburn, I had discovered the plot; and having the good fortune to save Owen's life in a storm, before he was fairly committed to the conspiracy, he had become my fast friend.

My cousin's mother was very rich, and it appeared that she gave him money without stint or limit. Carrington had bought the sister yacht of the Sylvania, the Islander, which was to take part in the conspiracy against me, and in which the solicitor had followed the Sylvania to Florida. He had employed Captain Parker Boomsby, the down-east skipper, then settled in Michigan, to command her, and to assist in carrying out his plan. One feature of the scheme was to make me believe that my father was dead; and for months I did believe it. Captain Boomsby claimed that I had been "bound out" to him till I was twenty-one; and he insisted upon the possession of my person and my property as much as though I had been his slave. My father had made an arrangement with him by which he had abandoned all his interest in me, but at the reported death of my father, Carrington had induced him to assert his claim again.

Captain Boomsby had followed me to Florida in the Islander, with the solicitor as his passenger. The former had evidently undertaken "to get rid of me;" but, instead of doing this, he had sacrificed the solicitor. Both he and the lawyer had become hard drinkers, and in the Captain's attempt to wreck me, he had sunk the Islander and drowned his employer. I judged that this would be the end of the conspiracy; and so it was, so far as my cousin Owen and the solicitor were concerned, but not on the part of Captain Boomsby.

I had left my "ancient enemy," as I had a right to regard Captain Boomsby, at Jacksonville when we sailed for the West Indies. I knew that his experiment of making money in Michigan had been a failure, and that he was looking for a more hopeful field of operations in some other section of the country. One of his men told me that he intended to run the Sylvania on the St. Johns River as a passenger boat, and that he felt sure of obtaining possession of her, because, he asserted, he was the rightful owner of her. The paper he had signed was destroyed with the rest of my valuables.

As the steam-yacht approached the coast of Florida I did not even think of my ancient enemy. I had left him in Jacksonville, where he was drinking all he could carry, every day. He was terribly bitter and revengeful towards me; for though my father had paid him a considerable sum of money to appease him, rather than to satisfy any just claim he had upon me, he could never be content until he obtained all that could be had, either by fair means or by foul. There was no more principle in him than there was in a paving-stone.

"That is St. Augustine Light," I continued. "There can be no mistake about it, for there is not another light within thirty-five miles of it; and we could not have gone so wide of the mark as that."

"You are right, Captain Alick, as you always are," laughed the mate.

"None of that, Bob! You know as well as the next fellow that I am not always right; I wish I were. How was it about going into St. George?" I replied.

"The exception always proves the rule. I was right by accident that time. But you never go ahead till you are sure where you are going."

"I shall not this time," I added, turning to the Coast Pilot again. "'Vessels coming from the northward will run down till the light-house bears west by north, keeping in three fathoms of water,'" I continued, reading from the book.

We kept the Sylvania moving at about half-speed until the tower bore in the required direction; then the mate directed Buck Lingley, who was on watch forward, to heave the lead.

"Mark under water three," reported the deck-hand.

"That's all right," I added. "Now how is the tide?"

We could cross the bar only when the water was above half-tide; and this was an important question. We found from our nautical almanac that it would be half-tide at nine o'clock in the forenoon; and it was not yet seven in the morning by the corrected time. We were as near the coast as I cared to go. We could just make out the square tower of the light-house in the fog, and I was not willing to trust myself in unknown waters near the shore without a pilot. I directed Washburn to stop the engine, and keep a sharp lookout for the drift of the steamer.

Leaving the pilot-house, I went forward, and presently discovered a pilot-boat coming out of the inlet. One of her crew was waving a flag to the port side from her bow. This meant that we were to bear to starboard. I told the mate to go ahead, bearing to the northward. In a few minutes more we had a pilot on board, whose first question was as to our draft of water. I gave it as nine feet, though it was considerably less when we had nearly emptied our coal-bunkers. The pilot decided that we must wait a couple of hours.

The sun rose at 6.26 on the first day of March, which was just ten minutes earlier than at Detroit. It soon burned off the fog inshore, so that we could see the ancient city of St. Augustine. Our passengers, who had become so accustomed to sea-life that they did not turn out before eight in the morning, soon began to appear. With the pilot at the wheel we went over the bar before nine, and a run of two miles more brought us to our anchorage off the sea-wall.


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