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Down South or Yacht Adventure in Florida

 

CHAPTER XVII.

POOR GRIFF AND HIS COUNSEL.

"Surely, Captain Garningham, you cannot mean to hand the man over to the police for getting into a common brawl," said Cornwood, when I had given my order.

"We don't allow brawls on board this steamer. This is the first one that ever occurred on the decks of this vessel," I replied, debating in my own mind whether or not I should discharge the Floridian, who seemed to be the real culprit, though of course I could not prove that he was the octoroon's principal in the business of eavesdropping.

"But this was simply a misunderstanding between the men; and both of them will be as good friends as ever before morning," pleaded Cornwood. "Mr. Bowman intended to do the boy no harm when he seized hold of him; and poor Griff thought he intended to kill him."

"That's just what I thought," replied the octoroon, who had entirely cooled off.

"But I didn't seize hold of him, as the gentleman says," interposed Ben Bowman. "I did not lay the weight of one hand on him; I only just touched him, as I said before; and I don't want anybody to say I seized hold of him. I didn't do anything of the sort."

"I lay down there and went to sleep, for I have had to work hard to-day. I lay in a hard position, and I suppose it was that which made me dream that somebody had struck me on the head, and was trying to murder me," Griffin explained, in the most humble tones. "I woke, and seeing a man bending over me, I thought the dream was a reality."

"Were you dreaming when you drew the knife, at least five minutes after you were pinned to the deck by Mr. Bowman?" I asked, sternly. "Your story is too thin."

"I was mad, crazy with excitement; I didn't know what I was doing," pleaded "poor Griff." "Don't give me over to the police! I never was before a court for anything in all my life! Forgive me this time, dear Captain!"

I was afraid I might do so if he talked to me long in this strain.

"Take him down to the boat! Obey your order, Mr. Washburn!" I said, with energy. "Take the knife with you, and deliver it to the police."

"Captain Garningham, I beg you to consider that you are doing a very great injustice to this boy, who, I am certain, intended no harm to anybody," interposed Cornwood again.

"I don't believe in the harmless intentions of a man who can draw a bowie-knife on another," I replied; and I had no more doubt of the octoroon's guilt than I had of my own existence.

"I am very sorry indeed that you should take so serious a view of what has proved a harmless affray," added Cornwood. "If you deliver him over to the police, which, as the captain of the vessel, you have a right to do, I suppose his case will be called to-morrow forenoon. I must ask leave of absence to act as his counsel."

I supposed this was said to remind me of the excursion of the next day, the news of which had been circulated from the steward's department. But the excursion made no difference to me; I felt that I had a duty to perform, and I was resolved to perform it, even if the excursion had to be postponed to another day. Griffin Leeds was carried into the boat, and the mate departed for the city with him.

"Now, Mr. Cornwood, I should like to see you in regard to the up-river trip," I said, as soon as the boat had left the steamer. "We leave on Monday."

"If this affair which has just occurred will permit us to do so," added the Floridian, rather stiffly.

"That need not detain us a single day," I replied, decidedly. "We have twice as many hands as we need for this river navigation; and we can spare all that may be needed as witnesses."

"But I have to remain to defend poor Griff, who, I am persuaded, is a victim of circumstances," said Cornwood, who evidently intended to make it plain I was to reap the bitter fruits of my folly in the dissatisfaction of my passengers, as they might not be inclined to stay after they had made up their minds to go.

"Then I shall be obliged to make the trip with a river pilot," I added promptly, for I did not intend that the Floridian should get ahead of me in this business.

The guide bit his lips, as though he did not quite like the situation. He knew enough of Owen Garningham to understand that, after he had made up his mind to start on the up-river trip on Monday, he would be determined to go in the face of all obstacles.

"I can hardly desert the poor fellow in his trouble," sighed Mr. Cornwood.

"That is a question you must decide for yourself," I replied, with as much indifference as I could assume. "It seems to me you make a light matter of a serious assault, and your sympathy is all with the man who committed it. You call him 'poor Griff,' as though he were a persecuted victim, instead of one who had raised his hand with a knife in it against one of the ship's company."

"I have a great regard for that boy, for he saved my life once when I fell overboard and was injured so that I could not swim, and there were three large sharks near the vessel. I should be inhuman to desert him, even if he were as guilty as you seem to think he is," continued the guide; but I was inclined to believe that his explanation was more than half an invention.

"In what court will this man be brought up?" I asked.

"He will be brought before the mayor, as magistrate; and if he considers it a simple assault, he will fine the boy, or send him to prison; if an assault with intent to kill, he will bind him over to a higher court for trial."

"In either case, the matter is likely to be disposed of in season for the excursion to-morrow forenoon. If he is bound over, we can appear, such of us as are required as witnesses, at the proper time," I replied, as off-hand as though I had been a lawyer all my days. "Now we will leave that question, and turn to others of more importance."

"It may be a matter of light importance to have the boy sent off to work with a prison-gang for two or three years, but I don't so regard it," growled Cornwood.

"When a man draws a knife on another, he needs the attention of the courts. You seem to be so accustomed to that sort of thing that you mind nothing about it. Where I come from we don't use knives with that sort of freedom."

"If it were not clearly a misunderstanding on the part of poor Griff, I wouldn't say anything more about it."

"It was no misunderstanding when Griffin leaped to his feet, at least five minutes after the struggle with the engineer, and rushed upon him with a knife. But we will say nothing more about it, anyhow. Colonel Shepard says the party wish to go up the river as far as Sanford and Enterprise, and up the Ocklawaha to Lake Griffin."

"As it seems to be very uncertain whether I go with you or not, I prefer to say nothing about the trip for the present," replied the Floridian, sulkily.

"Very well; then you will consider your engagement at an end," I added, without an instant's hesitation; and already I began to feel some relief at the idea of getting rid of a suspicious person.

My sudden decision did not seem to suit the guide any better than my position in regard to Griffin Leeds. I had risen from my chair at the desk, as though the business was finished, when I gave my decision; and by this time he could believe that I meant all I said.

"There will be time enough to settle this business after the court has met to-morrow morning," said he, with an evident intention of "backing down."

"But my passengers wish to know at once what the plan is, and I desire to procure a pilot for the excursion to-morrow," I replied.

"I will go with you on the excursion, whether I go up the river or not."

"No, you will not. I have no time to fool with you. I shall engage a pilot to-night for the up-river trip, if you cannot go with me," I added, indignantly.

"I think I can go with you; in other words, I will go with you. It is not possible to go up the Ocklawaha in this steamer," said Cornwood, suddenly changing front, somewhat to my regret. "The masts and yards would be carried away by the trees that overhang the stream, and she draws too much water for the Ocklawaha or the upper St. Johns."

"That matter is settled, then, and I will report to Colonel Shepard. Will you explain to me where we can go in this steamer."

The guide became as communicative as ever in a little while, and seemed to have forgotten the little difference which had threatened a serious rupture in our relations. He was as pleasant as though no cloud had passed between us. We discussed the up-river trip, and I made memoranda of what he said till ten o'clock, when we retired. If what he said about his obligations to Griffin Leeds was true, I could not blame him for wishing to stand by the waiter. But a fair statement of his relations, without any of the bullying he had attempted, would have accomplished his wishes better.

When I turned out in the morning, I found the mate had gone ashore. At half-past eight, as requested by the chief of police through Washburn, Ben Bowman and I went on shore to attend the mayor's court. I had started in season to call on Colonel Shepard, to whom I related all the events of the preceding evening, including my interview with the Floridian. The Colonel decided to ask his friend, Colonel Ives, a lawyer of influence, and a Floridian, to attend court with me.

Washburn was on hand in season, and the mayor listened to the testimony. Cornwood had his opportunity to badger the witnesses, and he made the most of it. The magistrate, in spite of the eloquence of the counsel for the defence, chose to regard the offence as a serious assault, and bound the prisoner over for his appearance at a higher court, three weeks hence. This was about the time we expected to be absent up the river, and I saw that the Colonel's friend had managed the case well without saying a word out loud. Cornwood found bail for the culprit, and he was released.

"I suppose he can return to his duties on board of the steamer," said the waiter's counsel.

"No, sir; I would not tolerate such a man on board any more than I would a rattlesnake," I replied.

I paid him his wages, and something more, on the spot; and when he left the court, his look and his manner indicated that he was more intent upon revenge than anything else. It was quarter of ten when the case was thus settled for the present, and we hastened to the wharf, and on board. I had engaged a large barge at the boat-wharf to put the passengers on board, and they were all taken off at one load.

We had the anchor up by the time they were alongside, and it was only a few minutes after ten when I rang the bell to go ahead.


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